After seven years and a £90-million refurbishment, the former Surrey home of Lord Beaverbrook has been transformed into the ultimate country house hotel. Jessica Jonzen pays a visit.
‘Some people take drugs, I take Max.’ So said Winston Churchill about Lord Beaverbrook, the mischievous press baron whose former estate, Cherkley Court, near Box Hill in Surrey, has become the most original country hotel opening since Babington House.
The spirit of the irreverent Lord Beaverbrook, who put a fountain in his outdoor swimming pool and installed a grotto underneath the house, lives on in the luxurious but unstuffy 18-room hotel. Set in 400 acres, with a private members’ golf club (where fees are rumoured to be £100,000 per year), two restaurants (including the Japanese Grill with Nobu alumni Taiji Maruyama as Head Chef) and soon-to-open spa, Beaverbrook is a spoiling treat of a hotel.
ABOVE Sublime sushi from the Japanese Grill
It also, without doubt, has the most beautiful rooms I’ve ever stayed in. It is no small coincidence that the same interior designer – Susie Atkinson – was commissioned for both Beaverbrook and Babington, and she has executed her latest project brilliantly. In the wrong hands, the sheer scale of the house with its vast rooms and vertiginous ceilings could make the hotel take on a chilly froideur, but Atkinson has imbued it with warmth and comfort.
The morning room, with its far-reaching views across the North Downs, is filled with artfully mis-matched sofas and armchairs, ensuring there is a cosy spot for anyone who saunters in. The walls are upholstered in silk, and curtains as thick as 10-tog duvets frame the windows.
In the dining room, sofas are lined in silk velvet, the walls hung with specially commissioned Venetian glass mirrors. In the Parrot Bar, tasselled lamps and bronze furnishings are the perfect supporting act to the stunning Rupert Bevan-constructed 1920s-style brass counter.
ABOVE The Art Deco-style Parrot Bar
A colourful Gerhard Richter tapestry in the glass-domed lobby cuts through the chintz, preventing it from feeling twee. The overarching feel is one of nostalgic good taste with a modern sensibility.
Interiors aside, the house tells a terrific story. Churchill was such a regular house guest that he had his own North-facing bedroom, all the better for painting in. The listed bathtub – which he soaked in whilst smoking a cigar, drinking a glass of whiskey and dictating notes to his beleaguered private secretary – has been restored, no doubt at huge expense. (The listed loo seat in the Ian Fleming room apparently cost £700 to replace, giving you an idea of both the investment and attention to detail at Beaverbrook). The panelled Art Deco cinema, where Churchill and Beaverbrook would watch Pathé films sent back from the war, has also beenpainstakingly restored for your viewing pleasure.
ABOVE Winston Churchill’s bathroom, where the former Prime Minister dictated notes to his private secretary
BELOW The bathroom of the Ian Fleming Room
The bedrooms are named after the starry roster of Lord Beaverbrook’s guests, including Ian Fleming, Rudyard Kipling and Elizabeth Taylor. I stayed in ‘her’ room and it was every bit as fabulousas you’d expect. The bathroom, withits double marble shower, freestandingbath and voile-draped window is almost too good to leave.
ABOVE The opulent bathroom of the Elizabeth Taylor Room (below)
The main house opened at the end of last year, after the first stage of ‘project Beaverbrook’, the more informal and family-friendly Garden House. The scheme here was executed by interior designer Nicola Harding, and if the main house makes you sit up a little straighter, the Garden House is like a weekend away at a friend’s beautiful country house. We enjoyed a terrific roast for Sunday lunch in the restaurant, which contrasted nicely with the refined modern Japanese we enjoyed in the main house the night before.
ABOVE The Garden House dining room
If you’re looking for a thrill of a weekend away, make like Churchill and pay Beaverbrook a visit.