Inspiration behind the look of the UK's newest hotels and recent refurbishments… The understated design of this clifftop hotel provides a peaceful haven amid the natural beauty of the Jurassic Coast, says Lorna Pettipher
The Seaside Boarding House in Burton Bradstock, Dorset, opened quietly in February of this year. Perched on cliffs overlooking dramatic Chesil Beach, the property aims to tempt visitors with its remote, rugged seascape and sense of calm, rather than any bucket-and-spade beach bustle.
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Broadchurch - is really on the up.
The Seaside Boarding House is a new venture for Mary-Lou Sturridge, former managing director of the Groucho Club, and business partner Anthony Mackintosh, who founded Dingwalls, 192, the Zanzibar and Le Café Anglais, as well as the Groucho.
It features eight bedrooms, a 50-seat restaurant and a stylish cocktail bar. The original part of the building was built in 1890 as one of a pair of houses for two brothers in the Pitt- Rivers family. After the family sold the property in 1958, it became the Bay View hotel. Since then, it has been run as a bed and breakfast, a retirement home and was the Burton Cliff hotel when the Seaside Company Dorset bought it.
The design inspiration
"It was the dramatic location that made us buy it," says Sturridge. "The building had been extended in the 1970s and was ruined with really ugly features, like plate-glass windows and stair lifts. The walls in the 19 bedrooms were so thin that you could just about hear the bread going into the toaster in the downstairs kitchen. It was somewhat Crossroads meets the Addams family when we acquired it, so we set about returning it to its original elegance."
The aim was to give the venue an understated, 1940s feel of quality, comfort and calm. Soothing, gentle blue and green Zoffany paints used on the walls were inspired by the landscape and the paintings of American artist Edward Hopper. Original works by artist and friend Sir Peter Blake are also peppered throughout the communal areas.
Each space has been designed by architects Chassay Studio to frame the sea views to the best advantage. The bar area and restaurant both look out over the sea on the ground floor, with views stretching from Portland Bill in the east to Start Point in the west. French windows open out to extend the dining area onto a generous, wide terrace with additional seating.
All the bedrooms have sea views and generously proportioned bathrooms featuring hand-made tiles and either a rain shower or a clawfoot bath. The beds are huge, high and inviting, with thick duvets. Upholstered window seats, vintage-style radios and tempting stacks of books are featured in all rooms, but there are no televisions (a set can be provided upon request, but demand has not been great.)
Sturridge had never undertaken an interior design before, and is not a fan of overly designed interiors. She wanted to avoid the nautical seaside design cliches of blue and white stripes, or any hint of what she describes as "minimal, square, beige" interior design.
Local antique centres were a source of retro seating (since re-upholstered), crockery and silverware. Topsham, a small, picturesque town in neighbouring Devon with lots of antique shops, was nearly cleared of silver teapots by the Boarding House team. Local reclamation yards yielded an eclectic mix of antique toast racks, single-scoop ice-cream coupes and 1960s dinner plates still in their original boxes. A collection of trophy cups adorn the tables with flowers planted inside.
"The design of the interior is an important factor," says Sturridge. "It gives an air of tranquillity, as well as a slightly old-fashioned feeling of comfort and home. I see no reason why you should not be able to enjoy a decent Martini here, but it is also a place for the ladies of Burton Bradstock who fancy afternoon tea."
Jeffrey has discovered that an increasing numbers of guests from all over Britain are now opting to holiday at home: "The coast is spectacular, and local restaurants offer brilliant food. I met Mary Lou at the Hix Oyster and Fish House restaurant in nearby Lyme Regis, and there's Robin Hutson's Pig on the Beach in Studland Bay in Dorset."
Quality hospitality staff are more difficult to find here, but there is no shortage of guests. Since opening, trade has been up each month, with occupancy running at an enviable 95%.
There are plans to build an annexe with eight bedrooms in the field behind the hotel, and also to create a large bedroom in the existing attic. These are expected to be up and running within the next three years.
Suppliers and contacts
The Fine Cotton Company
Soft furnishings and fabrics
Bespoke hardwood flooring
Traditional toilets and basins
Contact and details
The Seaside Boarding House
Cliff Road, Burton Bradstock, Dorset DT6 4RB
Operating company The Seaside Company Dorset
Managing director Mary-Lou Sturridge
General manager Jonny Jeffrey
Head chef Craig Whitty
Sample dishes Scallops with a caper and raisin purée (£13.50/£21); spaghetti alle vongole (£8/£14)
Staff 25 full-time, nine part-time
Starting room rate £180