The Retreat at Elcot Park, West Berkshire, UK
Following the successful launch of The Mitre Hampton Court back in 2020, The Signet Collection venture out to the countryside to showcase the best of British design, but with a twist. As the transformation is finally unveiled to the public, Jess Miles pays a visit to The Retreat at Elcot Park.
Rolling through the Wessex Downs with bird sound a plenty, a summer’s breeze, and the fresh scent of the British countryside brushing through an open car window is as close as it gets to sign posting a journey with ‘R&R’ as its destination for any city dweller. Just an hour and a half after setting off from London, I arrive at the picturesque grounds (set over 16 acres) and follow the winding gravel driveway past the croquet lawn to be handsomely greeted by the Grade II-listed 18th century building. Nestled somewhere in the endless green landscape between Hungerford and Newbury, The Retreat at Elcot Park certainly is an escape from the city just as idyllic as I had imagined.
The Retreat is just the second property from young and vibrant hotel company, The Signet Collection – the same minds behind The Mitre Hampton Court, which launched in September 2020. At the heart of The Signet Collection is seasoned hotelier and restauranteur duo Hector Ross and Ronnie Kimbugwe, whose mission is to breathe new life into historically significant properties whilst paying homage to days gone by. Dating back to 1772, a storied past this property certainly has – most notably once the home of Lady Shelley, mother of famed romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.
Entrusted with a fun, escapist and element-of-surprise oriented brief – which puts the property’s heritage story front and centre – was London based luxury interior design practice, Taylor and Turner. Leading the creative vision for the property’s transformation, Taylor and Turner’s co-founders Anneke Gilkes and Harriette Cayzer have managed to marry the vintage with the contemporary, and the past with the present in seamless harmony. Nothing seems to look outdated, yet no modern elements feel out of place – which I find a rather impressive feat considering this is their biggest project to date since setting up independently in 2017.
Whilst on paper the maximalist approach to combining colour, pattern, and texture could sound daunting, in reality it feels quite the opposite. Upon setting foot in the entrance hall, a Percy Bysshe Shelley poem traces the wall, and encased in a restored stone hearth a gently flickering fire makes me feel instantly at ease. I’m then happily greeted by Jasmine, the reception manager, with a much welcome glass of wine whilst we check-in on an iPad and chatter over on the cosy seating area. Titley and Marr floral curtains drape down from the double height window and tuck behind the slate-blue velvet sofa where we sit, finished with mustard-flushed, fringed cushions. Surrounding us, an eclectic mix of armchairs and bold ikat furnishings make for a playful take on the traditional, with the space much more resembling an informal drawing room than a hotel lobby. Left to my own devices, I soak up the relaxed atmosphere and admire the hand-painted map of the local area encapsulating the array of quintessentially British country pursuits on The Retreat’s doorstep. It’s a subtle point of inspiration for guests to ponder on how they will explore the hotel’s surrounds without feeling overwhelmed with information.
Onwards and up the staircase, the property hosts 55 guestrooms and suites each having their own characterful stamp celebrating the best of British design, regardless of room type. Each floor has a theme, in which the 49 Classic rooms and three Culture rooms are named after champion racehorses, famous jockeys, or pay homage to the local landscape and the area’s sporting history.
The Classic and Culture rooms are all thoughtfully designed with attention to detail at front of mind. Locally sourced antique furniture is combined with vibrant reincarnations of classic silhouettes. Expect to see Georgie Wykeham scalloped-edge side tables, brightly painted bobbin mirrors, and Rosi de Ruig glossy lacquered table lamps with hand-marbled paper shades. Should you search well enough, each floor also has a fully stocked help-yourself pantry for those like me who (on special occasion) enjoy a midnight snack. A quirky detail, which to me provides a sense of nostalgia that embodies The Signet Collection’s zestful approach to laid-back luxury.
Though the standard offering is an elevated guest experience from the norm, it’s the three signature suites that really steal the show. Paying homage to the property’s heritage story, they are each named after Elcot Park’s former residents; the Sutton, Bushby Bacon, and Percy Shelley.
