Foxhill Manor in the village of Broadway in the Cotswolds was named Boutique Hotel of the Year in The Caterer's inaugural Hoteliers' Hotels Top 100 list, in partnership with Sky. Janet Harmer checks into the ‘private-house hotel' to find how it differs from its competitors
In an industry where operators are constantly looking to lead the market by creating the latest trend, the Farncombe Estate in the heart of the Cotswolds believes it is making a real statement when it comes to luxury boutique hotels.
Launched in 2014, the eight-bedroom Foxhill Manor aims to provide so much more than the plethora of competing hotels up and down the land.
There is an extensive pantry, full of limitless and complimentary home-made cookies, snacks, soft drinks and beers, as well as a selection of alcoholic drinks in the drawing room, also available at no additional charge.
Meanwhile, the cinema room provides an opportunity to hold movie marathons any time of the night or day - accompanied by popcorn, of course - and there are board games galore to keep guests entertained. For anyone looking for something more active to do, there is the 400-acre Farncombe Estate to explore. The estate sits on the edge of the picture-postcard village of Broadway and is home to two other hotels - the well-established Dormy House, with its two restaurants and spa, and its younger sister, the Fish.
Although it has been open for only just over two years, Foxhill Manor has already made its mark. It has scooped up countless awards, including being named as the Boutique Hotel of the Year in the inaugural Hoteliers' Hotels Top 100 list, launched by The Caterer in conjunction with Sky earlier this year.
e hotel is located within an Arts and Crafts manor house, built in 1909 by architect Joseph Lancaster Ball. It was bought in 1977 as part of the wider Farncombe Estate by the Philip-Sorensen family (see panel, p24) and most recently was used as the family offices. The suggestion that it could be transformed into a luxury hotel came from Andrew Grahame, who was appointed chief executive of the estate in September 2012, having previously spent nearly four years as venues managing director at Goodwood Estates in Chichester, West Sussex.
Initially, the intention was to run the hotel as an exclusive-use business. Although some impressive guests - including Lady Gaga and U2 band members - booked in, it proved to be tough to operate on this basis all the time and it subsequently moved to a more conventional hotel model.
However, Foxhill Manor does continue to get around 40% of its business from exclusive bookings, with parties paying a fixed fee of £6,000 a night, Monday to Thursday, and £7,000 on Fridays and Saturdays, which helps boost the average room rate to £350.
A particular attraction for party bookings is that the property - unusually for its size - has a ballroom that can accommodate a 70-cover banquet. That makes it ideal for weddings, and provides a useful space for band rehearsals, celebratory events or brainstorming sessions for a business retreat.
The two sides of the business are now self-perpetuating. Couples stay for a night or two and often book a private house party for a special occasion at a later date, and vice versa.
"We really think this is the future of hospitality at the highest level," explains Grahame.
"We call it a private-house hotel where everything we do is all totally focused around the needs and desires of guests. It is all about being relaxed and having fun.
"There are no rules - everyone is made to feel as though they are in their own home. Guests have even been known to wander into the kitchen and make a sandwich - and we're happy with that."
Not everyone is so bold, with some guests feeling uncomfortable about making specific requests to the chef. But, says Grahame, some 95% of people who stay do understand what is being offered.
e AA initially struggled to categorise Foxhill Manor as it doesn't conform to the guidebook's existing criteria of a hotel having to offer set menus and meal times.
However, following further consideration, it has just awarded Foxhill Manor five stars.
Dormy House holds four red AA stars. The £2.3m cost of converting Foxhill Manor into a hotel reflects the no-expense-spared character of the project. A glamorous decor has been created by Trevillion Interiors, with Netta Reynolds, one of the Philip-Sorensen daughters, injecting an occasional Danish influence.
While three of the eight bedrooms are described as suites, in reality they are all exceptionally roomy and well equipped, with Temple Spa products in the bathrooms and the full Sky package of more than 300 entertainment, sport and movie channels in the bedrooms. "It is nothing less than our guests expect," says Grahame.
Part of the reason for the rapid success of Foxhill Manor, particularly among 30 to 55-year-olds from London and the home counties, comes from targeted marketing on social media. The already popular Dormy House also provided a springboard.
