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The changing face of The Grove

28 November 2019 / Lifestyle /

Ahead of next year’s refurbishments at The Grove, we caught up with the hotel’s General Manager, Michael Helling, to hear a little more about what we can expect.

Michael Helling, The Grove General Manager

Tell us about your plans for next year.

The hotel is going into its 16th year and so there are areas that we need to start looking at in terms of refurbishments and giving some TLC. We’re a very busy, popular destination and therefore there’s been quite a bit of wear and tear. So we have a rolling plan which includes quite a few smaller projects, but they should make a huge impact on how the public spaces are perceived.

That this current design has lasted 16 years is testimony to the quality of the interior design, the furniture and the fabrics that we’ve used. With [interior designer] Martin Hulbert being involved since the beginning he has a very thorough understanding of the hotel’s growth, its workings, its public spaces and how they work.

In 2020 we’ll refurbish 50 bedrooms, we’ll do soft refurbishments in The Stables bar and restaurant, in the lobby, and in the lounges. We’ll also build a Children’s Lodge which will be an extension of our crèche, Anouska’s.

What constitutes a soft refurbishment?

We classify it as a refurbishment that doesn’t need any structural changes, so purely cosmetic. That includes furniture, wall coverings, curtains, flooring, electricals, lighting, heating; everything other than adding building works.

What is the thinking behind the new design?

We’re always trying to connect the outside with the inside, so there’s always a lot of natural products, wood, fabrics that are in keeping with nature, and the new design reflects that direction. We try to connect the gardens, the estate, the woodlands, and greenery, with the interiors. We also want it to feel like a home away from home. We want the public spaces to feel like you’re walking into someone’s living room or dining room. If you look at The Glasshouse for example, the capacity has increased by 20 percent from the previous footprint, yet you don’t feel like the restaurant has hugely increased in capacity. It’s all sectioned off into small, cosy areas rather than feeling like a vast, uninspiring food hall.

If you compare The Grove in its infancy to where we are now, we’ve got a much better understanding of what our guests require and the kind of services that we need to provide. We’re not stuffy; we don’t pretend to be a stiff collar five-star hotel. As a family business, it’s about trying to make families and other guests feel at home. Spaces will be much lighter and fresher. Kids and their sticky fingers aren’t frowned upon. If you go for afternoon tea at The Ritz it’ll be a very different experience to afternoon tea with us. We want it to feel welcoming – like you can just plonk yourself down on a sofa.

How collaborative has the design process been?

Martin is the lead designer and so he has firm ideas of what he wants to achieve. Primarily, he wants the spaces to interact with each other. Once the lobby, the lounges and the library are complete, they’ll all be intertwined in terms of look and feel, because it’s not as if those spaces are being designed to function independently – there has to be a flow, a connection.

Again, Martin has been involved since the very first stages of the development of the hotel and so he’s been given a lot of free reign to roam and implement the colour schemes and design schemes that he feels are right. Obviously the owners have a hotel that they want to connect with, and they want it to represent them as a family, so it’s important that their desires, wishes and visions are taken on board. It’s a very long process. Deciding how a space is going to look can take months and months of discussion. We need to consider durability, function and longevity. During the design process, we ask ourselves: Will this be deemed fashionable in five years?

Tell us about the new rooms.

Considering our customer types and how the bedrooms are used has been a really important part of this process. Broadly, we have two customer types: corporate guests and leisure guests, which are families and couples. With 215 West Wing bedrooms it’s a big space, and to find a balance between design and functionality for both target audiences is a bit of a juggling act. We think we’ve achieved that balance.

Secret Garden outdoor cinema at The Grove

And looking ahead to next summer, do you think the cinema in the Walled Garden will look more or less the same?

We’ll definitely try and do something different. We’re making some changes to the schedules and the programming, and probably the layout too. We learned a lot this year in terms of what our customers like and don’t like. You can have as many ideas as you like but at the end of the day, it’s as they say in Hollywood, the box office will tell you what they want. On the whole, the outdoor cinema experience was a massive success and we’re looking to build on that next year. Everyman are a very creative bunch so we’ll see what they come up with. In that space – The Walled Garden – the sky’s the limit.

The Grove has changed a lot over the years, click here to read about our very interesting history.

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