Lee and I first saw Springwood in the Spring of 2007. There was something about its lean, elegant Edwardian lines and beautiful features that immediately caught my imagination. I remember getting out of the car and thinking ‘this is the one’. It needed a lot of work: it looked tired and unloved and I itched to get my hands on it. That August we began what was to be a long refurbishment project and a total labour of love and sheer perseverance.
We began with the reception room at the front of the house, which looked a bit like someone’s family sitting room but was rarely used by guests. It had a corner bar unit, abandoned by the previous owners, a couple of sofas and a television – and no personality. Check-in took place at a little table in the hallway where people had to queue, which did not seem right to me. Why not create a beautiful room that guests could enjoy?
And so this rather unloved space was transformed into a warm Art Deco-themed room where guests could relax with afternoon tea and cakes when they arrived and then use as a meeting point during their stay. The old ‘bar’ was adapted as the check-in desk with lots of information for guests, alongside useful things like luggage scales and plug adapters.
I knew the room would be the perfect back drop for an original Art Deco set of three wall lights and a centre light we had bought with us from our old house. I have always loved the Art Deco style and I had my Art Deco treasures stored in packing cases from our move. Now I had a place for them all.
The decoration of the dining/breakfast room was next and my collection of original Art Deco breakfast china found a new home. Everyone who stays here comments on the china, especially when they remember (as they frequently do), ‘my granny had a set like this’.
We then tackled the hall, stairs and landings. There was a serious shortage of storage space and all the spare linen was all stored on shelves in the corridor barely disguised with some nasty curtains. I had to solve this problem before we could start. I was already on the mailing list of our local auction house and I knew a very large Arts & Crafts linen press was due to come under the hammer. I considered the chances of finding an Art Deco linen press and realised that it was very unlikely I’d fine one.
Buying the Arts and Crafts linen press was, of course, a slight deviation from the Art Deco theme but I had the idea of linking it to the period with a feature on Charles Rene Mackintosh whom I had long admired. The corridor subsequently became a homage to Mackintosh, with examples of his chairs and prints. A trip to Glasgow to source the lovely Mackintosh Rose fabric for the curtains gave me enough time to visit Hill House to marvel again at his innovation – and spark a few more ideas.
Once we were up and running for a while, it became apparent that we would need to renovate all the en-suite bathrooms. And then, happily, we found Lukasz, our very talented and skilful builder. We had engaged various decorators to do up the rooms but they lacked that certain ‘wow’ factor. I noticed guests’ positive reaction to the themed areas and their compliments gave me the confidence to continue the theme into the rooms and Lukasz said he could help. After he had done the first room, I knew I wanted him to do all of the others because the finish was so good. We work well together. He listens to my latest décor ideas with great patience and says ‘I do that Sue’ – and he just does.
Singlehandedly, Lukasz has completely gutted and refitted all twelve of our en-suites with Art Deco touches in each. He is amazing. Previous owners’ DIY disasters are handled with pragmatic practicality. Nothing fazes him and he is now an essential part of the team.
Local soft furnishings expert, Sheila Harvey, has also played a big part in the transformation. She quickly came ‘on board’ with the Art Deco theme. We were both looking at an Erté print one day in one of the rooms which features tassels on the end of a bed cover and Sheila immediately suggested tassels on the end of the bed runner she was about to make. She listened to my vague idea of an ‘upside down castle shape’ for a pelmet and translated this into a beautiful step-shaped Deco style pelmet. She understands that we have cost constraints and has been incredibly inventive and resourceful in using the fabrics right down to the last little bits.
I would like to say that I have meticulously designed each room and then sourced the fabrics and furniture to fit the design, but we simply could not have afforded to approach it this way. Instead, I have travelled far and wide, sourcing good Art Deco style fabrics at bargain prices, collecting Art Deco furniture won on Ebay, and lost track of the hours and hours online finding cost effective solutions to all the ideas buzzing around my head. The end result is a mixture of original Art deco pieces, some second hand furniture and a few brand new pieces. I often ask interested guests to have a good look around and play the ‘is it original or is it reproduction?’ game.
It has all been worth the effort. It is really gratifying when guests share their pleasure and appreciation when they notice all the attention to detail. Our final touch has been to name the rooms using connections with the Art Deco period and linking local and aviation links with corresponding features in the rooms.
It may all seem a little bit grand for a 12-room B&B, but why should airport travellers and longer stay guests be forced to stay in predictable chain hotels which all look the same? Why not stay somewhere a bit special with a real character. We want them to arrive and simply relax. The added dimension of providing on-site Gatwick holiday parking and airport transfers makes this business rather more complicated than the average B&B, but that is part of the whole experience for our guests, so it is worth it.
We have grown accustomed to guests getting their cameras out as soon as they arrive. They fall in love with certain pieces and are excited by the treasures they find. I am pleased and happy with their enthusiasm. It makes it so worthwhile for us. I like to think that staying with us we adds to the good memories of their trip – wherever it begins and ends.