Inside The Swan at Southwold after its £6 million transformation
PUBLISHED: 14:53 07 March 2018 | UPDATED: 15:10 07 March 2018
A £6 million transformation of Adnams' flagship property, The Swan at Southwold, is more than skin deep. As Tessa Allingham discovers, it's about positioning the company as the county's go-to luxury boutique hotel brand
I’m in Room 15 at the Swan hotel, Southwold, surrounded fashionably in Down Pipe. Its own makers – Farrow & Ball, natch – call the shade of leaden grey-blue ‘daringly dark’ and it is that, but in a cocooning, cosy way, especially now as evening succumbs to night and the glow from the demijohn glass lamps either side of the vast bed spreads an orange warmth around the space.
It’s a beautifully comfortable room on the top floor. On this unseasonably warm evening I’ve pushed down the sash windows that overlook the high street – I can see past Mills & Son butchers towards the murky lapping of the North Sea at Gun Hill – and I catch snatches of conversation from below.
A child’s voice rings above lower adult tones. He’s wearied by his day. “Why is everything Adnams round here?” he sighs. “Well, you see, Adnams is . . .” replies a parent – I assume – before a car muffles the rest of the response, and the pair move out of earshot.
I imagine the reply that perhaps ensues, a potted history of Adnams’ association with Southwold that would have explained how brothers George and Ernest Adnams bought Southwold’s Sole Bay Brewery in 1872, how George didn’t take to Suffolk and left for South Africa where he was – they say – eaten by a crocodile, how his brother built the business (with later financial support from the Loftus family) into one that would win awards, survive the catastrophic floods of 1953, open kitchenware shops and shops to sell wine and beer, and support local charities.
The story might have touched on Adnams’ eco credentials – the Reydon distribution centre has a living roof, rainwater harvesting, and beehives, and the group created the UK’s first carbon neutral beer in 2008.
It would come up to date with the 2010 opening of the distillery in Southwold, and the slew of awards for gin and vodka that followed, and there would be mention of the group’s 48 managed and independently run pubs in Suffolk.
If the pair peered through the hotel’s ground floor windows as they passed, they would have glimpsed the latest chapter in the Adnams story, the stylish results of the ten-month £6 million refurbishment of the group’s 17th century flagship property.
Masterminded by Project Orange, the London and Suffolk based architecture and interior design firm, the Swan’s new feathers are colourful – striking pink, emerald green and royal blue – rather than whimsically washed-out as coastal stereotype so often dictates.
There are nods to Adnams throughout. Down Pipe suggests the dark blue branding of the brewer’s Ghost Ship ale, copper detailing – from the dramatic lighting over the Still Room bar to the fingerplates on doors – hints at the distillery, and countless historic photographs remind visitors gently of the identity of the owners.
“The Swan needed more than a lick of paint,” says Adnams’ marketing director Emma Hibbert. “There’s a fine line between shabby chic and something potentially damaging to the brand.”
It has, indeed, been more than a lick of paint. Some of the original smaller bedrooms have been knocked together to create more spacious suites in the main house, while 11 more compact garden rooms are set around a lawn, beds and patio landscaped by local designer Janey Auchincloss.
All 35 rooms sing with accents of either bright blue, lime green or teal in the upholstery, bright against the neutral backdrop of dark walls, sisal flooring and plain linen curtains.
Hints of copper in lamp fittings and detail on the bespoke tall boys keep the bedroom design coherent with that of public spaces, while the Adnams signature pink features on the tips of the four-poster beds in the main house.
Project Orange director Christopher Ash, was keen to keep technical necessities discreet. “This a seaside hotel, not a business one,” he says. “People want the technology, but they don’t want to see it.”
A smart TV is contained in the deliberately scuffed tall boy, the Bose speaker is small, and the vintage-style telephone is in keeping, as are the draughts board and pieces, and the collection of vintage books.
Bathrooms are appropriately traditional, walls lined with tongue-and-groove rather than tiles, the taps simple solid chrome. The traditional style continues with details such as the twisted fabric flex to the reading lamps, and the column radiators, while tired reproduction furniture from the old Swan has been either painted or distressed by Saxmundham-based artist Hein Bonger.
Even the creak in the warren of internal staircases has been preserved, and functional fire doors have been avoided by using fire-rated glass and concealing the door-closing mechanism. Attention to detail is immense.
Marketing manager Victoria Savory talks of creating a sense of the coast “without putting anchors on every cushion”. She adds: “The design is not twee. We wanted boldness, confidence, a contemporary feel, playfulness.”
A motif of paddling swan feet is picked up on staff uniforms which also have flirty touches of pink, and butlers are friendly faces, ready to nip out for a forgotten toothbrush or to fix a gin and tonic on arrival, rather than being stiff and formal.
They are informally efficient, and service aims to be impeccable from the moment guests arrive.
“We don’t want to alienate existing customers, but we need to attract new ones,” adds Emma, who accepts that the style will not be to everyone’s taste. “We have been careful to preserve the heritage of this beautiful building, but this is a plan that will take us forward 30-50 years.”
She insists that Adnams is targeting customers less by age or demographic, more by mind-set. “It’s about appealing to people, whatever their age or background, who enjoy great food and drink, and love being in the fresh air and on the beach, or who just want to put the phone down for a bit.”
Indeed, Adnams wants to attract local people to the Swan, but also appeal to staycationers and urban professionals looking for a break from city life with a stylish boutique hotel that’s special to this part of Suffolk.
Find out more about The Swan here.