Chris Ward, commercial director of the Farncombe Estate, says that the key had been in getting the pricing right and not trying to please everyone. "Foxhill Manor particularly appeals to the cash-rich, time-poor," he explains. "Sometimes people want to work here, something which the space and the remoteness of the hotel allows them to do."
Now that Foxhill Manor has demonstrated that there is a viable market for the 'private-house' hotel, Farncombe Estate is looking at properties beyond the Cotswolds to replicate what has been achieved at Foxhill. "In particular, we are looking at large houses to convert that are very private and have a lot of land," says Grahame. "The idea is to create the feel of a home, rather than a hotel."
Most trends come about having received inspiration from elsewhere. In the case of Foxhill Manor, the starting point was Ett Hem, which is the Swedish for "a home".
Located in a residential area of Stockholm, Sweden, the Ett Hem property was designed by Ilse Crawford to fulfil that precise function for paying guests.
In turn, the best ideas are always snapped up by others. The fact that on 1 November the Eden Hotel Collection opened the 10-bedroom Arden House hotel in Stratford-upon-Avon, can be no coincidence. The luxury hotel group describes Arden House as a "home from home" and says it reflects the current trend away from a more structured hotel environment to one with "a laid-back atmosphere, more fluidity and choice for guests".
The Farncombe Estate
Bought by the Danish Philip-Sorensen family in 1977, the Farncombe Estate originally covered 200 acres. It has since doubled in size with the acquisition of various pockets of land, including an 80-acre farm.
The Philip-Sorensens, with the patriarch Jorgen at their head, made their fortune through a myriad of businesses, most notably the security company G4S, which had its headquarters on the estate until it merged with Securicor in 2004, and the sustainable cleaning products business Ecover.
While Jorgen built up a conglomerate, his wife Ingrid created - within the centre of the estate - Dormy House as one of the Cotswolds' most renowned hotels.
ay the family's business empire encompasses 94 companies. As well as its three British hotels, it owns the 52-bedroom Ruths hotel in Skagen, Denmark.
Soon after the death of Jorgen, at the age of 71, in 2010, the transformation began of the Farncombe Estate under the chairmanship of his son Mark, one of four siblings who all live in the Cotswolds.
The 38-bedroom Dormy House, centred around a 17th-century farmhouse, closed at the end of 2012 for an eight-month, £10.5m refurbishment. A spa with six treatment rooms and a 16-metre infinity pool was added in 2014.
ay, the juxtaposition of original oak beams, exposed Cotswold stone and roaring fires alongside the stylish Scandinavian-inspired interior created by Todhunter Earle make Dormy House the epitome of hygge comfort.
Work then began on developing an exclusive hotel within Foxhill Manor, the one-time home of Henry Maudslay, a squadron leader who played a pivotal role in the 1943 Dambuster raids on the Ruhr valley during the Second World War.
Meanwhile, a former conference centre on the estate has been transformed at a cost of around £3m into the Fish hotel. It consists of 67 bedrooms across a collection of buildings, with a restaurant and bar located at its centre. The initial work was completed by April this year, and there are ongoing plans to create a more imposing sense of arrival for guests as well as another 10 bedrooms.
A myriad of other buildings across the estate are rented out as office lets; in the long term they could provide opportunities for further extending Farncombe's hospitality and leisure facilities.
There is also the possibility that one building could be turned into a training centre, while the farm, currently used for staff accommodation, could become
a central kitchen with a bakery and laundry.
An imminent expansion in accommodation will come with the construction of five shepherds' huts, which will be officially launched in early January 2017. Five treehouses are also currently being considered by the local planning department.
"We have to be careful not to overdevelop the site, which sits within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, but we would really like to introduce a style of accommodation that would be a first, something that would gain a lot of PR traction," explains Grahame.
"One project we've looked at is a Scandinavian-inspired spa shack alongside what could become a natural swimming lake."
The creation of three hotels and further improvements across the Farncombe Estate over the past four years has cost a total of £17.6m, providing a 16.47% return on investment. The head count has risen from 823 in 2012 to 305 today.
The Farncombe portfolio
Average room rate £350
Average room rate £240
Average room rate £95
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