Located in a sleepy Cotswolds village, among the rolling Gloucestershire hills, the Painswick is a bold new hotel that offers a fun and fresh approach to the country house scene. Janet Harmer checks it out
The Painswick, which takes its name from the Gloucestershire hilltop village where it is located, was named Cotswolds88 in a former life. The 16-bedroom hotel was sold to the Calcot Collection in March 2015 and it has since been totally transformed.
Work started in October last year and the property reopened just before Easter. Its new look eschews the previous funky interior for something more in keeping with the Palladian building in which it is set and the surrounding glorious locality, with views across Slad Valley.
Richard Ball, executive chairman of the Calcot Collection, said the intention was to make the Painswick an affordable hotel where guests could relax in a non-intimidating environment with great hospitality and food. The focus, he says, is more of a restaurant with rooms where guests can choose to eat in a variety of spaces, as opposed to a traditional hotel with a rigid food and beverage policy.
"We want to offer a touch of cool and avoid overt luxury, but without comprising on comfort and cosiness - the linens and towels, for instance, are all top quality, but we have stripped back on the heavy luxe," he explains.
"This corner of the Cotswolds, with its arty, free-thinking touch, is quite unique from the rest of the region, and we wanted to reflect that by being slightly cheeky and alternative."
The main house has nine bedrooms and there are seven smaller rooms in the adjacent garden wing. The general manager is Luke Millikin, formerly deputy general manager at St Mellion International Resort in Cornwall, and the head chef is Michael Bedford, who achieved a Michelin star at the Trouble House pub in Tetbury and more recently ran the Butcher's Arms in Oakridge Lynch.
Above and below: George's Suite
With Calcot's in-house designer Nicky Farquhar overseeing the interior, the feel of the Painswick is very much of the spirited child of two sophisticated Gloucestershire parents, who might have a homely aunt living up north in Northumberland. Fun elements abound - from the distorted fun-fair mirror outside the rest rooms to the brightly coloured Bakelite telephones in the bedrooms and the royal blue baize of the pool table in the games room.
"The Painswick is more playful and colourful than the other hotels," said London-based Farquhar, who worked on the design with Cathy Birtles, who lives in the Cotswolds. "It's eclectic, rather than being over-designed.
"It was great to work with Cathy - two brains are always better than one. She is very artistic, which is what we wanted, and it was good to have someone based on the ground."
Farquhar is delighted with the results, particularly given the tight timeframe for the refurbishment, which incorporated the renovation of every architectural detail. "It was a huge logistical effort," she says. "The village of Painswick is made up of steep, narrow streets, which made it impossible for a lot of deliveries to be made directly to the hotel, so we had to have much of the furniture and equipment taken to Calcot first before we transferred it on to Painswick in smaller vehicles."
The surrounding area was once at the centre of a flourishing wool and trade industry, so there are references throughout the hotel to this heritage. Bedrooms bear the names of former woollen mills (Peghouse, Hawkers and Toadsmoor), and the public spaces are called after one-time dignitaries within the trade - the private dining room, for example, is called Clutterbucks, while the lounge is named Morley Horder.
The woollen trade has also inspired fictitious character George the sheep, whose line drawing pops up on the marketing material, the menu and the cocktail list. He and his lady friend Georgina also distinguish the ladies' and gents' loos.
There is no formal reception desk in the flagstone-floored entrance hall; instead, guests are greeted by a neon 'The Painswick' sign in a jaunty script, specially commissioned from Joanna Peyton Jones of Write in Lights. It highlights that you have arrived somewhere without the usual country-house traditions.
The restaurant is reached via the Hearth, a deli-café area where a wood-fired oven is set into one wall with a barista section alongside.
A central wooden counter - displaying plates laden with charcuterie and pastries - is left over from the days of Cotswolds88. Then, it was covered in silver padding; today, it features Neisha Crosland tiles from Fired Earth. With a handful of wooden tables and old chapel chairs, this is the place to stop for a coffee.
