The chef with no name 24 January 2020 How James Cochran lost the rights to his own name, and his triumphant comeback with Islington restaurant 12:51
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Hotel design: the Bird, Bath

31 October 2019 by

Ian and Christa Taylor continue to bring their own quirky kind of cool to the Bath boutique hotel-scape with their latest venture, the Bird. Rosalind Mullen reports on the interior design inspiration behind the avian-themed project

Need to know

This vibrantly designed 31-bedroom boutique hotel in Bath has just landed a place in The Sunday Times’ Top 100 British Hotels 2019, which describes the hotel’s transformation from the County hotel to the Bird as embodying the “free spirit of the owners, Ian and Christa Taylor”.

The property is set in a “great location”, 10 minutes’ walk from the city centre with views of the green recreation grounds and Bath Abbey, and was an opportunity Ian just couldn’t pass up.

“It was in a reasonable state,” says Ian. “But I used to drive past it and thought it needed a facelift. It was soulless and there was not much activity around it. It had had quite a few different owners so there was no strong identity, but there was an opportunity to do something with it.”

Ian has an eye for potential, as evidenced by the other design-led hotels he has created with wife Christa under the umbrella Kaleidoscope Hotels. Successes include Homewood in nearby Freshford and No 15 Great Pulteney, just round the corner from the Bird, which they bought for £4.5m in 2016 and sold in October 2019 for an undisclosed sum.

The Taylors also previously owned the city’s Abbey hotel, which they transformed over six years before offloading it in 2018.

As well as being inspired to reinvigorate the County, Ian was also attracted by the property’s generous parking area – a precious commodity in Bath. “We struggled with parking at No 15,” he explains.

Unlike their other properties, the Victorian building is not listed, so the less onerous planning regulations were a welcome change. The couple paid £3.3m for the freehold of the 20-bedroom hotel in March 2018, building work started in April and 90% of the job was completed by November.

“We traded throughout and did our best to mitigate noise, while creating an additional 11 bedrooms and bathrooms, as well as refurbishing the public rooms and corridors and the existing 20 bedrooms,” says Ian.

Two small bedrooms were added at the side, five were created in what had been basement offices and four large bedrooms were put into the space that had been the County’s ground-floor breakfast room. The breakfast room, meanwhile, was moved down into the basement, where the 48-seat space is now known as the Roost.

To generate business in the evenings, the Taylors have created a pop-up area outside by clawing back part of the carpark. They created a Beach Bar in summer 2018 and a laid-back Nook Garden this summer. The planned Christmas pop-up has already notched up 2,000 bookings between 28 November and 1 January. A party space, dubbed the Christmas Tavern, is to be created in a large 18mx9m marquee with a wood-panelled interior and a woodburner to create a fun, cosy, relaxed atmosphere.

The designer

Ian has designed this latest hotel himself: “I did use a designer in the other hotels, but not this time,” he said. “I’m not trained; I just have a passion to design. I draw and I love collecting – I am a great one for visiting antique fairs, Decorex, 100% Design – all the shows. And I have a relatively good eye for colour. I thought: ‘we can do this ourselves’.”

Although he uses the word “we”, his wife gives him a clear run at the design side. Ian adds: “Christa says: ‘It’s all yours’. She never wants to see anything until it is complete – she enjoys the buying trips, though.”

Design inspiration

The hotel’s new name became Ian’s muse: “I was desperate to change the name from the County,” says Ian. “So we went to branding company Cab Studios and they settled on the Bird. We liked the idea of birds ‘swooping’ and people ‘flocking’ to the hotel. The look I have created came out of the branding; it helped to orientate us.”

As well as offering a playful way to work with the design, the name also helped with the marketing of the hotel. “We are very pleased with the way the website looks – it feels quirky and independent,” says Ian.

Fabrics and furnishings

With the rich use of materials throughout the hotel, it is evident that Ian has an eye for colour and texture. “I use a fabric supplier in Painswick who rolls out the fabric so you can see the whole thing. They stock end-of-the-line materials of some of the big houses. I’ve bought Mulberry velvet, linens from Armani, fabrics from Schumacher and GP&J Baker, so that gives it its individuality and makes it more homely.”

An ardent chandelier collector, Ian has picked up many of the lighting and furniture pieces throughout the hotel at auctions in the Netherlands and Belgium. He also favours Timothy Oulton for lights, mirrors and furniture.

"We liked the idea of birds ‘swooping’ and people ‘flocking’ to the hotel"

“We have a warehouse, so we buy and keep many items there and we try to work out where it goes in which space. Somehow it works well – some things can sit there for a couple of years and then we think ‘that would go well in such and such’.”

Reception

This vibrantly coloured, flexible, open-plan area embraces a lounge area and a conservatory. Not only is it used for check-in, but it also doubles as a bar and, on arrival, guests can tuck into afternoon tea at one of the intimate tables.

