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Leisure Media - Green house

Hospitality & Spa

Green house

The family behind Ecover cleaning products has spent £10.5m refurbishing its Cotswolds hotel, and is bringing the surrounding estate to life. Chief executive Andrew Grahame tells us more

Chief executive Andrew Grahame
The environmental performance of the hotel was a key consideration
The bubble bath hydro pool
The interiors mix contemporary design with traditional materials
The Farncombe Conference Centre has been given a gold award by the Green Business Tourism Scheme
The Farncombe Conference Centre uses Ecover products in its bathrooms and for all of its cleaning
The spa features a 16m infinity pool, which looks out onto the hydropool
Relaxing on the spa terrace
Spa manager Zoe Douglas came from Edinburgh’s Hotel Missoni to launch the House Spa

When the owners of the Dormy House Hotel in the Cotswolds decided to try and turn it into one of the top leisure hotels in the country, environmental considerations were always going to be key.

Dormy House was bought in 1977 by the late Danish entrepreneur Jørgen Philip-Sørensen. It’s part of a family of companies that includes green cleaning products brand Ecover, all controlled by the Philip-Sørensen family today.

“Sustainability is utterly key to the Philip-Sørensen family. They oversee Ecover and it’s written into their product statement about what they are,” says Andrew Grahame, chief executive of Dormy’s umbrella company Farncombe Estate.

“It’s also personally important to me – I worry about what I leave behind for my daughter and her family.”

Grahame, who was previously managing director of Goodwood Estate (with responsibility for the Goodwood Hotel, Golf At Goodwood, Goodwood House, The Kennels clubhouse and the motor circuit catering), was brought in to oversee a £10.5m refurbishment project at Dormy House. Of that budget, £5m was spent on updating the 17th century farmhouse, and a further £5.5m spent on creating a new spa to transform it from a four- to a five-star hotel. The spa, which was the final part of the redevelopment project, was unveiled in February.

Farncombe Estate is a 400 acre property, which is home to a family of businesses, all owned by the Philip-Sørensen family, and the Dormy House refurbishment is part of a wider project to reposition the estate as a luxury resort. It’s also home to the Farncombe Conference Centre – which was a residential training school for security firm G4S until 2001, and which now offers a wide range of leisure courses – as well as Foxhill Manor, a private use country manor opening to the public in April after a major refurbishment.

“When the estate was home to G4S, it was all behind barriers and was a place you stayed away from,” says Grahame. “Now we’ve got a great hotel and spa, an exclusive use venue, an amazing programme of courses at our conference centre, and our guests have the use of the adjoining Broadway Golf Club. We’re speaking to music promoters about putting on music events here, we’re looking at bringing the Street Luge Championships to Farncombe, and we’ve got plans to create some treehouses to be used as self catering accommodation. We’re trying to bring the estate to life.”

Sustainability and ecological responsibility are important right across the estate. Farncombe Conference Centre – which offers conference facilities and runs courses for the public on subjects ranging from bee-keeping to photography – has been given a gold award in the Green Tourism Business Scheme (the world’s largest green accreditation scheme). It uses Ecover cleaning products and toiletries throughout its 11 meeting rooms and 89 bedrooms and the water provided for delegates is all bottled on site and the glass bottles are reused. In the recently completed £3.5m, 32 bed accommodation wing, water is heated by solar power, the bedrooms are heated using a ground source heat pump which exchanges heat from an adjacent field and a 28,000 gallon on-site reservoir provides grey water for the showers and toilets.

A woodland management scheme is in place across the estate to protect the environment and its wildlife – it has a nature trail and a lake, and is home to wildlife including foxes, badgers and 64 native deer. More than 19,000 new trees have also been planted on the estate over the past three years, as part of an ongoing programme.

The transformation of Dormy House from a four to a five star hotel has involved a £5m renovation of the 17th century Cotswold farmhouse by interior designer Todhunter Earle, new landscaping and the addition of a brand new £5.5m spa.

The hotel features 40 guestrooms and suites, which are all individually styled and mix original features such as flagstone flooring and oak panelled beams with a more contemporary design. There is also a subtle Scandinavian influence, referencing the Philip-Sørensen family’s Danish heritage. It now features two restaurants – The Garden Room and the Potting Shed – a rustic bar/restaurant serving hearty British food – both run by upcoming chef Jon Ingram.

The hotel has been given a silver award by the Green Tourism Business Scheme, and Grahame has his sights set on achieving a gold award in the future. “We’ve got the attitude and the investment, it’s just a question of identifying exactly what we need to do once we’ve completed all our other projects across the estate,” he says.

LED lights have been used throughout the hotel, all of the bedroom wings are carbon neutral and rainwater harvesting is used and new trees planted to offset carbon emissions. New building management system controls are in place to minimise energy use, and the existing boilers have been replaced with new high-efficiency, fully modulating boilers.

