Hotels and inns are chucking out the chintz and bringing in a contemporary style to keep today's guests interested. But how easy is it for independent businesses with a tight budget to create a fresh look? Rosalind Mullen reports
Location and price point tend to be the most critical considerations for guests when choosing a hotel or guesthouse. Now, equally, thanks to the might of the internet, a hotel's appearance is just as important, too. Hence, creating a good website is often listed as a priority in hotel marketing strategies. Good photos and plenty of them are crucial, but there's no point if your hotel looks like something the 1970s left behind.
In this age of online bookings and internet feedback, small hotels and guesthouses are increasingly seeing the importance of upgrading their rooms and restaurants, while adding a bit of eye-catching designer flair to boot.
That said, as Stirling Johnstone, editor of GS Magazine, warns: "Operators need to remember they are dealing with human beings - comfort, warmth and snugness are important." He adds that it's crucial that hoteliers have the budget to maintain the look, too: "Word of mouth is powerful. Overselling on brochures or a website is the worst-case scenario. You need to avoid bad publicity."
Stuart Harrison, of the Profitable Hotel Company, believes no one impression - design or otherwise - can be seen in isolation from the overall product and service. "I strongly believe we have to address the psychology of the purchase. Price-point is a powerful influence on the perception of where your product is positioned and what it is worth. Whether you have designed your hotel as classical or contemporary is just another positioning point, whereas the price is the commercial reality of whether you will be in business next year," he says.
But worry not. As our case studies show, you can create a stylish result on a limited budget and still command a respectable room rate.
TIPS FOR AFFORDABLE DESIGN
â- Check out affordable shops such as Homebase and Ikea
â- Always buy the best beds and pillows you can afford
â- Use reasonably priced fabric, but get it made up with proper lining and interlining
â- Make sure your website accurately reflects your interiors and ensure you upload plenty of photos
â- Ensure it's comfortable and clean; don't overfill rooms with clutter
â- Make the style personal rather than trying to replicate identikit operations
â- Take inspiration from wherever you can, such as magazines, websites, nature or other operators
â- Update furniture by re-covering, painting and changing handles
â- Keep everything fresh, clean and polish, polish, polish
IT HAD TO BE NICER AND MORE COMFORTABLE THAN HOME
Mistley Thorn, Mistley, Essex
American chef Sherri Singleton took over the restaurant and rooms eight years ago
â- Bedrooms 7
â- Room rates About £90
â- Style and inspiration The building is Georgian, with high ceilings. Although Singleton didn't want it to be too beachy, it does have neutral tones and a Cape Cod feel. "I scavenged a few antiques," says Singleton. "I wanted everything to be functional but clean and look good. I don't like clutter, or minimalism. It had to be nicer and more comfortable than at home. As a result I spent as much as I could afford on the best showers and baths."
â- Interior designer or in-house? Singleton did the design herself
â- Importance of design in attracting guests Singleton says the website is important and is having it redesigned with more images. "People expect it - it's important that they get an idea of what they're going to get. That and word of mouth are important," she says.
â- Furnishings and furniture The Curtain Exchange had a good range of ready-made curtains and bedskirts. Singleton also used Habitat, Ikea, John Lewis and local shops.
â- Cost The design budget for the three newer rooms, including beds, furniture, carpets, soft furnishings, paint and electronics, was about £2,500 each. "The bathrooms came in at about £3,000, but we installed good-quality sanitary ware and baths (Duravit) with overhead showers (Aqua Lisa)," says Singleton. "We also are able to keep things under budget because North House Gallery in Manningtree (www.northhousegallery.co.uk) provides all the art in the public areas - we couldn't afford it otherwise. The one showcase item I splashed out on is a hanging light by Paul Cocksedge in the main dining area. It's already increased in value."
GUESTS WANT SOMEWHERE WITH PIZAZZ
The Rose & Crown, Snettisham, Norfolk
When Jeannette and Anthony Goodrich took over the pub more than seven years ago, it was chintzy and dated
â- Bedrooms 16
â- Room rates £90 to £110
â- Style and inspiration Jeannette Goodrich says the style is personal, rather than replicating every identikit country gastropub. "I like an eclectic mix and I like colour," she explains. "A lot of our look is in the paint - it means we can get away without having expensive furniture. The white bathrooms with blue tiled floors are clean and bright because guests want to know it's spotless." The Goodrichs bought the most comfortable beds and chairs they could afford. The front restaurant is traditional with a wooden floor, Fired Earth green verdigris walls and converted antique brass stable lamps - an auction find and expensive, but they set the tone in a plain room. The Cellar Bar restaurant is painted pink, orange, red and lime green on different walls. The family-oriented garden room is mineral blue and cream to give a nautical feel. "We are all things to everyone - whether you are coming off the beach after a hard day's paddling, or want a special meal," explains Goodrich.
â- Interior designer or in-house? "We tried an interior designer but they wanted it all in their style - and our budget just didn't stretch," says Goodrich.
â- Importance of design in attracting guests It plays an enormous part in attracting different markets with the old-fashioned bar, garden room for families and the trendy restaurant appealing to a mixed clientele. "We redecorated the drinking bars so that it looks as if it hasn't been done, but in the restaurants people like to see change," says Goodrich. "We are in north Norfolk; locals don't want a cosy local - they want somewhere with pizazz."
â- Furnishings and furniture Goodrich often picks up fabric when she sees it rather than when it is needed and has been amazed at getting a discount, just by asking. "A key tip is to use cheap fabric, but get it made up with proper lining and interlining - amazing how classy it looks," she says. "B&Q and Homebase are good for bathroom kit - their designs are good and cost a fraction of a specialist bathroom fitter. They're also good for bright light shades, which make plain bedside lamps look stylish and give the overall look a lift. For small bedroom chairs, Ikea has neutral washable covers which are cheap enough to replace every year. There are a lot of auctions round here so I pick up nice things and adapt our look."
