SOPWELL HOUSE, ST ALBANS, UK
A slice of luxury can be found tucked just out of sight of the UK’s capital in Sopwell House and its 12 acres of manicured ground. Once tailored for the corporate market, the addition of the country hotel’s state-of-the-art spa has given it a completely new dimension.
Set just outside of the capital, Sopwell House can be found amongst the greenery of Hertfordshire’s ambling countryside. The country house hotel, an off-white Georgian building that looks pretty impressive on a sunny day set against a blue sky, was once the country residence of Lord Mountbatten and holds a host of interesting historical reference from its former occupants.
With 128 guest rooms and suites in the main building, the hotel also has its own little warren of stylish Mews Apartments, set behind gates to a secret garden exclusively for the use of mews occupants. The Mews Apartments were built a few years ago to complement the hotel’s new leisure offerings when the hotel’s owner, Abraham Bejerano, decided to take the hotel in a new direction from its corporate market.
Sopwell House actually still widely appeals to the business market, especially given its proximity to the UK’s capital, nearby golf course, and exceptionally good conference facilities. But a good balance has been struck to appeal to leisure seekers with an appreciation for the finer things. Its elegant appearance and feminine colour palette make it the perfect place for leisurely weekend getaways and group retreats.
The Mews Apartments themselves are tucked away little havens of privacy. With courtyard garden entrances behind picket fences, they feel like miniature cottages complete with roaring fireplace (albeit gas-lit) and cosy touches giving a definitive country vibe.
The hotel’s most recent addition and crowning glory is the innovative and indulgent Cottonmill Spa, which opened its doors to the public last autumn. Following a £14 million investment, the three-storey, state-of-the-art spa is the UK’s first private members’ spa, combining the serenity of a spa with the exclusivity of a club.
The spa comprises of exclusive and unique elements, including an indoor/outdoor hydrotherapy pool overlooking the stunning spa garden, indoor swimming and vitality pools, Gym with Technogym Artis equipment and Studio, Spa Garden, all day dining concept, and indulgent Sitting Room.
The interiors and architectural design of the Spa was overseen by Sparcstudio and the Spa garden by Ann-Marie Powell, both leaders in the industry – with a brief to create a refined nature inspired aesthetic that flows seamlessly between outside and in, fusing the two spaces and producing a light and open sanctuary. And it does exactly that. Serenity personified, this is the sort of spa you’d expect to see at a super luxe resort in the Caribbean. Hot-tubs, fire-pits, and daybeds offer a welcoming retreat in the garden and have been designed to be inviting areas come rain or shine, which is a good thing given the lack of sunshine in the UK. Inside, the spa features a Thermal Suite with four choices of steam and sauna rooms – an Organic Sauna, Panoramic Sauna, Salt Steam Room and Botanical Steam Room.
Total relaxation can be found in the quiet cocoons of the Rose Relaxation Room and Deep Relaxation Room, whilst the Whisper Room and Garden Room offer soft beds and chairs to unwind on, looking out over the Spa Garden. Luxurious changing rooms are kitted out with Tom Dixon marble wall lights, Dyson supersonic hairdryers and Elemis products.
Spa therapies are by ELEMIS, ESPA and Aromatherapy Associates and signature treatments, based around the soothing and healing powers of sand and water, include the Amber & Quartz Crystal Bed, the first of its kind in a UK spa, and a Vichy Shower treatment room. Cottonmill has also embraced the growing role of technology in the wellness world, with a Dornbracht luxury shower, Sensory Sky, which recreates the sensation of showering in the open air, and the ELEMIS Biotec machine, which increases the skins natural cellular energy.
When designing Cottonmill, the team at Sparcstudio wanted to challenge the general spa concept and help bring the private members’ ethos to life through contemporary design and diverse relaxation spaces. The team started with a total re-plan and refurbishment of the existing spa areas to create new reception, sitting room, the Pantry, salon, and gym and added a sleek, glass-sided three storey extension linking the spa to the new private spa garden. The team also worked with renowned spa consultant Debi Green to develop the operational details and ISA Architects were appointed to assist with the delivery of the building itself.
Cottonmill features bespoke furniture design and fittings, from the small oval glass, brass and stone tables in the Sitting Room, the luxurious bespoke loungers for the garden and Whisper Rooms and bronze privacy screens. Swinging woven suspended seats around the bespoke fireplaces provide a playful touch and the social centre piece of each of the main relaxation spaces. The new heat cabins are a bespoke design created by Sparcstudio for Cottonmill, which range from the Organic Sauna that is formed from Abachi, a light timber, and lots of natural light, to the glamorously lit Quartz lined Salt Steam Room and the three tiered Panoramic Sauna with dramatic views over the grounds and countryside beyond.
The green slate lined hydro-pool forms a central focal point of the Garden Room. Guests can swim from inside to outside and contemplate the garden from its raised infinity edge.
Following the success of the new Mews Suites Garden at Sopwell House, which were completed by designer Ann-Marie Powell four years ago the owners decided to approach her again to create Cottonmill’s spa garden – an oasis for members, day guests and hotel residents at The Club at Cottonmill.
The beautiful outdoor space has been designed to blend into the architecture of the hotel itself, responding to the simplicity of the spa building, whilst linking the natural character of the surrounding landscape and grounds.
Almost everything in the garden has been individually designed, from the paving, to the unique fencing, furniture, firepit and plants. The native hedges bordering the gardens provide semi-transparency to softly veil the garden, without disconnecting the new exterior space to the existing beauty of the hotel grounds. Planting has been inspired by the local fields with grasses, ferns and other native plants amongst perennial plantings to provide year-round colour for visitors and wildlife alike. Treatments within the spa take lead from plants grown within the gardens to create a truly holistic effect.
The Pantry, specifically designed for spa visitors to dine in in the comfort of their towelling robes, sits adjacent to the spa itself. A calmer, collected version of the hotel’s main restaurant The Pantry is made up of banquet seating and diners in soft pastel hues with natural oak finishing touches and is in keeping with the calming tones of the spa’s stylish Sitting Room, a space for total relaxation between spa treatments or a place to simply tuck yourself away in and forget about the rest of the world.
Sopwell House has managed to achieve an almost seamless balance between old and new, where new architecture and modern conveniences and technology have been designed in such a way that they blend impeccably with the Georgian features and traditional character of the historic building. The spa is a wonderful addition and equally a destination in its own right – and just goes to prove that adapting to modern life can reap big benefits.
DESIGN: Sparcstudio and Ann-Marie Powell
SPA CONSULTANT: Debi Green
ARCHITECTURE: ISA Architects
SUPPLIERS: Duravit, Tom Dixon, Bose, Technogym, Elemis, Dyson, Studio William, Dodson