Decadence & eloquence

PUBLISHED: 12:12 10 January 2014 | UPDATED: 12:12 10 January 2014


NATALIE MILLAR-PARTRIDGE is wowed by a visit to Exeter’s Southernhay House

Photography by Richard Downer

"‘Part of the charm of a stay at Southernhay House lies in the grandeur and decadence of the bedrooms’"

On stepping foot inside Southernhay House you could be forgiven for thinking you had stepped into a different era. Drenched in all the decadence and eloquence of a time gone by, I was struck by the sheer grandeur of the interior.

The house is now a charming and elegant boutique hotel with a modernist influence and all the exuberance of style from the era in which it was built.

A beautiful and striking Georgian town house trailed with ivy, it stands with pride on the Southernhay promenade in the heart of Exeter’s Georgian business quarter.

The building has been lovingly restored to its original purpose as a ‘social focal point’. The exquisite grade II building now holds a restaurant, private dining room, beautiful veranda, art deco inspired bar and ten luxurious bedrooms.

The decor and feel of Southernhay has been inspired by the colourful history of the building and its original owner. It was built in 1802 by the eccentric Major General William Kirkpatrick, who spent years with the East India Company, spoke five languages and had two Indian children. Kirkpatrick, dubbed the Orientalist, entertained extensively and lived on the bohemian fringe of Devon bourgeoisie, with a gentlemen lover a short ride away from the house and penchant for laudanum, he was well-known for his extravagant parties.

Just ten years later however, Kirkpatrick succumbed to ill health and died in August 1812 aged 58. The end of an extraordinary and accomplished life from humble beginnings. Fortunately Kirkpatrick’s legacy lives on in the form of his published works, letters, diaries and his fabulous Georgian home, which the owners say ring with echoes of its colonial past.

Fast forward nearly 200 years, various owners and the Blitz where the building miraculously escaped unscathed with neighbours reduced to rubble and now Southernhay House has once again become the entertaining social focal point it was originally intended to be.

Owners Deborah Clarke and Tony Orchard, who also own Burgh Island, took on the project of transforming the interior of the building, which had previously been let to a firm of accountants, into a ten-bedroom bespoke hotel. Southernhay House opened its doors in June 2011. Deborah and Tony pride themselves in offering the very best in food, teamwork, service and atmosphere.

They have researched and tuned into the personality of the house in the hope of bringing guests ‘closer to the gregarious and glamorous Georgians with a touch of the repressed Victoriana, a fizz of Colonialism and lashings of modern comfort’.

Whilst the design has embraced the colonial past of the house which is reflected in its architecture and detailing the project is not easily defined, instead, it is filled with personal identity and off beat modernism. The interior is traditional with a modern twist, infused with elements of the orient and nods to its historic past.

Most importantly it is run by a warm and dedicated team, a combination of long-term Exeter residents and staff trained at Burgh Island. With just ten bedrooms, a night at Southernhay is a completely personal and unique experience. The bar, restaurant and private dining room are the former grand salons of the original house and are in keeping with the elegant and intimate style of the former residents. The restaurant has limited covers and a friendly, unhurried service. The food at Southernhay is a rare treat and the menus are a modern take on the grand dishes of the last two centuries, with comfortable classics such as Dover sole, chicken pie or venison re-worked for a modern palate. Rob Law, Chef at Southernhay House, embraces the trend for modern nostalgia in his menus.

A stay at Southernhay House is one that you would be hard-pushed to forget. It has all the old-style glamour combined with the luxury of mod cons that make it an abode you’d be very happy to return to. n

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