The top-to-toe makeover of the 17th-century hotel brings a dash of urban class to the Suffolk coastal town. Tessa Allingham pays a visit.
This high street hotel, in Southwold, Suffolk, has a new look that is colourful, cool, contemporary and comfortable. The design of the Swan Southwold was unveiled in October after a 10-month, £6m renovation, masterminded by interior design firm Project Orange. The identity of the owner, the brewer/distiller Adnams, is suggested rather than imposed, and the attention to detail is exquisite.
"The Swan needed more than a lick of paint," says Adnams marketing director Emma Hibbert. "But there's a fine line between shabby chic and what's potentially damaging to the brand."
Key structural changes included knocking together some smaller bedrooms to create more spacious en suites, bringing the number of rooms down from 43 to 35. An entrance to the Still Room restaurant was created directly from the high street to encourage non-resident business, and part of the bar at the back of the hotel was demolished to create a high-ceilinged space for informal eating. A new visitor centre stands where there were once garages.
Marketing manager Victoria Savory talks of creating a sense of place "without putting anchors on every cushion. It's not twee. We wanted boldness, confidence, some playfulness." The swan feet (a motif picked up on staff uniforms), flirty touches of pink and the use of bright colour all add to this. Butlers, rather than being top-hatted and tail-coated formalities, are friendly faces ready to nip out for a forgotten toothbrush or fix a gin and tonic.
Reconnecting the hotel, which has been owned by Adnams since 1872, with its brewing history was also key. "The Swan had become detached from its heritage and we found ourselves apologising for it, rather than celebrating it," says Hibbert. She is convinced that uptake of the brewery and distillery tours, offered since 2009 and taken by 15,000 people last year, will continue to rise in tandem with the demand for experiential tourism. The coastal location puts 'wellness' tourists into Adnams' sights, too.
Hibbert hopes the renovation will help put Suffolk on the map among staycationers, an ambition echoed by new general manager Lyndon Barrett-Scott. Part of the team behind the 2015 opening of Manchester's King St Townhouse and the award-winning Cotswold House in Chipping Campden, Barrett-Scott is confident: "Before Cotswold House the only boutique hotel in that area was the Lygon Arms. Now look what's happened - Dormy House, Soho Farmhouse, Cowley Manor…
I hope that in five years we'll look back and say we started something amazing in Suffolk."
l 35 bedrooms, whether in the 'excellent', 'fabulous' or 'outstanding' category, are painted up to picture-rail height in either Farrow & Ball Down Pipe (in the front south-facing rooms) or in Worsted, a slightly lighter shade.
This is teamed with sisal flooring and neutral linen curtains and blinds to create a simple backdrop for the pops of brightness from one of three colourways - bright blue, lime green or teal. These colours feature in cushions, sofas, the bespoke rugs with their contemporary wine bottle design, and even in the drawer liners or the panel behind the TV. Hints of copper in light fittings and detail on the bespoke tallboy keep the bedroom design coherent with that of the public spaces.
e double-sprung beds, which have deep mattress toppers and 400 thread-count linen, are as big as each room can take, and all the beds in the main house are four-posters with the post tips painted a bright Adnams pink.
Technical wizardry is discreet. "This a seaside hotel, not a business one," says Christopher Ash, director of Project Orange. "People want the technology, but they don't want to see it." The 40-inch smart TV (Apple TV in the top-grade rooms) is hidden behind the fold-out doors of the deliberately scuffed tallboy, there are discreet Bose speakers, and the vintage-style telephone is in keeping with the overall style, as are the postcards available to send and the draughts boards. The complimentary 20cl bottle of Adnams gin is a nice touch.
The traditional style continues with details such as the twisted fabric flex to the reading lamps, the column radiators, and the vintage photographs of Suffolk, while tired reproduction furniture has been either painted or distressed by local artist Hein Bonger.
There are a further 11 rooms set around an attractive garden, which is landscaped by local designer Janey Auchincloss. A patio area will provide a summer barbecue spot.
ing, with its risk of mouldering grout, is out, and tongue and groove on a high-performance MDF lining is in. Walls are painted either pale blue or calamine pink and are combined with solid fittings, high-level lavatories, generously sized baths and fixed-head power showers.
e Project Orange team relished the challenge of hauling the restaurant out of what Ash called its "slightly deadly, tired, octogenarian" feel to create a comfortable but contemporary space. The 54-cover Still Room, the more upscale of the two eateries, retains its original features, such as the marble fireplace, ornate plasterwork and several imposing portraits. Back-to-back banquettes running through the middle of the restaurant make the space feel more intimate.
