When the owners of the Dormy House Hotel in the Cotwolds, deep in the English countryside, decided to try to turn it into one of the top leisure hotels in the country, they knew the addition of a spa was a must.
Dormy House was bought in 1977 by the late Danish entrepreneur Jørgen Philip-Sørensen. It’s part of a group of companies that includes green cleaning products brand Ecover, which are all controlled by the Philip-Sørensen family today. Dormy House was already a popular hotel, but was in need of an update, according to Andrew Grahame, CEO of Dormy’s umbrella company Farncombe Estates.
“It was a very trusted hotel in the area and people adored it,” he says, “but, it wasn’t ready for the demands of people travelling now, particularly leisure guests.”
Grahame, who was previously managing director of Goodwood Estate, UK – which includes a hotel, golf club and country house attraction – was brought in to oversee a £10.5m (US$17.6m, €12.7m) refurbishment project. Of that budget, £5m (US$8.4m, €6m) was spent on updating the 17th century farmhouse, and a further £5.5m (US$9.2m, €6.6m) spent on creating a new spa to transform it from a four- to a five-star hotel. The House Spa, which was the final part of the redevelopment project, was unveiled in February.
When planning the redesign, environmental credentials were always going to be important. “Sustainability is utterly key to the Philip-Sørensen family,” says Grahame. “They own Ecover and it’s written into their product statement. It’s personally important to me too and always has been. I’m conscious of the world I leave behind for my daughter and her own family.”
The 40-bedroom hotel has already reached silver status in the Green Tourism accreditation scheme. It was judged on a range of criteria, including management and marketing, social involvement and communication, energy, water, purchasing, waste, travel and innovation.
All of the bedroom wings are carbon neutral, rainwater harvesting is used, a new system minimises energy use in the buildings and there’s a woodland management scheme in place across the estate.
In the spa, the pools have eco LED lights, while electronically-controlled water systems ensure they don’t use more water than necessary. The filtration systems, which use eco glass, also minimise waste water through backwashing, while UV pool cleaning systems help to cut down on the use of chemicals. The thermal suite has extracts that transfer the heat it generates back into an air handling unit to recover it, with other heat recovery ventilation systems used throughout the spa. Additional green measures include planting a tree for every new order of paper cups.
The House Spa is a calming, welcoming space featuring six treatment rooms, including a double treatment suite and rasul mud room. At the centre is the Greenhouse spa lounge, which looks out onto a terrace and the Cotwolds views beyond. Downstairs is a 16m infinity pool and a thermal suite, supplied by Edge Leisure and Helo, which features a salt infusion steamroom, lavender sauna, juniper Finnish sauna, drench showers and ice chute. There’s also a terrace and garden hydropool, plus a personal training studio and a separate cardio gym, as well as a champagne nail bar partnered by Veuve Clicquot. Six of the hotel’s bedrooms are positioned directly above the spa, giving direct access to the facilities.
London-based spa designers and architects Sparcstudio were responsible for the 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 surrounding area, including Cotswold stone and local lavender. These contrast with a light, contemporary design, with subtle Danish elements introduced to reflect the origins of the hotel’s owners.
Another big driver was the guest journey, says Bayes: “We wanted to create a journey with lots of wow factors along the way. We hate corridors, so where we have to have them, we always like to punctuate them – with the Veuve Clicquot nail bar and with little glimpses into areas you might like to explore.
“It’s important for us to design the layout so it doesn’t have a disappointing dead end. The final part of the guests’ journey ends in the pool area, which is a really lovely space,” says Bayes, who’s particularly proud of this area. “The pool area is probably one of the best we’ve ever designed, even though it’s a small space. It has a real sense of theatre, with the shimmering glass wall at one end, the candlelight and the elegant, raised infinity-edge pool.”
The treatments at House Spa include massages, facials, muds, scrubs and infusions by natural skincare company Temple Spa. “Because the Cotswolds are very English, the owners wanted to go with an English brand,” says spa manager Zoe Douglas. “Also, we wanted something that wasn’t too well known and was a bit different. Temple Spa is a fun brand, with quirky names for the treatments and products.”
The signature treatment is the £195 (US$142, €118) 150-minute Silent Night Lavender Sleep Treatment, which involves a foot ritual with lavender infusion, a body scrub, a head massage and an hour-long back massage. At the end, guests are given a gift of Drift Away massage oil and a lavender sleep pillow to aid a good night’s sleep.
Cotswold Lavender – a grower and distiller business – is just a mile away and the locally-grown plants are used in other treatments as well as in the steam room.
The spa has six therapists who were given two weeks of training by Temple Spa. On top of that, they received 10 days of intensive massage treatment training from therapist Beata Aleksandrowicz of London-based Pure Massage to ensure consistent high quality.
Spa consultants Neil Howard and Beverley Caseley-Hayford of Howard Spa Consulting developed the operational side of the offer alongside Sparcstudio. Their role included input on the layouts and facilities, feasibility studies and overseeing the training. Howard also introduced the concept of the thermal suite (which Sparcstudio designed) and brought in Aleksandrowicz. “We wanted all the therapists to have the same techniques and [to deliver] the same amazing results,” he says. “They can’t stop talking about their training; they feel empowered by it and they really get it. It’s an advanced massage technique which allows the therapist to read the body and focuses on breathing, body weight and concentration to offer a deeper immediate relief and relaxation response where needed.”
Another idea of Howard’s was to introduce a spa membership (capped at 200) and give every member 50 personal training sessions a year as part of the deal.
“What we’re saying is, when you join this club, we’ll guarantee you one on one attention. All you have to do is book the trainer and you’ll get your own area,” he says, explaining that a fitness studio is reserved for personal training sessions, while the gym can be used by hotel guests. “People normally leave gyms because they’re not being motivated; this way we’re committing to a personalised service and hopefully giving people a reason not to leave.”
From a business point of view, there were a number of reasons for introducing a spa says Douglas. One of the main aims was to strengthen the hotel’s position as a leisure destination, another was to help with midweek business. Bringing in new guests was also on the agenda.
“It was a leisure hotel anyway and [the owners] wanted to improve on that,” says Douglas. “We’re already seeing a new clientele – people are coming for the spa and staying on in the hotel.” According to her, the facility is attracting a very spa savvy clientele. “We’re seeing a lot of London-based people who are very into spas and who really want to experience a new one,” she says. It’s still early days, but she estimates that so far members make up around 30 per cent of customers at the spa, with hotel guests making up the rest.
In the coming year, the focuses for House Spa will be on growing the membership and maintaining the quality of the environment. “I’m a perfectionist and I want to ensure that this place looks the same as it does now in a year’s time,” says Douglas. “If things stay as busy as they are at the moment, we’ll probably hire more therapists and we’d like to focus on the nail bar and get it really busy and buzzy.”
Most of all, she wants to ensure that the spa retains its welcoming feel. “The idea of this spa is that it’s like a home away from home. As soon as you walk into the place, everyone should be warm and friendly. It’s almost like having a big hug.”