Susan Stuart transformed an old Georgian building into an elegant boutique hotel, giving it a new lease of life. India Jaques finds out more
Susan Stuart fell in love with Chapel House on Chapel Street in Penzance in 2012, and decided to make the London-leap, moving from the city to Cornwall. The two-year redesign and renovation by Loci Architecture and Catling Construction has reinvigorated the once neglected building. Chapel House has remained an important part of Penzance and Susan has managed to tread that fine balance of sympathetic restoration. The beautiful Georgian townhouse blends the original Georgian style with the contemporary, making it a welcoming hotel, all the while located just a stone’s throw from the sea and harbour. We met with Susan to discuss her Penzance venture.
You have breathed new life into a neglected old Georgian building, blending Georgian style and architecture with contemporary style to create a light and airy hotel. What inspired you to reimagine Chapel House as a hotel?
I was living in London when I saw Chapel House and thinking about “a new start” in Penzance. The house was love at first sight but far too big for me. A new start would mean a new career so a hotel was the obvious solution.
How did you go about transforming the Georgian townhouse into an elegant boutique hotel? Was it a difficult transformation?
The house was in a very poor state, having been neglected for years, and needed a lot of structural repair, as well as a complete makeover! I worked very closely with my architect, Keith Bell of Loci Architecture. Whilst the structural works were underway, we gradually developed a vision for the hotel so the two strands of the transformation gradually merged. It wasn’t always easy but it was always great fun.
How did you manage to maintain the integrity of Chapel House within Penzance as a community, and how have the local community received and responded to the transformation?
Chapel House was formerly the Penzance Arts Club and so had been a part of the social fabric of the town. From the outset, I was determined that it wouldn’t be a hotel which only served its residents. So we open for kitchen suppers and weekend brunches with regularly host viewings of artworks in the house. Throughout the renovation we used local firms for nearly all the work – from construction to upholstery – and the majority of our suppliers are local producers. For all these reasons, Chapel House has had a very positive reaction from the local community.
The decor throughout takes its lead from the sea, featuring soft greys, greens and blues, enhanced by natural light. How would you define the style of Chapel House?
Understated, spacious and relaxing.
When did you first discover your love for interiors and design?
I’ve always enjoyed doing this and love the attention to detail that’s required to make an interior look simple and effortless.
Where did you find your favourite interior design pieces?
Most pieces I have are just “come across” antiques I picked up over the years. However, my favourite contemporary and mid-century pieces I have found down here are from Daisy Laing, which is a wonderful retro shop on Chapel Street in Penzance, and Iroka, a wonderful, locally owned interiors supplier in Hayle.
Why did you choose Penzance?
I loved Penzance from the moment I first visited some 25 years ago and I have come back regularly ever since. I realised that it was a place I could live – it’s a small town but has a surprisingly urban feel, so it is an easy transition from London.
What would you recommend doing in Penzance?
There’s almost too much to list – sea swimming off Battery Rocks, the water is calm and astonishingly clean, walking along the beach to St Michaels Mount, eating in some of the fabulous local restaurants and, of course, visiting the plethora of local art galleries.
Where is your favourite place in the world?
It’s here – Penzance and the West Penwith peninsular. It’s so beautiful.
What has been your proudest moment so far?
It was just yesterday – Chapel House was awarded the winner of the B&B category in the Sunday Times Ultimate 100 Hotels listing. There was a lot of high fiving in the kitchen over the breakfast cook!
In your restaurant, guests can choose to eat ‘en famille’ with other guests. How have guests reacted to this, and have their been any particularly memorable evenings?
I have been surprised at how positively people have taken to this. We had a fabulous evening on Mazey Eve – the day before the town’s mid-summer celebrations. Guests ate an al-fresco fishy feast, then, wrapped in our lovely mohair blankets, stood watching an amazing firework display over Mounts Bay. It was a perfect moment!
Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Goodness! It would have to be a mix of people I admire from afar and of course my closest friends. Other than friends, my dream guests would be Nigel Slater (although it would be terrifying to cook for him) – I love his passion for food – David Attenborough, Lord Hesseltine – intelligent and such a vast range of interests, Michael Portillo (I am a railway nerd!), Jo Brand and Sandy Toksvig. Both are sharp witted and incisive – they’d give the boys a run for their money!
We hear that Chapel House is introducing foraging weekends and children’s cookery courses, can you tell us a bit more about these projects?
They’re still in the planning stages but I’ve met two local foragers who I want to work with, so we can forage and feast over a long weekend – go out and collect our goodies then work with a local chef to cook and eat our harvest. I think too many children don’t get the opportunity to cook at school – the focus is increasingly on academic achievement. I’d love to do weekend morning sessions doing the simple things I did when I was young like making pastry and cakes, then taking them home to share with their families.
What are the future plans and ambitions for Chapel House?
It’s fairly simple really, I want it to be a destination in its own right.