The largest is the family-oriented Busby Bacon Suite. Bright orange cladded and curtained bunks sit against hand-painted ochre striped walls, providing a suitable contrast to the more subdued palette of the master bedroom next door. Whilst the four-poster mahogany bed complete with denim blue and cream draping takes centre stage, Branquenie’s Toile des Indes inspired rouge wallpaper by Pierre Frey provides an intricate backdrop that yearns for closer exploration. Through to the connected bathroom, a freestanding marble bathtub is showcased by a light and bright bay window, both decorated with a Bloomsbury-esque hand-painted wisteria mural which trails up the walls and around the room just as it would in nature.
The Percy Shelley Suite is a smaller one-bedroom suite which embodies the romanticism of its namesake. Vintage Morris & Co wallpaper sets the tone for the space, with sage green woodwork throughout and a matching roll-top bathtub positioned across from the foot of the bed with uninterrupted (and seemingly private) views of the magnificent grounds.
Last but not least, tucked away in the north-west corner of the first floor lies the secluded Sutton Suite. Whilst I may be biased as this was where I spent the night, it felt particularly special with all its grandeur. The first thing you spot as you walk through the door has to be the showstopping roll-top copper bathtub, gloriously basking in the dappled afternoon light of the platformed bay. This picture-perfect scene seems to be the poster image for The Retreat, which is no surprise to me as it is just as sumptuous in reality as it is in photographs.
Watts of Westminster hand block-printed wallpaper dresses the entire space in a neo-gothic pineapple pattern – which interestingly formed part of the portfolio submitted by Augustus Pugin for the redecoration of the Royal Apartments at the Palace of Westminster in 1850. A swatch perfect match to the wallpaper, the duck-egg blue woodwork surrounding the arched bay leads your eyes back across the rest of the room. The super king-size bed sits centrally, complete with a Sanderson pomegranate print canopy, and bevelled headboard upholstered in subtle red striped fabric by Fermoie. A seating area is comfortably positioned at the foot of the bed making it only a short stretch to enjoy your morning coffee, whilst draped in one of the luxurious towelling robes provided.
Just before I’d managed to fully relax into the space to the point of no return, it was time to head down to my dinner reservation. When it comes to culinary endeavours, The Retreat makes sure that you wouldn’t want to venture elsewhere, offering two private dining spaces, a whisky room, and three unique restaurants; The Orangery, 1772, and Yü, where I managed to experience the deliciously refined seven course taster menu.
As someone who shares both British and Southeast Asian roots, I particularly appreciated how Taylor and Turner met the challenge of designing the Pan-Asian restaurant, Yü, set inside the quintessentially British country manor. Having seen this type of well-intentioned design premise turn gimmicky in plenty of instances, I was pleasantly surprised to see that just as they manage to meld the old and new, Taylor and Turner bring key British and Asian aesthetics together to form a congruous cross-cultural dining space. Across the room, sage greens and dusty pinks seen elsewhere are swapped for a palette of rich red, emerald, and golden yellow. Overhead, chandeliers are exchanged with a feature display of sheer orbs that mimic traditional rice paper lanterns, floating below a ceiling screen of open weave rattan cane.
Beyond the guest experience, The Retreat welcomes visitors to dine at the choice of restaurants and offers memberships for locals to enjoy the indulgent spa and wellness facilities. Also on site is The Courtyard Terrace which is surrounded by an array of amenities including a coffee spot, bottle shop, and even a hairdresser’s all open for public use setting Elcot Park up to be a destination above and beyond a hotel.
Whilst the property’s history itself is intriguing, what is most fascinating about the hotel is the smaller heritage stories created within the carefully considered design choices of its recent transformation. As a lasting impression, The Retreat at Elcot Park takes all the rather conventional aspects of the ‘quintessentially British’ narrative and turns them on their head to make luxury country stays a whimsical, welcomed experience for everyone.