Framing unparalleled coastal views that overlook the harbour in St Mawes, The Idle Rocks is my kind of boutique place to visit when I need to relax and unwind. With a sensitive design scheme that evokes a warm and inviting home-from-home, the hotel is a safe place from the turbulent world outside.
I was awoken by the gentle sound of waves crashing against the sea wall – a sign of high tide in Cornwall. Exploring a new destination the only way I knew how, my morning run captured the locals on their commute – queuing up to hop on the small ferry to Falmouth – while the autumn sun slowly appeared over rolling hills.
Once back in the hotel, I enjoyed a delicious breakfast and it was here where I met the fabulous Karen Richards, co-founder of the hotel who designed the interiors herself. Feeling like I had all the time in the world – Cornwall’s graceful pace is somewhat addictive – we discussed hotel’s authentic design narrative, which was inspired not only by the unedited destination but also unexpected events that happened along the way.
Hamish Kilburn: How would you describe the style of The Idle Rocks?
Karen Richards: It’s a fusion of contemporary design and relaxed coastal style.
HK: How does the hotel stand out from other well-known luxury properties in the area?
KR: When my husband David and I bought the building in 2010, our aim was to create a hotel that was young, fresh and relaxing. We wanted to make it a home from home, eliminating formalities and in this way differentiate ourselves from our more traditional competitors.
HK: Can you explain art’s role in the hotel?
KR: We have very consciously focused on local Cornish Artists throughout the hotel. In a coastal hotel it is all too easy for the design to be predictable and something I worked hard to avoid. I love visiting antique shops and fairs, which is where a lot of pieces within the property came from. For example, I came across these traditional woollen swimsuits at an antiques fair. The gentleman who sold them to me asked what I was going to do with them, and I answered: “I am going to frame them and hang them in my hotel for guests to enjoy.”
HK: What trend do you hope will never return?
KR: Foreign Holidays
HK: What’s been the most important lesson you have learned since opening in 2013?
KR: Surround yourself with a great team.
HK: Describe Cornwall in three words?
KR: My favourite place
HK: I read about the storm that hit St Mawes in 2013. What happened, and how did it impact the hotel?
KR: We had only opened the hotel for less than a year and after a busy Christmas we were closed for maintenance. The storm hit the morning before we were set to reopen – 90 mph winds ripped through the ground floor of the hotel, destroying everything. The tide that morning was one of the highest ever recorded in St Mawes.
The following day, I was on site with the team and we did what we could to board up the smashed windows. Just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse, that evening another squall came in and caused even more damage.
I was completely devastated but we were determined to reopen. In just two months, we had repaired all the damage – everything had to be replaced from the furniture and floors to the curtains and doors. Luckily, I had a close relationship with my suppliers and everyone was extremely helpful.
HK: Seven years later, and from one storm to another (one could argue), what happened to the hotel during the Covid-19 UK lockdown?
KR: It has been a very tough time for everyone in the hospitality industry.
For us lockdown was challenging on a number of fronts as we had just recruited our ‘dream team’ and there were so many uncertainties about what the season ahead would look like. We didn’t even know when we’d be allowed to reopen!
However, I honestly believe we’ve come out of this terrible period much stronger and the great feedback from guests, after a very busy Summer, reflects this.
Main image credit: The Idle Rocks