“The reception area is multi-functional and we have capitalised on that,” says Ian.

Birds are used to dramatic effect throughout the public areas. Ian singles out the beautiful ‘birds in flight’ clay sculpture by Simon Conolly as a particular favourite, which draws guests down the stairs to breakfast room the Roost. Another eye-catching artwork is a colourful painting by local artist Mark Elliott Smith. Meanwhile, one of the most striking of the 20 or so mirrors lining the mustard walls on one side of the staircase is a dramatic round, lit mirror by Timothy Oulton.

The Roost

True to its name, avian imagery is very much in evidence in the 48-seat breakfast room, which also features a bar and is used for private events in the evenings, or seats 60 banquet-style along with the adjacent meeting room, the Nest, which accommodates 14 boardroom style.

Arguably, a lot of the energy in this exciting space comes from the wallpaper: “There is wonderful wallpaper, very bold and with big parrots, by Divine Savages, a company founded by Jamie Watkins, and on the ceiling, there is a twig-like feature with birds hanging down,” says Ian.

On plainer walls, creatively placed at different heights, is a collection of 40 taxidermied birds on perches, surrounded by frames.

“They feature heavily in the breakfast room and look amazing,” says Ian. “They came out of a museum in Paris and are all individually framed. They are originals, sourced from Joe Antiques in Sussex though Lorfords in Tetbury.”

Chef Daniel Lieberman looks after the food at breakfast and any private dining or meeting events held in the Roost or the Nest. Guests can start the day with a Full Bird breakfast or the likes of smoked salmon and scrambled egg, smashed avocado and poached egg on toast.

The bedrooms

The bedrooms are calmer than the public rooms, with a palette of greys, soft pinks and mustards used in wall paints and curtains.

“The room sizes are small so we are making as much use of space as possible,” says Ian. “The colour often comes in the headboard.”

Ian set out to make the 31 rooms as individual as possible. There are seven categories, ranging from “Tiny Double” through to “Comfy King” and “Deluxe King with Outdoor Hot Tub”.

Individual touches range from vintage boot lasts to oversized bottles and giant pots, as well as chandeliers and contemporary art in every room, and standards are set high with Hypnos beds, Dyson hairdryers and Malin + Goetz bathroom products.

While bird imagery is more low-key in the bedrooms, one of the Deluxe King rooms has a nest-like headboard sourced from Timothy Oulton. There is also a nod to feathered friends in the do-not-disturb signs, stating: “We are night owls and having a lie in” on one side, and on the other: “We are early birds that have flown the nest”.

Future plans

Although the Roost and the Nest can be booked for private parties, the space isn’t used as a restaurant for the evening, and Ian would like to rectify that. “My plan is to get a restaurant concept into the Roost that would work and be good for residents. It would then double up for breakfast.”

Work is under way on the bathrooms in the original 20 bedrooms at the moment and, next year, the aim is to put air-conditioning into the top-floor bedrooms.

There are also plans to extend capacity and Ian has identified that the property next door would be a good fit to add a further 10 bedrooms, though he adds: “We haven’t started negotiations there yet, but we hope for 42 bedrooms.”

The Taylors have also just refurbished the rooms at Homewood, where they are adding 10 bedrooms.

Business performance

Designed for the leisure market, some 90% of guests fit that profile, with a small amount of meetings business from nearby clients such as Bath Spa University.

“We are still at the early stages of getting brand recognition,” says Ian. “People love finding somewhere they can park and then walk to places, and they love the quirkiness of the hotel.”

The Taylors have been pleased with the Bird’s performance this year, despite building works. Occupancy is 80% at a starting rate of £110 B&B, with earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (Ebitda) at £500,000, which is expected to rise to £750,000 if they extend next door.

Having just sold No 15, the Taylors now have just two hotels under the Kaleidoscope umbrella. “They are all individual hotels with their own brand,” says Ian. “It has never been my intention to have more than three or four hotels.”

Suppliers

Art Simon Conolly www.sculptureinclay.co.uk

Timothy Oulton www.timothyoulton.com

Bathroom fittings Crosswater www.crosswater.co.uk

Bath and body products Malin + Goetz www.malinandgoetz.co.uk

Beds Hypnos Beds www.hypnosbeds.com

Fabrics Armani www.armani.com/casa/en/textiles/

Mulberry www.gpjbaker.com/brands/mulberry-home/

Schumacher www.fschumacher.com

Headboards and curtains Atlantic Contract Interiors www.atlanticcontractinteriors.com

Lamps Particle Press www.particlepress.com

Mirrors Mark Elliot Smith www.markelliottsmith.co.uk

Paint Edward Bulmer www.edwardbulmerpaint.co.uk

Throws McNutt of Donegal www.mcnuttofdonegal.com/throws

Wallpaper Divine Savages www.divinesavages.com

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