Nearly five years since launching boutique B&B The Reading Rooms in Margate, Kent with her partner Liam Nabb, Louise Oldfield says the property’s spacious rooms and all-day room-service breakfast have been a big hit. She looks back on the past 12 months and reveals the couple’s expansion plans
Slow start but it’s only one season
Last summer was a bit of a slow start and we were concerned because the weather was so bad, but then the sun really kicked in and we were flat out.
Seasonality doesn’t tend to be a big factor for us. Our season starts earlier than other people’s — usually in February, we’re full now most nights. We have a lot of cultural tourists, so we’ve moved from the ‘bucket-and-spade’ business so we’re not reliant on the weather.
Each of our three rooms occupies almost an entire floor to offer a unique bathing experience with roll-top baths and showers built for two, and we have all super king-size beds. Because of the spaces and service we offer, people come here as a special occasion and we have a year-round business, which is what the council wanted to encourage.
The Turner Contemporary art gallery [which opened in Margate in spring 2011] has also helped to attract more overnight business, with more people coming to the restaurants and spending in the shops.
We offer a room service-only breakfast menu which guests can choose to have at any time of the day — because we’re a small business we don’t need to be so prescriptive with rules, that’s where we have an edge.
We encouraged others to invest in Kent
We’ve now been running the business for more than four years and we’re very tuned into our guests, and we’re also aware of how the house runs.
We often attract guests who like to spend time alone or just with their partner. They come with books, they come to relax and read and walk, mostly from London. We also noticed that most of the foreign guests we had were young, affluent Chinese people and students. These guests like to order the whole breakfast menu.
Liam and I often offer share our experiences and advice when asked to and we’re very involved with the local authorities. Around this time last year, the Kent County Council was promoting the Regional Growth Fund. The Reading Rooms was cited at the launch of a new campaign to encourage businesses to invest in East Kent, so we’ve been involved in the ‘Grow For It’ campaign — which will be good for others who could benefit from a zero-percent-interest loan, for example. We didn’t receive such funding — we finished our house on credit cards — but the project’s being used as an example of boutique tourism being a success, something the county was proud of. When we first opened a boutique B&B, no one believed it was possible.
We juggled a few other projects
In the winter we get a few days off between bookings, but we’re still busy. We don’t go on holiday, it’s been four years and we’ve never even had a sick day.
We’ve been working on some other projects during the past few months. Unfortunately Liam’s mother [British author Magdalen Nabb who wrote the Marshal Guarnaccia detective novels] passed away when we moved to Margate in 2007. Her novels haven’t been developed for film and television so we’re now taking forward a partnership with film producer Hamish McAlpine to bring this series of crime novels to the screen.
We’re also renovating the first house we bought here — a late Georgian detached villa — ready to sell. We had looked at making it into a self-catering business, but realised that with 12 rooms it’s too big to be a sustainable holiday let. Once the renovation is complete, it will form part of our design portfolio. Liam trained as an architect in Florence. He designed The Reading Rooms and has been working on other projects including an eco-house in Ramsgate.
Throughout the winter time, we’ve been thinking ‘where do we go from here with The Reading Rooms?’ We’re now looking beyond the B&B; looking for another building.
We’re looking beyond the B&B
The project we’re now looking at will potentially be a larger business, a kind of ‘Reading Rooms II’ — perhaps a small hotel with around nine bedrooms.
We’ve been looking at finance options and locations. We’re applying for the Regional Growth Fund. The hotel will probably be in Margate because we know the town very well. So we’ve been looking at sites over the winter time and we’ve seen some that we like. We’re looking at securing a building and moving forward with this soon.
Liam will be designing the new hotel. Every project Liam and I do is bespoke according to the building and its location, so we can’t necessarily replicate The Reading Rooms concept. We always throw our hearts and souls into doing the best project we can do though.
The Reading Rooms, Margate featured on season one, episode five of Ruth Watson’s Hotel Rescue aired on October 28, 2009. The programme documented Oldfield and Nabb’s battle to launch the boutique B&B during the onslaught of the recession.