Sunday, 25 March 2012

The renaissance of the angel

By Selina Denman
A look inside the newly-renovated Archangel, an ancient coaching inn turned hip hotel and restaurant.

When Simon Waterfield acquired a former coaching inn on 1, King Street, in the Somerset town of Frome, he had a clear idea of what he wanted to do with it. “Simon Waterfield phoned me up the day he bought the hotel telling me he wanted to create a place in Frome that was sort of Babington House crossed with a scruffy hippy feel. Babington is a country house belonging to the Soho House Group, but is a little too polished for what Simon wanted,” said Piers Taylor of Bath-based architecture firm, Mitchell Taylor Workshop.
Historically know as The Angel, the inn dates back to before the Protestant Reformation, although some parts, such as the Naval Room and library, were added in the 18th century.
A more recent manifestation as a dingy pub had also left its mark on the building, but Waterfield was determined to transform it into a fashionable hotel, bar and restaurant. “I think Frome has been crying out for something like this and with the wonderful talent being poured into it, I have no doubt that we will have something very special to offer,” he said.The aim was to create a new destination for Frome, a historic market town in close proximity to Glastonbury, Bath, Bristol, Stourhead and Stonehenge. The structure was rechristened as the Archangel and reconfigured into an upscale watering hole and dining spot.
In addition to a comfortable stay, the Archangel aims to offer high-quality food created from locally-sourced produce. It features a 70-seater restaurant with a floating mezzanine, a large garden that can accommodate a further 60 diners during the summer months, and the Naval Room, which can be hired out for private dining and parties. “I don’t want to put the food on a pedestal but I’ve got so much admiration for our suppliers, many of whom are quite visionary people, and I’ve chosen the highest-quality local produce,” noted Archangel chef, John Melican.
Team effort
Archangel was designed in a close collaboration between the architect, Piers Taylor, and interior design consultant Niki Turner, a specialist in domestic and hospitality interiors, as well as opera, theatre and ballet sets. Also heavily involved was Archangel co-owner Louise Waterfield, herself a qualified interior designer who trained at the Inchbald School of Design.
In its latest form, Archangel features a bar which spreads over several rooms and the garden, a dining room, two private dining rooms and six bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms. The aim was “to create a stylish, relaxed venue of high design quality”, Turner noted.
The renovation project took a total of two years to carry out and involved reinstating many of the structure’s original features. “The starting point (which was an old coaching inn that had fallen on hard times and had become the dingy-est drinking den in Frome) was to strip away all the accretions from the last fifty years or so and expose and restore the delight and intent of the old coaching inn,” Taylor explained.
Part of this process involved opening up a medieval ‘street’ that ran through the centre of the structure, originally extending from the front door through a number of medieval stables and coach buildings. Over the years, the street had been closed in, but Taylor decided to transform it into a striking central feature by encasing it under a glass roof.
Restoring the building’s original character also involved “opening up the triple height barn that no one had been in to since World War II, cleaning out 70 years of pigeon droppings, and restoring as carefully as possible ancient roof timbers and lime mortars before designing a host of unashamedly contemporary additions such as zinc bars, floating mezzanines and steel staircases”, Taylor detailed.
“At all times we were desperate for as little of the existing character, patina, decay and history to be lost. So many old buildings in this country get polished to within an inch of their life and we didn’t want to do that,” Taylor continued.
However, maintaining the original feel of the building presented its own inherent challenges. “It’s a Grade 2 listed building so everything we did had to be put past the conservation officer,” Taylor said. “However, he understood our intention to be sensitive to the existing building and was supportive. What it still meant, though, was that every tiny detail had to be justified.”
Marrying old and new
It is the intelligent juxtaposition of contemporary materials against an ageing backdrop that defines the Archangel. The team created a strong but simple visual unity throughout the building, introducing minimal additions to a already richly-textured backdrop.
“There was no magic formula to it; it was just a case of uncovering aspects of the building that were always there and carefully setting apart the new,” Taylor said. “What marries the new and the old is a joy of materials: the old is defined by an incredible materiality and the new uses materials such as acid-washed zinc, limestone, clear-coated mild steel, copper and varnished bare plaster throughout, to keep a continuity in terms of richness of materials.”
It was important that neither the old nor the new drew too much attention to itself, Taylor continued. Neither could be overly jarring. “We shied away at all times from the standard ubiquitous mass-produced finishes.“When you go to Archangel, I have a sense that although they are distinct, you don’t notice what is old and what is new, but instead revel in the quality of light, space and material.”
Touched by angels
A key focal point of the design is the use of wallpaper panels printed with details of early renaissance paintings of angels. This is a nod to the building’s original Angel persona, as well as its most recent manifestation as The Archangel. An alcove on the outside of the building features a photograph of an angel sculpture, taken by Dan Cahill. In the front bar, bedrooms one and two, and the ladies’ bathroom, angels from Fra Angelico’s frescoes curtsey under their haloes. In the men’s bathroom, there are two winged Putti from Stories of the Virgin by Benevento di Giovanni. In bedroom six, an angel swathed in pink silk flies across a blue background, and an entire wall of bedroom three is filled with a detail of Leonardo da Vinci’s Annunciation. These bespoke wallpaper panels were made by Promptside, a distinguished theatrical drapery company.
Rustic luxury
The building’s overall ‘rustic luxury’ style references the Rough Luxe Hotel by Rabih Hage, which is located in London’s King’s Cross.
In the case of the Archangel, existing, rotten wood floors were replaced with oak. Lighting was sourced from Bruce Monro, who is renowned for his adventurous sculptural light works and installations. Monro was responsible for feature lights in the dining room and some of the bedrooms, and for copper lighting in the garden. Twiggy Lights were sourced from Cameron Peters Fine Lighting and used in the library, Naval Room and side bar.
Just as Archangel will use locally-sourced ingredients in its food, it also relied on local suppliers for its interiors, wherever possible. Local craftsmen at EG Tim Doe Joinery in Bristol were responsible for creating the bars, while Zinc baths in all the bathrooms were supplied by William Holland in Dorset.
All furniture was custom-designed and selected by co-owner Louise Waterfield. In the front bars, Waterfield opted for French art-deco inspired chairs, Georgian mirrors, a Twiggy lamp and large, open log fires.
“The bedside tables and bar tables were designed by me and made by a man in Frome who owns a forge,” she explained. “The colours were chosen mostly by Niki [Turner] and I. The restaurant leather hides were died the wrong mustard colour, but we all love it now,” Waterfield said.
In the Naval Room, it was Simon Waterfield who took the lead. A central table is carved with the names of commander-in-chiefs who served with the Far East Fleet from 1743 to 1971. The walls are hung with photographs of submarines that Waterfield knew as a boy, when his father was a submarine captain posted in Singapore.
These include the Rorqual, the Artemis, the USS Scorpion, the Resolution, the HMS Vanguard, the HMS Astute and the HMS Conqueror, which is famous for sinking the Belgrano. Pleated pendants hang from the ceiling of the Naval Room, creating the impression that it is suspended underwater.
It is personal touches such as these that add a further dimension to the interiors and really set the Archangel apart – and this is a direct result of the close involvement that both Simon and Louise Waterfield had in the design. And although this made the overall build process slightly less straightforward than Taylor was used to, the design was much richer as a result, he admitted.
“The challenge for us was the way that the building works were procured. We are used to documenting everything in advance and letting a building contract to a main contractor. Here, Simon wanted flexibility and much of the design was done on an ad-hoc basis – which I came to enjoy and made me stop being so precious. Simon and his wife Louise brought a great deal to the design and in effect became part of the design team, and the project is much better for this.”

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