Moving on through stripped pine double doors into the main restaurant, the expansive room is dominated by the teal and mustard colour scheme, inspired by a fabric called Painswick that Farquhar happened upon from St Jude's, informed by the planting and follies of the nearby 18th-century Rococo Garden. The fabric is used as cushion covers throughout the hotel and its hue has influenced the design in the public areas.
"The colours here are quite strong, as there is not much of a view from this room, so its all about looking into the restaurant," explains Farquhar.
Banquette seating, covered in a Romo fabric called Melton and leather from Andrew Muirhead, lines one wall. Cushions in the zig-zag Marlow (Bilberry) chenille fabric from Romo, backed in Linwood velvet, add a punch to the design. The oak herringbone flooring has been supplied, like all the new flooring throughout the hotel, by Barbers Flooring of Stratford-upon-Avon.
In the restaurant Farquhar has employed two large circular mirrors in the shape of pocket watches. They are hung above the teal-painted wood panelling at one end of the room, while directly opposite the curved wall provides evidence of the chapel wing of the building, which was home in the late 1800s to the Reverend William Henry Seddon.
Up the stairs from the entrance hall, the cosy bar is located in a space previously occupied by the reception. "It was wasted in its former life," says Farquhar. "It makes a beautiful bar."
Here, the ceiling, with its moulded stars and heralds picked out in gold and black, is one of the only areas in the Painswick where the colours of the previous hotel have been retained.
The bar itself, with its copper top and brass frontage, is new, as are the leather-seated and studded bar stools. The shape of the bar reflects the leaded window, which forms the backdrop for shelving displaying a collection of jewel-coloured antique seltzer bottles.
Morley Horder lounge
This lounge is divided into different seating areas with soft grey panelling to make the cavernous space feel more intimate. In front of the wood-burning stove is a deconstructed take on a traditional Chesterfield, the neutral linen enlivened by orange and petrol-blue cushions. Elsewhere, splashes of colour are provided by the mustard-coloured velvet cushions and stools covered in a tweed fabric by Bute.
Above and below: the Morley Horder lounge
Collecting the artwork for the Painswick, according to Farquhar, has been the most time-consuming aspect of the entire project.
"Art really brings a room together, but it can be a huge challenge as it can easily end up taking up a huge proportion of the budget, so we use lots of different tricks to keep the costs down, for instance, by using interesting frames for the prints."
The eclectic selection includes prints from local artist Andy Lovell, which provide a connection to the surrounding landscape.
The bedrooms are calmer in their design than the public areas, with muted grey, green, slate and coffee colours providing a backdrop to the accent colours in lavender, purple or pink.
For Farqhuar, the bed has to be the focus, and each is dressed in pristine white linen. "The beds must look as though they have never been slept in by any other guest," she says. "I don't like mucky cushions on a bed." Instead she has pillows embroidered with a grand monogrammed 'P'.
Clever, cost-effective measures have been used for the curtains, where a relatively inexpensive plain linen herringbone fabric from Ulster Weavers has been edged with different coloured velvets, chosen according to one of six different bedroom colour schemes. The accent colour is also used as piping on the cushions, seating and headboards, providing a smart finish that indicates the attention to detail.
Little touches include a selection of the latest paperbacks, sketch pads with 'paint-brush' pencils, and retro Roberts radios. All the bedroom amenities are hidden away in bespoke, beehive-shaped sideboards, which are a staple in all Calcot Collection properties.
The games room
The games room off the lounge is dominated by a pool table, which has been re-covered in a blue baize. There are also a pile of board games here for guests to work their way through on a rainy day.
Contact and details
The Painswick, Kemps Lane, Painswick, Gloucestershire GL6 6YB
Owner and operator Calcot Collection
General manager Luke Millikin
Interior designers Nicky Farqhuar and Cathy Birtles
Room rates From £119, excluding breakfast
The Painswick neon sign
Write in Lights
Andrew Muirhead Leather
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