"People naturally go for tables against a wall, which can leave the middle of a big room devoid of atmosphere," says Ash. "Now, guests are spread more evenly and feel more anchored - there aren't any wallflowers!"
Lighting created from empty green glass wine bottles suspended above the banquettes brings the height of the ceiling down, while demijohn wall-lights (these feature in the bigger bedrooms, too) give a coppery glow against the Down Pipe-painted walls.
A striking copper cocktail bar references the distilling side of the Adnams business, with bottles of Adnams spirits lit from below on the back-bar and the whole area illuminated by dramatic downlights ("they're a Heath Robinson riff on the copper stills," says Ash).
e 36-cover Tap Room is more pub-like, with Little Greene's Royal Navy paint combined with an eclectic collection of sofas, armchairs and stools, creating a cosy feel. The original bar ("it was dingy and soulless before," says Ash) was demolished to create a high-ceilinged eating space with a zinc bar and looping rope lights - a nod to the coastal location. Tiles, hand-painted by local firm Smoke and Fire, reference Southwold Jack, the Adnams emblem, and the iconic Southwold lighthouse.
The food at the Tap Room and Still Room is overseen by executive head chef Ross Bott, who joined Adnams from heading up the kitchen at Atul Kochhar's 2017 opening, Hawkyns restaurant in Amersham. He offers three £65 six-course tasting menus (fish, meat and vegetarian), with every dish available alternatively as a starter or main. "We want it to be different from anything else in Southwold, but flexible and relaxed, too," says Bott.
e two pink chairs in the reception window are a reminder from the moment of arrival that this is an Adnams property and offer a bold, bright welcome. They sit against blue panelled walls, original Norfolk terracotta clay pamment tiled floor, and a grandfather clock.
The drawing room
d colourways continue in the drawing room, where two vast emerald green sofas are the focal point. Rich blue upholstery features elsewhere, along with comfortable window seating and well-lit corners, perfect for reading the papers or enjoying a generous afternoon tea (£28).
Most of the art - including pieces by renowned turn-of-the-century Suffolk artist Harry Becker and current artist Jason Gathorne-Hardy - was already owned by Adnams, and was carefully catalogued and repaired by Project Orange. Commissioned pieces, such as Autumn Ditch, Rain Clearing by East Anglian painter Fred Ingrams, hang in the dining room, and there are more than 100 works throughout the hotel by Brigitte Herod, including framed vintage Scrabble boards with the letters set into Adnams-related words.
The light-filled, book-lined Reading Room, with views towards the sea, is an elegant space for private functions. It can seat up to 20 and the hotel has a wedding licence. Likewise, the Juniper Room, adjacent to the Still Room, offers private dining for up to eight.
Average spend at the Still Room is expected to touch £95 including wine, says Adnams, with a "significant proportion" of the business coming from non-residents. In the Tap Room, where prices are in line with Adnams' managed outlets, average spend should be around £35. There are plans for outdoor seating between the visitor centre and the Tap Room. Average room occupancy is targeted at "upwards of 70%" in the year ahead.
Contact and details
- Address The Swan Southwold, Market Place, Southwold, Suffolk IP18 6EG.
- Phone 01502 722186
- Website www.theswansouthwold.co.uk
- Owner Brewery Adnams, which also owns 48 tied and six managed properties throughout Suffolk, with one in London
- Bedrooms 35 (23 in the main building plus 12 garden rooms), split across three categories: excellent (11), fabulous (18) and outstanding (6)
- Rates From £200 midweek for an 'excellent' room to £420 for an 'outstanding' room, B&B
Beds, benches and rope tables in bedrooms
- Nova Interiors
Curtain poles, ironmongery, door furniture
- Jim Lawrence
- Hein Bonger
22 High St, Saxmundham, Suffolk
- House & Garden, Snape Maltings
- Wild & Wolf
Linen for bedroom curtains
- Volga Linen
- St Jude's
Bathroom floor tiles
- Mosaic del Sur
- Burlington Bathrooms
- Heritage Bathrooms
Emerald sofas in lounge
- Sofa Workshop
Reupholstery of existing furniture
- English and Continental Antiques
Carpet and rugs
- Naked Flooring Company
- Smoke and Fire
- Winchester Tile Company
Feature lighting and downlights
- Northern Lights
- Fred Ingrams
- Brigitte Herod