Embracing her ‘inner child’, Rachel Everett checks in to No.1 by GuestHouse in York – and is left, checking out, feeling rather nostalgic…
No.1 by GuestHouse, the Guest brothers’ latest 39-key hotel in York is set in a handsome 19th-century townhouse. It’s the brainchild of brothers Tristan, James and Tom, who have retained its decadent antique features while, playfully, reinventing the hotel with the help of ace designer Martin Hulbert, who also redesigned The Grove in Hertfordshire. The brothers have two hotels – one in York and another in Bath – and new openings in Margate (2023) and Brighton (2024). But what’s special about them? GuestHouse has a distinctive quality: the brothers have set their sights on launching creative, thoughtfully curated places, sheltered inside interesting buildings throughout the UK – and they are ahead of the curve in creating small luxury hotels with that ‘extra something’ we’re all looking for.
So what inspired the GuestHouse brand? “We feel there’s a real opportunity to create an aspirational brand for secondary cathedral and university cities and seaside towns around the UK,” the three brothers explained. “There are lots of great hotels in amazing settings in the countryside or London but in the smaller provincial centres, many of them don’t have the offer those locations deserve. We wanted to put these places on the map as staycation destinations.”
And the trio comment further on the brand ethos: “We have two hotels open at present and are excitingly opening our third property in the seaside town of Margate in spring 2023. This will be called No.42 by GuestHouse, Margate. Later in 2023, we will be opening our fourth property, No.124 by GuestHouse, Brighton. A big part of our strategy is to connect with the local culture. We feel the leading hospitality brands embed themselves within the community. We strive to do that with our choice of suppliers and the creatives we enlist to support our design ideas, as we intend to be present in these cities for a long time.”
But let’s bring things back to the present moment. On arrival at No.1 by GuestHouse, even the dashing exterior of No.1 draws you in: the greenery-cloaked 19th-century townhouse appears more like an affluent friend’s residence. Set among the honey-toned houses in the posh suburb of Bootham, once inside, the huge black spiralled staircase and violin-clad walls grab your attention immediately; but take a longer look around and discover the saffron-hued Marmalade Lounge and the snug bar and restaurant. Whimsical design features include wooden dollhouses throughout the hotel: at the reception – holding the room keys – and in the rooms for the coffee and biscuits, the vast vinyl selection and in-room Crossley players, and the cellar, previously an air raid shelter in World War II. That’s the thing about this hotel; it has some quirky elements that are part of the signature brand, that make it feel more like home. And this makes it all the more comfortable.
“We were first drawn to No.1’s Regency Georgian façade and in the ideation process for this property, we wanted to retain the warmth and character of the traditional guest house experience whilst paying homage to the history and roots of the city in which it’s found,” the brothers’ explain when discussion their vision for the York hotel. “The grand-but-friendly exterior is full of charm, and inside there are plenty of intricate details that have survived nearly 200 years since its construction. For instance, the staircase leads guests up to a magical, towering glass dome in the ceiling and down to the cellar, which was an air raid shelter in World War II, where now guests can find a treatment room-focused spa.”
They continue: “We worked closely with local creatives on the interiors and design of No.15 by GuestHouse, Bath as well as for No.1 by GuestHouse, York. We wanted to pay tribute to the city of York with nods to historical heroism with engineering themes, beautifully crafted rugs, and upholstery inspired by the textile industry. At the core of GuestHouse’s ethos, we wanted to continue to champion the work and art of local artists and the community such as local artist Rachel Bernette. Excitingly, for our future openings, we will be enlisting the creativity of our new in-house interior design team to really bring the GuestHouse style and vision to life.”
Design themes are different for every hotel but some hallmark items remain steadfast with all the ingredients for a trusted hotel brand experience. There are some wonderful design touches in the rooms and throughout the hotel – book the Bootham Suite. There are beautiful four-poster beds with Sealy mattresses and 300-thread-count Egyptian cotton linens, tall, sun-filled windows and luxurious draping curtains, dollhouses that double as coffee cabinets, Crossley record players, and each property has a feature that is relevant to its city base – York has little white roses carved delicately into the walls like a seal of the city’s approval.
