Having established a successful holiday-let business in Kent’s up-and-coming Ramsgate, husband-and-wife team Emma and Ben Irvine took on their first boutique-hotel project. They share their stories from the past year with Boutique Hotelier
We bought our first hotel
Over the past three years we’ve been building up our holiday-let business, My Seaside Luxury, with our business partner Gay Haines. We have around 20 apartments now, so the next stop for us was to open a hotel.
We found a gorgeous Grade II-listed building with an amazing history in Ramsgate, Kent. It’s called Albion House, which we are converting into a hotel called The House at Ramsgate, and was built as a holiday retreat in 1790 — Queen Victoria and the royal family occupied it for three months in 1816.
It was going to be sold to a residential developer and split up into flats, which would have been a sad ending to the building. So we tend to get involved in projects because we see them going wrong and think we could do much better. We set about the planning and getting funds in place. We knew the listing would cause some problems with planning, but we took a sensitive approach to the building plans. Under the ownership of the council over the past century, it had lost a lot of its internal features and we wanted to reinstate those and bring the rich heritage back. Lack of maintenance was also a big issue, but we’re not afraid of taking on building projects, nothing scares us.
We found funding and partners
The overall investment is about £1.5m and in the summer we were successful in obtaining a £350,000 interest-free loan from Kent County Council’s Regional Growth Fund. There is a huge amount of potential in Ramsgate. It’s got some amazing beaches.
A lot of East Londoners are attracted to the area, with a connection from King’s Cross St. Pancras station it only takes an hour and 15 minutes to get there and that is reducing to 59 minutes within the next few years.
You see five-bedroom houses there for £300,000 — it is incredible value and we want our hotel to be similar. Our ADR for the year will be around £120. We will partly invest the loan into the renovation of the building. Gay Haines will invest the rest and she will own the freehold, the bricks and mortar. We’re going to own the operating element.
With funds in place we began putting together our design team. We’ve employed Haptic Architects. Interiors-wise we’re working with two exciting guys Kiel Shaw and Stuart Atkinson, owners of Fontaine Decorative.
We’ll appoint a good GM soon and 13 staff, but we’ll lead that team and stay involved; it’s our responsibility that the hotel works so it’s not a hands-off development.
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We took a few history lessons
Over the past few months we’ve been doing detailed design, thinking about the brand and figuring out the whole look and feel, how it’s all going to work.
We’re developing a bar on the ground floor, then there’s space at the back of the building which is going to be a tearoom. There are 15 bedrooms in total and 13 have sea views. We’re going for a simple, pared-back interior.
We hired a genealogist as we really want to pick up the story where it ended in the late 1800s and create something authentic. There’s an amazing wine cellar, which is an old safe room with a big steel door, once used for storing the town’s jewels. The genealogist has traced the building’s history back to the guy who built it — the then mayor of Canterbury. He wanted to build something that he could derive an income from, a lodging house. By the mid-19th Century it was being used by wealthy families for three months at a time. The Earl of Munster, the Duke of Newcastle and the King of Belgium are just a few past guests.
A young Princess Victoria was brought here after falling ill because in those days they believed that the seaside was an instant cure for all kinds of ailments — now they’re proving that the seaside really is good for your health.
We’re on track for a summer launch
During the winter we’ll be carrying out construction works and refurbishments, with a view to opening in July 2014. We’re also looking at another project on the beach outside the hotel. We want to develop what is the Royal Victoria Pavilion, a 20,000 sq ft area, into a Kent food headquarters, and have a big, open food market on the ground floor — a bit like the Borough Market in London. We’ve had some exciting meetings recently and have been talking to some renowned restaurateurs who might take on the space; we’re very passionate about the area.
We’ll be able to cater to about 80 covers in the hotel restaurant and we want to make sure we get everything right in the hotel; if the pavilion comes off we won’t need to do a huge amount of food in the hotel.
As for future plans, we heard Nick Jones [founder of Soho House] speaking at the Independent Hotel Show [which took place in London from October 30-31]. He simplified the hotel business as you get one hotel, get funding, build it, make it successful, make some money off the back of it and go and do your next one. Essentially that’s what we plan to do — open a bunch of them. But we have to prove we can do it first.