The Old Stocks Inn, based in Stow on the Wold in the Cotswolds, has recently undergone a multi-million pound refurbishment which has transformed the 17th Century building into a modern, 17-bedroom boutique hotel and restaurant with a cool Scandinavian vibe. By MICHAEL NORTHCOTT
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PROJECT BRIEF: Refurbish 17th Century property into modern boutique hotel
BUDGET: Exact figure not disclosed
PROJECT LEADER: Jim Cockell
LOCATION: The Cotswolds
The process took six months and seen the building stripped back to the walls and completely re-imagined, often with traditional methods such as lime and horsehair ceilings. There were also the strict planning laws to adhere to and a local conservation team had to be co-operated with – the Cotswolds is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Jim Cockell, a veteran of IHG and part of a well-known hotelier family, is the man behind the refurbishment.
We bought the hotel in January 2014. It was a very dated hotel that hadn’t had any love and attention for about 20 years and although it had a fantastic position on the market square, it had seen much better days. It was a typical coaching hotel that had very basic rooms and a very basic food and beverage offering. It did well and made a lot of money but it was a high volume, low margin business.
It was ripe for a repositioning, but it was a large job because the bones of the building were really creaking at the seams – the heating, the lighting and the plumbing all needed to be done. So after we purchased it, we ran it from January through to October, testing it, getting our head around the building, getting our head around the space, and then we closed in October to begin the refurbishment. Just four months later, we reopened the renovated premises in March this year.
What was the overall project brief, in terms of vision?
We had developed a concept which was about trying to redesign the typical Cotswolds experience, so from a design perspective, the vision had four cornerstones. They were ‘individuality, curiosity, generosity, and playful authenticity’. The model was to provide a hotel that could be a base camp for people wanting to explore the
surroundings of the Cotswolds, whether they dine with us or stay with us. Wanted it to be a place with information, a place where you could sit in the rooms reading, or you could go out and explore.
We felt that every hotel offering in the Cotswolds region was going in the same direction, all petrol coloured walls, flagstone flooring, and leather seats. Our plan was to try and inject a bit of colour and design into the hotel scene, a flavour that was not rife in the Cotswolds. The boutique market has closed quite a lot, where pubs and B&Bs are calling themselves boutique hotels, despite only a limited amount of design and interior focus, so we had to do something different to make our mark. Jordan’s challenge as a designer was to do something colourful.
Was it a case of stripping back to the skeleton?
We took everything out to the point that every cable and pipe was taken out, the entire heating system was replaced.
It was on its last legs. It is effectively three houses that have been knocked together over the years, but the stone walls were relatively strong. The joists were 17th Century and needed extra support because they had bowed so much. A particularly interesting moment was where there is an old door onto the market square. It had been glued shut for some years, so we tried to open it and bring it back into use, but it turned out it was holding up part of the external wall, and as a result, part of the roof started to sag a bit so it needed support very quickly.
In terms of knocking walls through we did very little, we were blessed with a lot of decent sized rooms. We broke through two existing walls to create bigger spaces, but apart from that it was just replacing structural stuff.
Were there any hair raising moments?
I think the big thing coming out of this that I wouldn’t overlook next time, is a thorough investment in finding out what the mechanical engineering needs were. Simple things like understanding how, when you’re in a 17th Century building, the pipes run through the joists, but then then you need bigger pipes to get the amount of water through that people expect from a shower these days. Those hurdles are complex and expensive to find out.
What is your career background?
I have been in hotels ever since leaving school – IHG, DeVere and so on – so I cut my teeth in hotels. My parents ran a big hotel booking agency which they were in for years so hotels and this industry have been part of the family. We have always wanted to buy a property and do something like this – it has been in my head for years.
So it is a family-run operation through and through?
I run the business, but it is a family driven enterprise, definitely. Several members of the family are responsible for different things.
Has it given you the appetite to embark on another project?
The long term vision was always to get a concept nailed down early on before we found an asset such as Old Stocks.
The concept is something that should theoretically be able to be lifted and introduced somewhere else where it is suited to the local market. The plan was always to end up with a small collection of properties. However, we all believe you can rise very successfully on the first 6 – 12 months and think that everything is going very well, but then move too quickly. We want to get this one absolutely right before moving onto the second and third properties.
Who did the interior design work for you?
Jordan Littler did the design. I have known him for 12 years – he went to university with my sister in Birmingham where they both studied Interior Design and Interior Architecture. He worked for Black Sheep and did some of Jamie Oliver’s restaurants, and various other big properties. He was London-based and wanted to spread his wings and do his own practice.
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Jordan Littler – Interior Designer
When I first met with Jim and the team it was really about offering something new in that area. We knew we had a great site with a lot of potential, and we spent a lot of time talking about the local area and the competition, and what we could do to offer something different. There are some brilliant hotels around there, but a lot of offers where they fit a certain mould.
The concept grew out of the idea of the hotel being very social and welcoming, and that people would go to the space and it would be their gateway to the Cotswolds. The building hadn’t been touched for about 20 years, so a lot of original features were covered up, beams were stained and so on. We had to strip it right back to the original shell, and restore it as much as we could. We used traditional techniques, for example a horse hair method with the ceiling plaster. We wanted the traditional authentic Cotswolds shell, and tied it in a few contemporary design features with bold colours. We had a clear understanding that we wanted to avoid floral patterns, for example. It became this marriage between old traditional and more contemporary.
It’s in a conservation area, so the local team didn’t want us to just tear everything out. In the restaurant, we used lathe- and-plaster for the ceiling. This is a traditional technique using strips of timber, with a thick render applied with horse hair in it. You then wait for it to dry out, and return to put another thinner layer on. It’s different from plasterboard with a skin that takes a few days; this took months because of the drying process. Obviously the building has moved so much through the years, there are low ceiling rooms and high ceiling rooms. The timber work was also quite oppressive, so we sandblasted that which made the space feel lighter.
DÉCOR & FURNITURE
In the dining room we’ve got some traditional leather dining chairs, but more of a lighter fabric, a sort of turquoise leather. Each area has its own set of colours and material palette. In the bar, instead of having dark heavy brown leathers, we’ve got a lot of softer grey toned fabrics with pops of colour.
Working with Jim was good because he is open to ideas, but also has that knowledge of running a hotel so he was also quite clear about what he wanted. The plan itself didn’t really change much, but we hit a few unexpected surprises.
Overall, was it an enjoyable process?
Absolutely. I’ve never done anything on this scale and it was fantastic. Having run other people’s hotels, working in other hotels that you don’t own, you don’t have a vested interest in it and it is a very different experience doing it for yourself. The timescale that we did this in was very tight, but you get a lot of enjoyment from seeing the details that you’ve put in such as light switches being at the right level one the wall, and the lighting is correct – it makes it all worthwhile when guests comment on it.
How has the hotel been received so far?
It’s been really well received. We’re in July now, notoriously a good seasonal time for the Cotswolds, and we’ll hit 70% occupancy this month easily. We’ve been in the low 60s most months. It has been very well received, great TripAdvisor reviews. We’re starting to build slowly our PR and our awareness outside of the local market. From the locals’ perspective, we have effectively opened a market we didn’t know existed.
The locality has not had this before, and we have seen footfall over the threshold from people who live within a 15 mile radius, as they like to go somewhere different. We’ve sold 300 pizzas out on our back terrace with the wood-burning pizza oven – just as an aside! But the locals, they’re the ones who are here 12 months of the year and you need to look after them to make sure you’re supported during the winter.