â- Cost With the need for a continuous programme of refurbishing and painting due to the busy business and furnishings getting battered, about £30,000 a year is spent on upgrading the interior. "We also had a pirate ship playground built this year in the garden by a local builder for £5,000 - a lot less than the £15,000 to £20,000 quoted by specialists," adds Goodrich.
WARM AND WELCOMING WITH A DEGREE OF INTRIGUE
Llys Meddyg Restaurant & Rooms, Newport, Pembrokeshire
Ed Sykes has pursued a course of rigorous refurbishment since buying the Georgian coaching inn in 2003 with his wife, Lou
â- Number of bedrooms 9
â- Room rates About £140
â- Style and inspiration The look of Llys Meddyg reflects the environment and the Georgian property in which it is located. A carpenter has used sustainable timber to make furniture and fittings throughout the bedrooms, bar and restaurant, while a softness is provided by the hand-spun blankets, made locally from Angora goats. "We've got high ceilings so could use rich colours throughout, although the kitchen garden function room has a more pastel-beachy feel," explains Ed Sykes. Individual pieces of furniture, such as a bureau, a trough-shaped sink and a "mish-mash" of Welsh oak chairs from antique shops help create an eclectic look.
â- Interior designer or in-house? "I've been a developer so it made sense to do it ourselves," says Sykes. "It's from our heart."
â- Importance of design in attracting guests "The identity of the hotel is important," says Sykes. "It needs to be warm and welcoming with a degree of intrigue. We've got different spaces for different customers. We attract a lot of couples aged 28 to 40, but we also appeal to 55 to 70-year olds at different times of year."
â- Furnishings and furniture Farrow & Ball paints and local companies such as Blueberry Angoras for throws, Melin Tregwynt for blankets and cushions, Nugols of Narbeth for beds and Dickman in Glandy Cross for reclaimed wood.
â- Cost Ongoing, but going back to scratch with soundproofing and bespoke beds, it has been about £15,000 to £20,000 for each bedroom.
CATCH ROOMS BEFORE THEY BECOME SHABBY
Craigatin House & Courtyard, Pitlochry, Perthshire
Martin and Andrea Andersen bought the Victorian property as an ongoing business in 2007, having already spent 22 years in corporate sales and marketing. One of their first tasks was to upgrade the rooms to create a boutique-style bed and breakfast
â- Bedrooms 13
â- Room rates Double, £83; twin, £88; deluxe, £93; suite, £110
â- Style and inspiration Craigatin aims to provide "city chic in a rural setting" with the traditional blended with the luxury of contemporary design. "We were impressed by Malmaison and Hotel du Vin and wondered why no one had done anything similar in a guesthouse," says Martin Andersen. "The fresh design we went for contrasts with a lot of businesses, which have traditional floral bedspreads and patterned carpets."
â- Interior designer or in-house? Cottonwood Interiors, in Midlothian and Fife, helped with the design, although as prolific magazine collectors, the Andersens put themes together from a file of torn-out pages and brochures from hotels.
â- Furnishings and furniture Mattresses and carpets were replaced, walls painted using Dulux paint and furnishings came from John Lewis, Habitat and Ikea. "We inherited furniture when we bought the property and where we haven't been able to justify replacing it, we have made do instead by painting it or changing the handles," says Andersen.
â- Importance of design in attracting guests Guests identify with Craigatin as being better quality than at home. Andersen says that if £93 is being spent on a room for the night, it needs to be justified. "For that reason, we need to invest a substantial amount of turnover in refurbishment and catch rooms just before they become shabby," he says. "The website attracts people - and guests thank us when they find the website reflects reality. It's about keeping everything fresh and clean and polishing, polishing, polishing."
â- Cost The rolling improvement schedule on each room is roughly £4,000 to £5,000.
NATURAL COLOURS REFLECT THE SURROUNDING AREA
The Hand at Llanarmon, Cieriog Valley, Llangollen, Denbighshire
Gaynor De Luchi took over the centuries-old inn in 2003 with husband Martin. They did some basic refurbishments quickly and the rest of the upgrade as a gradual process
â- Bedrooms 13
â- Room rates £90 to £127
â- Style and inspiration A mix of traditional heritage and contemporary comfort, with natural colours. "We had a pivotal moment three years ago when we replaced all 13 bathrooms using clean white tiling," says Gaynor De Luchi. "That then made our bedrooms look dated, so we painted three walls in Dulux Wild Primrose, with the fourth wall either a deep red or violet-grey, and the ceiling in Lunar Falls, a luminous cream colour." Dated brass wall lights were thrown out and halogen bars introduced, alongside new bedding and bedside lamps. Fitted pine furniture was painted using a satin paint. "In the restaurant, we got rid of the tables that used to be cloaked in linen and went for a clean, contemporary look," says De Luchi.
â- Interior designer or in-house? All in-house with local labour.
â- Importance of design in attracting guests "The website is critically important. We were let down in the early days by an inadequate website and are upgrading it to upload more photos," says De Luchi. "We try to exceed people's expectations."
â- Furnishings and furniture A local company, Richmond Upholstery in Chirk, has recycled some of the old Sanderson curtains into blinds and cushion covers. "It's one of the benefits of using small local companies," says De Luchi. "We also used local workers to do the paintwork, although chose a bigger company to do the bathrooms. Elsewhere local artists have been given wall space in the bar."
â- Cost About £750 to £1,000 per room
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