The House Spa is a calming space featuring six treatment rooms, including a double treatment suite and rasul mud room. At the heart of the spa is the Greenhouse spa lounge, which looks out onto a terrace and the Cotswolds views beyond. Downstairs is a 16m infinity pool and a thermal suite with a salt infusion steamroom, lavender sauna, juniper Finnish sauna, drench showers and ice chute. The spa also features a spa terrace and garden hydro pool and a personal training studio and a separate cardio gym, as well as a champagne nail bar partnered by Veuve Clicquot.

London-based spa designers and architects Sparcstudio were responsible for the spa interiors and according to director Beverly Bayes there were several influencing factors.

“We wanted to create a spa that reflected the personality of the hotel, which is very warm and welcoming,” she says. “The location and history of the building were also important, and have been showcased using natural elements from the area including Cotswold stone and local lavender.”

In the spa, both pools have eco LED lights and electronically controlled water systems to make sure they don’t use more water than they need to. The thermal suite area has extractors that transfer the heat generated back into the air handling unit to recover it, and heat recovery ventilation systems are used throughout the spa. The filtration systems on the pool and hydropool use eco glass, which lasts longer than traditional media and results in less waste water through backwashing. UV systems are used to clean the pool water, cutting down on the amount of chemicals used and one tree is planted for every order of paper cups placed.

The main aims of introducing a destination spa were to strengthen the hotel’s position as a leisure destination, and bring in new guests.

“When we decided to renovate the hotel, we decided to position it as a leisure hotel, so the spa was key,” says Grahame. “Spas create midweek business, so of course that’s another important commercial driver.” According to Grahame and spa manager Zoe Douglas, the spa is already attracting a new – and very spa-savvy – clientele, with people coming to try it and then staying on at the hotel.

Spa consultants Neil Howard and Beverley Casely-Hayford of Howard Spa Consulting were brought in, working alongside Sparcstudio to develop the operational side of the offer. Their role included input into the layouts and facilities to be incorporated, feasibility studies and a SWOT analysis and overseeing the training. Howard also introduced the concept of the thermal suite (which was designed and detailed by Sparcstudio) and was responsible for introducing the idea of a spa membership and giving every member 50 personal training sessions a year as part of their package.

Several things set the hotel and businesses apart, says Grahame. “Being family owned is one of its USPs – the family live locally and are passionate about their businesses.” The staff are all local, and have been hired for their attitude and interpersonal skills rather than their experience.

“We weren’t hung up on finding people with years of experience, we just wanted people with the right attitude. That puts pressure on managers to train people, because you end up with an influx of 37 rookies, but it’s our staff’s attitude and openness to doing things differently that sets us apart.”

As an example, Grahame tells the story of a guest who was having dinner in the Potting Shed restaurant, and remarked to their companion that he wished he wasn’t driving so that they could have another bottle of wine. “A member of staff overheard, bought them the second bottle, and drove them home herself,” says Grahame.

“They didn’t do it to get noticed – I only found out months later, because the person they’d driven home happened to know the Philip-Sørensen family. It’s just the way they are.”

Looking ahead, the next focus is on completing the refurbishment of Foxhill Manor, which opens in late April. The Grade II listed building will offer eight bedrooms, a boardroom, a private dining room and a media room. Grahame and his team are also looking at hosting a range of events on the estate ranging from the Street Luge Championships (they’re in talks with the event organisers) to concerts, wine evenings and literary lunches.

For now, Grahame is content to bask in his pride at the newly refurbished hotel. He’s sure that the late Jørgen Philip-Sørensen (known affectionately as JPS) would have approved.

“When JPS first bought the hotel, the staff asked him what he wanted it to be. A couple of weeks later he gathered the hotel team and said, ‘I’ve got it’. Everyone sat waiting, totally focused on what he was about to say. He stood in front of them and said, ‘I want a hotel that hugs you’. They were all waiting for the next part, but that was it. That’s what he wanted.

“It sounds a bit corny, but I think the hotel does that. The values that JPS instilled back then still exist today.”


Interior design and architectural practice Sparcstudio was established in 2009 by directors Beverley Bayes, Neil Fairplay and Tom Howell. The designers focus on creating four and five star spas and wellness and hotel facilities, with UK clients including Calcot Manor Spa, Pennyhill Park Spa and Center Parcs Woburn (exclusive spa accommodation and Aqua Sana spa).

“It’s not just about aesthetics, although of course we always look to create something beautiful and unique; it’s all about ensuring it actually works in practice,” says Bayes.

“Spas are really tricky environments to maintain if you don’t detail properly. Paying really close attention to detail is what we’re about and is essential to delivering a great spa experience.”

Bayes, Fairplay and Howell formed the specialist spa and wellness team at Corporate Edge before being acquired by the Irish design studio Douglas Wallace. They launched Sparcstudio after the company went into receivership. “It was the best thing that ever happened to us,” says Bayes.


The Sparcstudio-designed House Spa

(Left to right): Neil Fairplay, Tom Howell, Beverley Bayes

Originally published in Leisure Management 2014 issue 2
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