Oxfordshire has Soho Farmhouse, Somerset has The Newt and Hampshire is home to the original Pig, which subsequently conquered a stretch of the south with a smattering of its rustic-chic retreats. With the opening of Birch, Hertfordshire now has a hip country hotspot to call its own.
The new 140-room hotel and members’ space, realised in the revamped Georgian manor house of the De Vere Theobalds Estate in Cheshunt, hopes to usher in a new era of city escape led by entrepreneur Chris King and hotelier Chris Penn (formerly of Shoreditch’s Ace Hotel).
This latest venture appears to be aimed squarely at the ‘Down from London’ crowd, and those who make the swift journey north will be met by an expansive modern estate housing a heated lido, art studio, pottery workshop, interactive bakery, screening room, music room, three bars and 20 event spaces.
Fresh from The Yard, farm-to-table chef Robin Gill will funnel produce from his first on-site farm kitchen into restaurants The Zebra Riding Club and Valeries, as well as teaching urbanite guests how to grow and forage. Factor in the wider programme of cultural events, workshops and wellness offerings and it seems likely that members and guests – who are granted access-all-areas – will find no lack of things to do.
Just as appealing are the spaces in which to do them. The co-founders enlisted the ‘light touch’ of London-based architecture practice Red Deer to coax a contemporary retreat from the Grade II-listed shell, while retaining – and occasionally uncovering – original features. ‘The main challenge of working with an existing building is the unexpected discoveries,’ explains architect Pauline Dellemotte. ‘Good surprises’ included an original mosaic floor and frescoed ceilings, while painted numbers on unearthed floorboards were dutifully embraced and ‘transformed into a design feature’.
The firm’s commitment to collaborating with local artisans led to a series of bespoke commissions, including sculptural valet stands manufactured by Jan Hendzel Studio. These ‘deconstructed wardrobes’ combine recycled plastic and resin orbs by Charlotte Kidger, copper bowls by Lucie Naujalis and vases by ceramicist Emma Louise Payne, who also contributed coat hooks, keyrings, door numbers and glazed porcelain pendants.
If the Birch brand is to tread the trajectory of Soho House et al, Chris King’s ethos paves a clear path: ‘We want to leave you in a better place than when we found you.’ From £130 per night. birchcommunity.com
This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration August 2020
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