Ancient meets Modern in a striking country house hotel in Gloucestershire by De Matos Storey Ryan Cowley Manor is a country house hotel, one very much a reflection of the clients who own and run it - English country house (with grounds) meets contemporary living. It is the sort of place clients Jessica Sainsbury and Peter Frankopan would want to stay themselves - not always the best formula for commercial success - but one that looks to be working.While there is some midweek small conference use, the design focus is residential. They describe the aspiration as calm and timeless, providing space for relaxation, exercise and contemplation of the landscape, a retreat and a destination. Children are welcomed. The emphasis is on informality of style and service; no reprise of the stately home weekend here.
The first manor house at Cowley, five miles south of Cheltenham, dates from 1695. But the current interest begins with James Hutchinson's acquisition of the manor in the 1850s. G Somers Clark laid out new terraces and designed a south-facing, five-bay, three-storey Italian house for him on the first manor house's site. It was, though, relatively small for such an estate - then 770ha - and when that was bought by Sir James Horlick (of Malted Milk fame) in 1895, he employed RA Briggs to extend the house a further six bays to the west in matching style and to enlarge the servants wing.The interiors were lavishly panelled with hardwoods and ceilings richly decorated.Unfortunately, much of this interior work was subsequently removed and the gardens allowed to deteriorate by more recent owners and tenants and during changed uses, as a school, conference centre and lastly as a residential home for the elderly, which closed in 1999.What is now the dining room is the only major space left largely untouched from the 1890s extension, and that was the anteroom to the ballroom, the ballroom itself demolished in the 1930s as part of a 'modernisation'.Despite its sorry state, the manor was listed Grade II, lying now in 20ha of grounds, themselves listed Grade II*.
The architect's initial contact with the client came socially, at Cambridge University some years ago (though the clients are not architects), and architect De Matos Storey Ryan (DMSR) has been involved with this project right from the search for a site, bought in 1999.The project mainly embraces conversion of the manor house and stable block to create a 30-bed hotel, the building of a separate new spa with two pools and treatment rooms, and reshaping the courtyard between the three buildings.
While all this is distinctive in character, the clients were not looking for a signature scheme.As well as DMSR, the design collaborative that was formed comprised designers of textiles, furniture and graphic identity, plus a hotel consultant, so that the designed experience runs from initial contact through arrival to the stay, including details like table linen and the availability of board games.
Externally, works to the existing buildings were mainly repairs, though first-floor window sills on the south of the house were lowered so that residents there can now step out of their bedrooms onto an existing terrace. Internally, the first step was one of restoration toward the proportions of the original rooms. Partitions that had recently created 59 bedrooms and 39 bathrooms were stripped out; the manor house now has only 15 of the guest rooms. By responding to the original buildings, rooms vary in shape and size, marketed as good/better/great/exceptional/best (£220-£445 per room).
En suite facilities are designed as Modern interventions detached from the old fabric, like 'furniture'as Jose de Matos describes it, an approach running throughout in contrasting old and new.This approach though is not the Scarpa-esque expressing of layers of history, including the latest, all separated, as for example at Stanton Williams Whitby Abbey museum and visitors centre (AJ 25.4.02). At Cowley the old is more the setting for the new. In the bedrooms the scale of the rooms does hold its own against the new 'furniture'plus the carefully limited amount of newly designed bedroom furniture in these rooms.
Downstairs, though, where spaces are more intensively used, what is left of the old mostly becomes background to the new, a sequence of contrasting rooms, perhaps each trying a bit too hard to be a destination in its own right. Toward the east end of the ground floor the simple entrance hall provides an understated welcome, enlivened by glass lozenge shapes strung in the stairwell, lit from below, in an effective reworking of the idea of the chandelier. By contrast some spaces drift toward kitsch, as with the leather-lined pool table room and the dining room's WCs, located in a conservatory, housed in timber shingle-clad pods.Nearby, a new sculptural stair is a ribbon of timber joining ground and first floor. The main lounge is quietly focused on the garden with soft seating where you could readily sit alone, but in the bar opposite, with its new flat wall panelling and austere seating units, a group of people could well feel adrift.By contrast again, the dining room is a model of restraint, its retained panelling and ceiling speaking for themselves, well complemented by new ceiling lighting and dining furniture.
There is an infectious enthusiasm that runs through all this, right down to the details, whether the finely made concrete surrounds to baths and basins or the entrance to the bar. Here the doorway reveals are veneer-on-glass, which reads as timber by day, but backlit reads as part of the night-time mood change.
