Style is all a round
PUBLISHED: 11:21 30 December 2014 | UPDATED: 11:21 30 December 2014
Martin Chambers meets the owners of an 18th century Framlingham home that is anything but run of the mill
Tucked away in the centre of Framlingham is a hidden gem of a bed and breakfast.
The Hansel and Gretel-like dwelling known as the Round House is the pastoral idyll of owners Richard Whitaker and Mark Howard.
They share the 18th century listed building and its gardens with visitors to the town discerning enough to book a night’s stay.
As a person who would rather sleep under a bridge than stay in some B&Bs, the Round House is an attractive attitude changer. Their website tagline of ‘A touch of luxury in the heart of Fram’ certainly hits the mark.
Built as a windmill in 1760, it failed in its primary task, that is to rotate the sails when the wind blew to drive a grindstone. Two storeys high with its sails on, it was designed to mill flour, but ended up grinding wood for the tanning industry before its eventual demise. It never worked commercially, and living quarters were added on, the sails taken off and the structure below thatched.
To this came Mark and Richard, at the time both residents of London, though they were no strangers to Suffolk, having dipped their respective toes in the property market with holiday lets after spending holidays out of the Big Smoke along the county’s Heritage Coast.
“That’s how I got into Suffolk,” explains Richard. “When I met Mark we came up here together. We stayed at Ruth Watson’s place in Orford, The Crown and Castle, to explore the area. >>
>> “I had been chasing a place in Fram for years to buy as a holiday let and we finally got it, and so then we got to know Fram and people here. We spent two weeks decorating the cottage on the outside and the inside and people just stop and talk. So we got to know lots of people and after five or six years you know enough contacts here that you can move here and not feel like the outsider.
“It didn’t feel like we were moving into somewhere we didn’t know. So we registered with all the local agents and then one morning into my inbox dropped details of this place. I pinged it over to Mark and put ‘OMG’, and he pinged it back to me with ‘I want it!’ We were in here by December 2012.”
There was one teeny-weeny problem though. Richard, an architect specialising in listed buildings, didn’t like thatched roofs and had never been keen on running a bed and breakfast. IT project manager Mark, on the other hand, had always wanted a thatched building and fancied running a B&B. How to square the circle?
Simple – The Round House did it. The challenge of the Grade II listed mill building proved too much for Richard the architect to resist.
“I sketched it out and put it on to the computer and saw what we could do legally.” The B&B problem was overcome by Richard the showman.
As a contestant in such teatime TV favourites as Come Dine With Me, Countdown, Fifteen to One, The Weakest Link, and Blockbusters, Richard is no stranger to the limelight. He never won any of them – a fact his friends find hilarious – but he did achieve a lifetime’s ambition with a Gold Run on Blockbusters.
Richard got himself focused for the interior design of the building as well as designing a menu fit for a luxury breakfast experience.
The breakfast food and drink has been sourced locally, where possible. The dining room is adorned with framed work by local artists, available for sale, and the diners will be able to look at the back of the breakfast menus on the tables to see details of the artists on show. They are also planning to have a map of where the food comes from.
But while Richard has an eye for the décor, Mark has to approve. They have gone about their redesign in a magpie-like manner. “We decide together how the look should be and then I get it done,” says Richard. “We look over places we go to and pick up ideas. We may be in a restaurant and we’ll see something in the décor we like and we’ll try and adapt it to our needs.”
Then there are the motifs. Stags are one running theme – pardon the pun – with various decorations in the form of antlers, and stags heads on cushions and in wall art. Clocks are another timeless motif.
“That is just a bit of fun. We pick up lots of things to fit into a theme and then we’ll add another theme.
“The clock room has various things that fit into that theme, and the garden room has wallpaper with lots of our favourite flowers on it. It may not make sense to the guests but it does to us, and after all it is our house and we have to live here as well. This is our forever home now – we are not moving again – so we can make it to our taste.”
The establishment boasts three en suite double rooms with TVs, a lounge room for the guests (without TV), and a licensed honesty bar where a drink can be poured before chilling out in the lounge or in the pretty gardens.
Richard and Mark have deliberately separated themselves in their own section of the house from their guests, to give them the run of the building and the gardens.
“We do live in it, it is not just a business that is separate. We are over in the other side of the house but we do use this space when we are not full.”
So far, so good for this couple who have invested a lot of time and money into this labour of love. Business is thriving.
They plan to promote the B&B like a holiday cottage with benefits. They are designing a package with a discount if groups of six rent the place for the weekend or longer.
Guests will get traditional B&B services, plus have the run of the guests’ side of the building with the bar. If they want to grab a takeaway in the evening, Mark and Richard will set up the dining room for them to eat it there. They have the freedom of the gardens with its summerhouse and barbecue as well.
The Round House has recently been independently assessed by VisitEngland, and officially graded 5-star. Mark and Richard also have two holiday cottages – one in central Framlingham, dating from 1465, and another in Wickham Market, dating from around 1850 – both tastefully designed and rated Four Star Gold by VisitEngland.