Throughout the hotel, there are considered details: in the Marmalade Lounge, there’s colourful art, amber floral displays, old vintage cabinets, deep, rich yellow velvet seating and fascinating coffee tables containing carefully-curated collections. In the bar, plump sofas are placed under a wall gallery and the refreshing blues of the main restaurant seep out onto the outdoor terrace. In the hallways, there are retro framed pictures like ‘How to build a doll’s house’. Then there’s The Pantry, a divine, room-level, sweet shop, packed with treats and drinks to pick at your leisure – it’s not just kids I see sampling the goods.
The basement holds the super lavender-laced spa, a serene space with top-notch treatments. There are just five rooms for spa treatments and a small bespoke menu – offering dreamy treatments using Pinks Boutique organic lotions and oils. Each treatment comes with personalised notes for each guest at the end and oil samples to recreate the experience at home. It’s the little touches that stand out.
“The hotel is small but full of wonder – and perfectly crafted – just like the dollhouses inside.”
The brothers mention the special touch points in the hotel: “At GuestHouse we have incorporated a number of special touch points at our hotels that we feel make for a unique stay for guests to ensure they feel at home from start to end come in the form of complimentary Brompton bike hire, moreish help-yourself pantries, vinyl walls to select records for in-room dancing and much more. Additionally, both No.15 by GuestHouse, Bath and No.1 by GuestHouse, York are within easy reach of London by train in under two hours and offer handy station luggage pick-up service to allow guests to explore the city hands-free as soon as they hop off the train. In every bedroom can be found ‘The Guest List’, a curated guide designed to uncover local tips and tricks. From nearby art galleries, food markets, hidden bookshops, hard-to-miss historical sites, and lesser-known boutiques, the hotels are the perfect launchpad to explore.”
What about sustainability? “As a brand, we are still in our infancy and establishing wider sustainable initiatives for future implementation,” they add. “A key focus for us is to encourage guests to travel via train instead of drive. Our luggage pick-up service is offered free of charge for all guests that visit via train for their stays and means they can immerse themselves in the cities as soon as they arrive. Supporting local makers and producers is particularly important to us, we locally source produce and work with bijou artisans to support the community in both York and Bath. In York, we have a strong relationship with Andrew Thwaite, a local chocolatier for any artisanal chocolate needs and the pantry goods are supplied by the likes of Yorkshire Popcorn.”
The restaurant dishes up a small but contemplative menu of excellent plates with a Yorkshire focus. Try a tasty Old Fashioned Parkin, the signature cocktail before dining on the best of British menu. Breakfast is the dream – order it for your room if you feel like lingering – a bountiful spread of pastries, bacon and sausages from Lishman’s of Ilkley, eggs made-to-order, coffee and fresh juices.
They talk about the culinary experience at the hotel: “Our kitchen and bar team cleverly conjure the essence of great British escapes to create flavours that feel familiar and original all at once. At No.1, there’s the signature cocktail called the Old Fashioned Parkin that transports you to the fireside after a wintry walk in the Dales. And the local honey is so heather-fragrant that it’s as though you’re rambling in the wildest nature of the North York Moors.”
What are their future plans? “From the off in 2019, our grand objective was to launch five hotels in five years. We are moving in a positive direction and will have four hotels under the GuestHouse umbrella by 2023 with the launch of GuestHouse in Margate and Brighton. We want to be in amazing locations and fantastic towns and great buildings and there are not many of those, so it’s a niche thing we are looking for, so when they do come up, we do want to jump at the opportunity. We’re continuing to cherry-pick iconic buildings in the heart of vibrant cities and reimagine them on the inside with a GuestHouse twist. We have our exciting Margate and Brighton hotels launching next in the pipeline and we will continue to evolve in the years to come. Watch this space.”
The takeaway? If you want to tap into your inner child, book into No.1. Fun, luxurious rooms with exceptional interiors, an excellent spa, and great food and drink, all make for a pampering city stay – the brothers have found the magic formula. The hotel is small but full of wonder – and perfectly crafted – just like the dollhouses inside.
Main image credit: GuestHouse