The architect has been less constrained by the existing fabric in the stable block, largely gutting the mostly two-storey spaces, (though some parts rise to three storeys, including towers, one area fitted out as a creche). Typically guest rooms have discreet openings to the outside, with bedroom/bathroom spaces immediately inside, then sitting spaces beyond, opening onto the courtyard through sliding glass doors. Bathroom areas are mezzanines, cantilevered over beds in a reworking of the four-poster bed, but without the posts. Restless nights for those of limited faith in structural engineering.
The courtyard is a simple hard landscaped oasis. It could all have been so different.When the manor was bought its sales information said that the planners would be opposed to new development. First thoughts were for the pool to be in this internal courtyard, maybe with changing rooms below. Then, as an alternative, DMSR proposed reshaping the main courtyard between house, stables and former tennis courts, using this latter area to sink a spa building low into the landscape.
Viewed from the hotel entrance, helped by groundshaping, little more than a simple concrete roof plane would appear above the grass. The architect made models and received favourable responses from the planners. Wide discussions, which included local people, many recently resident, and English Heritage, led to first-time planning approval (and for the hotel too, submitted separately).
Whether by stair between two high walls or by more gentle ramp, you descend to the outdoor pool, wrapped by retaining walls.Mirroring this outdoor pool is another indoors beneath the concrete roof. A rough stone-faced retaining wall and flooring of stone and timber decking all flow from outdoors to indoors through a glazed wall. The indoor pool end is glazed too.With the pool water level and the pool surround, a swimmer has uninterrupted views out. The two other sides of the pool enclosure are another retaining wall (slate-finished, as is the pool underwater) - helping make the whole spa feel a single enclave - and access to the subterranean backstage area of changing rooms and fitness and beauty treatment rooms, reached via a top-lit corridor.
In a sense the spa is a separate place, but in some ways the hotel has prepared you for this with its two other separate buildings and variety of spaces. It belongs. The scheme offers spaces to be with others, to be pampered or to be alone - there are even private dayrooms for hire. It is done with design exuberance - as somewhere to get away to, offering a distancing from the everyday without retreat into nostalgia. The brief is met.
TENDER DATE May 2000 START ON SITE DATE August 2000 CONTRACT DURATION 58 weeks GROSS INTERNAL FLOOR AREAS Main house and stable 3,365m 2Spa 840m 2FORM OF CONTRACT JCT 98 CLIENT Jessica Sainsbury and Peter Frankopan ARCHITECT De Matos Storey Ryan: Jose Esteves de Matos, Jonathan Storey, Angus Morrogh-Ryan STRUCTURAL ENGINEER Price & Myers SERVICES ENGINEER Max Fordham QUANTITY SURVEYOR Peter Grabham Associates PLANNING SUPERVISOR Eidetic TEXTILE DESIGNER Govinda Hemphill Tsang FURNITURE DESIGNER Kay + Stemmer GRAPHIC IDENTITY Jimmy Yang Associates HOTEL CONSULTANT Tim & Lucy House SUBCONTRACTORS Spa reception desk, lockers and display cabinet, bar joinery Barnwood Shopfitting; kitchen equipment Berkeley Projects; cast concrete Carey; structural glass FA Firman; joinery Mayfair; swimming pools Penguin Swimming Pools; electronic door systems Systemteq; oak floors and lining Victorian Wood Works SUPPLIERS Vinyl, resin floors Altro; shower tray membrane Alwitra; cast stone wall, paving Britannia Stone (Precast); winter-garden and indoor pool slate Burlington Slate; lighting, inc swimming pool Concord Marlin;sanitaryware, taps CP Hart;
carpet Crucial Trading; mineral felt roofing Derbigum; mosaics Domus; taps, bathroom fittings Dombracht; aluminium components Gooding Aluminium; roller blinds Levolux; bar Page Lacquer Company; bathroom fittings, sanitaryware Splash; bath, sink tops Trent Concrete
FURNITURE, LIGHTING Furniture Coexistence; furniture, lighting Noel Hennessy, SCP Contracts; chandelier Lights of Vienna; lights Light Projects, Modular Lighting; fibre optic lighting Museum & Gallery Lighting; audiovisual equipment Oxford Audio
De Matos Storey Ryan www. dmsr. co. uk Price & Myers www. pricemyers. com Max Fordham www. maxfordham. com Kay + Stemmer www. kay-stemmer. com