Retreat back to nature
PUBLISHED: 10:48 23 January 2018 | UPDATED: 13:06 23 January 2018
It's taken years in the making, but lawyer Peter Ede has created a state-of-the-art private members retreat in the heart of the Suffolk countryside, just outside Ipswich. Frances Hopewell-Smith took a look
The Retreat East sign is subtle and discreet, and yes, of course, I sail straight by and have to ‘perform a U-turn’. I casually ignore the hedged parking area by the entrance and head down the sweeping drive to an extraordinary collection of vernacular buildings.
Peter Ede, lawyer and owner of Retreat East, is there to meet me, and confirms I have a dispensation to drive right to the doorway.
“You’re fine this time since we’re not officially open, but when we are, members will just drop off their belongings and then this central space will be car-free.” In front of us is a group of beautifully converted farm buildings, which have been laid out and designed to maximise privacy, peace and comfort.
The biggest part of the redevelopment from farm to state-of-the-art retreat was the Great Barn, the only significant new-build among the original buildings, a club room with bar and dining room attached. The room is impressive with its massive traditional oak frame, a huge brick-built open fireplace, magnificent curved ceiling beams and clubby nests of chairs and sofas with subtle, warm lighting.
Next door is a ten-seater cinema, the restaurant, and a bar with a proper billiards table. There’s a spa and deliciously scented treatment rooms as part of the health complex.
Teams of local craftsmen have been on site for two years, and the chief carpenter, Ben Poole, tells me how much he’s relished the job of recreating age-old traditions of timber-frame building, and the degree of expertise and knowledge needed to make them. That’s just half of it, says Poole.
“I’ve built a bridge, log stores, outbuildings and cedar-cladded spa rooms too, and, of course, all the wood fixtures and fittings.” Here is a man justifiably proud of his achievements at Retreat East and he says he feels a degree of ownership.
The individual barn exteriors are timber clad and each has its own veranda. Interiors are all immaculately furnished, colour themed and extremely comfortable. Smaller ones, designed for a couple, have a neat kitchen, dining and living area as well as a big double bedroom. And it is the details that make a difference – storage spaces, lighting, facilities and equipment all distilled from Peter’s years of experience and research.
When it comes to the furnishing, Peter sourced as much as possible in the region, including most of the paintings (Jelly Green’s gorgeous cows are much in evidence), and worked hard to get the look he wanted.
At least this was in his control, unlike the application for planning permission, which took two and a half years and a fair amount of legal wrangling. Luckily Peter’s profession as a lawyer came in very handy, but it was a frustrating time, he says, to-ing and fro-ing with planners and other council officials. As we tour the grounds Peter runs through the thinking behind his scheme.
“This is aimed primarily at city-dwellers who want the ultimate ‘lock up and leave’ place in the country. It should also cut down on the amount of affordable housing being snapped up as second homes. It’s not far to the local shop in Coddenham, which is a perfect village store, and we believe we’ll bring a lot of custom to the shop and to other local businesses.
“Having booked their nights (each of the optimum 500 members is allocated 15 as part of their one-off debenture), they can let us know in advance if they have any special requirements. We can stock the fridge, organise private parties here, have meals made ready to heat and eat, and generally take all the angst out of getting away for a few days.
That way members arrive here and can unwind straight away. Their home will be warm in winter, clean and tidy with fresh bed linen and all the essentials for a relaxing stay. Plus there’s always someone on hand to help with little problems or extra requests, so no worries about fixing things. A lot of people with second homes spend so much time either doing or organising maintenance, and that’s not fun.
“We have 20 farm barns and 35 acres here for people to enjoy, get back to nature and not have to worry about the upkeep. We employ at least 15 people to do that. We’re working with Aspall to create an apple orchard and got advice from Suffolk Wildlife Trust to make the fields as organic and wildlife-friendly as possible.”
As a dog-lover and owner himself, Peter is more than happy to have well-behaved dogs year round – as long as they don’t scare the wildlife – and they’ve built a wonderful wash room just for muddy dogs called the Four Paw Spa. Children under 14 are welcome at Retreat East in school holidays, but obviously there are restrictions on their use of spas and bars, and they mustn’t scare the wildlife either.
“And we want to include people in the area,” says Peter, “so we have a day membership scheme if you just want to come and use all the facilities and get away from routine.”
Tempted as I am to hide away in one of the barns I have to get back to my routine. It seems to me like they’ve thought of everything at Retreat East and all of this luxury is right here in the middle of our beautiful unspoilt Suffolk countryside.
Retreat East Limited
Brick Kiln Farm
Suffolk IP6 9QE
Barn Membership £35,950 one-off fee plus £1,423 annual charge (two double bedrooms)
Studio Membership £18,950 plus £1,323 annual charge (one double bedroom