Building on experience

Thursday 28th July 1994 00:00

A month after building work started at the Hotel du Vin & Bistro, the change is striking. Unsympathetic additions from the 1950s have been stripped away, revealing the rooms' original Georgian proportions. What was a dark, exhausted interior now feels bright and airy.

At the front of the hotel, the spacious hallway of the former judge's house has been reinstated, thanks to the demolition of an office which had blocked light into the corridors. A large fireplace, still bearing remnants of its use as an office shelving system, awaits restoration.

In the old bar, soon to become the residents' lounge, a false ceiling which had obscured the window tops has been removed, giving an extra three feet of ceiling height. Walls have been stripped to the bare brick and now await trompe l'œil Georgian-style wall panelling.

Christopher Boulter, the artist chosen to paint back some of the hotel's original features, has an impressive track record. He first worked with Hutson at Chewton Glen, where one of his murals adorns the swimming pool walls, and he has worked at Windsor Castle and Alexandra Palace. At Hotel du Vin, he will not only create new Georgian panels but, where they have survived, he will glaze fresh paint to give an aged appearance.

Throughout the building, floorboards have been taken up to allow the property to be replumbed and rewired. Beneath the floors, one-foot square oak beams reveal the solidity of the building. The original Georgian sash windows have been refitted with a Ventrola system, which improves performance and cuts out street noise but looks no different.

Stripping out decades of additions to the building has produced some pleasant surprises, as well as some expensive ones. Behind the old 1950s gas and electric fires in the bedrooms stood original cast iron fireplaces, each with a different and unusual design.

Less welcome was the discovery of asbestos in the cellar. Removing that will require a specialist and is likely to add several thousand pounds to the final bill.

Another unexpected cost is the £7,000 of extra fire detection and escape lighting which has been requested by the local fire officer. "Different councils interpret the regulations in different ways, but I was very surprised when we were told we had to put fire detection in each room - that has really bumped up the cost," Hutson says.

Complying with the various building regulations is no small challenge. As well as the usual planning laws, listed building consent was needed. That was received some three weeks after work had started, so the builders were forced to be selective about where they started work.

Again, Hutson has been surprised by the level of detail. "For example, the original lead gulleys from the old roof have to be laid on top of the new ones," he explains.

As work gets underway on the original Georgian section of the building, Hutson expects visits from the conservation people to increase to around once a week. But he's not unhappy about that in view of the £25,000 grant he has been awarded from English Heritage, Winchester City Council and Hampshire County Council. That equates to a grant for around 40% of the qualifying works (mainly structural improvements, such as a new roof and repairing the parapet).

Work has progressed fastest in the 1930s section of the building, largely because it did not need listed building consent. On the first floor, seven single rooms have been demolished and metal supports now mark out two far larger rooms with en-suite bathrooms.

On the same floor, a corridor of separate toilets and showers in uncomplimentary shades of turquoise and purple has been demolished to make space for another bedroom.

On the second floor, there have been fewer changes, the theory being that it is better to work from the bottom of the hotel upwards, in case things should fall behind schedule. "That way we can simply close off the top of the hotel until it is finished and still open on time," says Hutson.

Although he is making major changes to the interior of the building, Hutson decided against using an architect. He has worked with builder Derek Falla several times during his years at Chewton Glen, and felt that between them they could achieve the results he wanted. "I didn't want professionals between me and the builder - not only does it waste time but it pushes the cost up," says Hutson.

Another advantage of Falla's firm is that it has its own joinery workshop. "So if I need any architraving or other woodwork made to match what is here, they can do it," Hutson explains. A fixed price of £280,000 has been agreed for the job.

For Hutson's wife, Judy, a meeting with the interior designer was the first time the project really came to life. Lisa Crewe-Reid, Christopher Boulter's partner at the Grand Union Design Company, has won the task of designing 13 different schemes for each of the bedrooms.

Her first set of proposals was almost exactly what the Hutsons had in mind - only two of the 13 were sent back to the drawing board. "We're after a very 1990s look - Ralph Lauren-style stripes, for example, but definitely nothing frilly," Hutson explains.

The hotel's sideline - the 40-space contract car park which adjoins it - is showing increased potential. It brings in £22,000 a year from local offices, but feedback from the student Hutson has hired to be his man on site and to sort out the car park invoicing suggests demand is so high a price increase could be in order.

"There is a real shortage of car-parking in Winchester, so the offices who use us are terrified we will redevelop the car park," Hutson says. "It's good to know you have a healthy income like that before you've even served a cup of coffee."


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