When Dorothy Robson moved from her home in St Albans in Hertfordshire and purchased Swallows Eaves Hotel in Colyford, on the Devon/Dorset border, she took on more than just the normal challenges that come with running your own business.
Although the hotel was in a beautiful Edwardian building, it was looking tired with a brown pebbledash external render and internal décor that was probably last seen in the 1980s. The grounds were overgrown by tall, dying leylandii trees with minimal parking for guests. Internally, the fire alarm system needed urgent upgrading to ensure safety, the boiler needed immediate replacement to ensure reliable hot water supplies and heating, and the kitchen was in desperate need of a complete refurbishment to provide the business with the requirements and safety, needed for a 2009 commercial kitchen.
With the growing trend for online reviews back in 2008/9, Dorothy realised that she firstly needed to run the business for a short while and then decide the full extent of the improvements that were required, to ensure that in future, these reviews would provide valuable positive guest feedback on which to build the business.
It was in February 2011, when the mature wisteria surrounding the whole building, was bare of leaves and flowers, that Dorothy began the renovation project, by hiring a company she had used about 20 years prior, to coat and paint the external pebbledash. Great care was taken with the wisteria to ensure it came to no damage! The walls were transformed from a dull brown colour to a brighter and lighter cream colour, which instantly lifted the whole building providing a much warmer and lighter effect.
As part of the renovation project, Dorothy wanted to extend the restaurant as well as to refurbish all the bedrooms and bathrooms. The restaurant capacity would be doubled, additional toilets and facilities were to be installed, as well as upgrading bedrooms and bathrooms and reducing 8 bedrooms down to 7, but only losing one bed in the process. Bathrooms were to have a total refurbishment with up-to-date showers and bathroom fitments installed. Two rooms were to be knocked through, to allow for the building of one larger Master suite.
Talks and plans with the architect had already begun in 2010, and after several revisions the plans were submitted to the local District Council early in 2011. Dorothy particularly wanted the restaurant extension to be designed to continue and complement the original lines of the Edwardian building, to ensure it was in keeping with the whole building and did not give the incongruous appearance of having just attached a modern conservatory onto the end of an Edwardian structure.
No local objections were recorded and eventually the plans received formal approval, and building of the restaurant extension began in September 2011.
The hotel is situated in a small local Conservation Area and problems only arose when the local Council Tree Officer became involved. There were no Tree Preservation Orders in place, and there were no particular specimen trees that warranted special attention, however he demanded that trenches should be dug in various places over the hotel’s front lawns to ascertain where the neighbour’s tree roots were growing, as well as the roots for the dying leylandii and the roots for a sweet chestnut tree in Dorothy’s garden. Many photographs were taken and several expensive reports were written, after which the Tree Officer decreed that there should be one area that was designated a ‘no dig zone’ – thereby splitting up the planned additional car parking, and altering the proposed landscaping scheme.
The Tree Officer also raised concerns about the terrace that was going to be built near this mature sweet chestnut tree, and dictated that a specific, very expensive ‘eco-friendly’ base to the terrace should be built. This was to ensure that the tree which had been growing there for many years, could breathe and get plenty of water. Eventually the terrace was completed having doubled in cost for this particular aspect of the renovation.
Eco-friendly grasscrete was laid to provide 10 additional car parking spaces – this gave a grassy appearance to the area instead of stark tarmac. A disabled parking bay was signed and designated opposite the hotel entrance. Steps up to the terrace were built as well as a gently sloping footpath with in-laid ground level lighting to provide the less able with an easy and safe approach to the restaurant door where there was a flat entrance. A concrete ramp was provided at the hotel’s front door ensuring that accessibility was key for all guests. New signage and lighting was installed around the grounds.
Internally, a new water main was installed to ensure efficient working of the new unvented water system, which provided increased water pressure to the showers without the need for additional pumps or extra water storage. Dorothy has found that this has been one of the most popular aspects of the renovation that is regularly commented upon and appreciated by the guests.
The kitchen area was increased by a further 50% and up-to-date equipment installed to cope with the increased trade from the enlarged restaurant, as well as to provide Chef with the tools to improve the menus at both lunch and dinner. Development of the back garden came a little later, but the hotel now has a large kitchen garden with many raised beds growing the hotel’s own vegetables, potatoes, fruits and herbs for use in the restaurant.
An old area of flat roof had continued to prove problematic over the years with repeated leaks, so a new apex roof was built along with additional lagging to provide extra warmth to the bedroom below, ensuring that the room could be let on a year round basis. Thereby increasing the revenue from this room. Where new bathrooms had been built, Dorothy felt it was important to allow natural light into these rooms, and extra Velux windows were installed along with black-out blinds so that guests would not be disturbed from the early morning light.
It was important to complete the renovation with new furniture of lighter wood colour, instead of the dark mahogany and heavy designs. New curtains, blinds, mirrors and pictures were put up and new carpet laid where necessary. Each bedroom has its own individual design and décor – each room is quite individual.
The hotel welcomes cyclists and walkers to this beautiful area and the Jurassic Coast, and Dorothy worked closely with the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, for whom she is an Ambassador, to build a wooden cycle cabin and storage shed, along with a wash-off area for dirty boots and bikes! The hotel wants to encourage visitors to explore the area and perhaps use their cars less frequently.
Since the renovation has been completed, the hotel has been fortunate to receive many plaudits from both the hotel residents as well as Colyford locals. The outside of the building looks attractive with the new wall colour as well as the pretty landscaping and lighting schemes. The internal work has definitely brought the hotel into the 21st century, and ready to compete favourably with any other hotel of a similar level. Dorothy’s delighted and reassured to receive very many positive guest reviews on a variety of websites, hopefully making the investment worthwhile, despite the extremely difficult and challenging economic conditions since 2008.
To find out more about Swallows Eaves Hotel visit www.swallowseaves.co.uk