A Kentish lass and her husband have restored a historic house near Ashford to create a magical dream of a hotel
Well, this was a new experience. All the houses I’ve had the pleasure to visit for this magazine are gorgeous and it’s frequently hard to tear yourself away from them to go back to reality.
But never before have I found myself standing with my hand on a door frame, listening to the house. Connecting with it. Because Boys Hall isn’t like a normal building, it has a personality – perhaps not surprisingly, considering all that’s gone on in it.
The door frame in question, carved oak, blackened with time, links the huge, welcoming reception area – the centre of the original Wealden hall house – with the drawing room.
But it actually came from a much older house, owned by the Barry family, that once stood half a mile away. Thomas Boys and his wife, Margaret (née Barry), dismantled that and built this one in 1616, using the door frame and as many other materials from the old place as they could. Architectural reclamation is nothing new.
If only wood could talk… I’m sure this door frame could have told me about sheltering priests and a King (Charles I…) from persecutors, welcoming Samuel Pepys as a guest and providing cover for all kinds of smuggling shenanigans.
Perhaps it would even reveal the origin of the stash of Medieval gold coins that were found under floorboards in 1972. Three of them now reside in the British Museum, officially called The Boys Hall Hoard.
Luckily though, I have Boys Hall’s current owner Kristie Lomas, who bought it with her husband Brad in 2019, to fill me in on it all.
With so much to go into, we repair to an entirely new structure at the back of the house, an oak-framed glass-walled extension they have built to house the restaurant part of the hotel they’ve created.
It sits on the site where a 1980s swimming pool extension stood when they took possession of the house, yet even though it’s freshly added, it doesn’t appear jarringly new. It looks like an old barn that’s been converted.
Kristie explains. “The beams came from trees nearby, but after the oak structure was erected, Covid delayed the glazing and the structure got rained on for a year – and it weathered the timber beautifully.”
It’s not the only new addition that looks as though it has always been there. On the house side of the extension is a courtyard and to the garden side, a terrace. Both are new – and the work of Kristie’s father. A very handy relative to have when taking on such a big job as this.
“Dad is a master craftsman,” says Kristie. “He can work with wood, stone and brick. He’s been doing projects in historical properties for years. He built new walls round the inner courtyard and the new outer terrace, using old bricks and ragstone found on the site.”
Kristie’s dad, Richard, has another talent that’s come in handy – and which Kristie has very much inherited: finding great things second hand.
Take the stone plaque on the wall along the terrace, saying ‘Boys’. I assumed it was original to the property, perhaps from an ancient gatehouse…? “Dad found it on eBay,” says Kristie, laughing. “It came from the playground of an old primary school. My whole family are hugely into reclamation and salvage. When I was a child, on holidays in the South of France, Dad and I used to go to the tip near where we stayed and found the most amazing bric-a-brac…”
Second-hand smarts has been Kristie’s source for just about every piece of furniture in the hotel – which is why it feels so settled in, immediately on being finished. It really looks as though it has always been as it is now.
The one exception to this is the dining room, where there is new furniture, for a very practical reason, which Kristie learned from the two bars she opened in Kings Cross earlier in her career. “We wanted to go new in this part of the house, because from the first bar I opened I learned that vintage chairs don’t last in a hospitality setting. The chairs that Ben Stokes from Kagu Interiors and I chose are by Bampton and we decided to also have banquettes upholstered with fabric, to soften the space. And they’re moss green because I absolutely love the colour – I think from doing all the gardening.” Which wasn’t their original plan to do first… our old friend Covid made that happen. The date they moved in seems portentous in retrospect – November 2019. So just four months in their new home before everything went superweird.
The move came about after Kristie and Brad married and had their first son and she sold her interest in the bars to her business partner. “I had two years at home with the children and then it was time to do something. Brad also worked in hospitality in London and it was time for us both to have a new project. We were going to buy a hotel on a clifftop in North Wales, but that fell through and then I saw this – a former wedding venue, that had been on the market for five years. Brad’s from Cheshire, but I went to school in Ashford and had no idea this place was here.”
The original plan was to start doing it up room by room and they were already renting out the ones that were ready on Airbnb, but then Covid hit and all the bookings were cancelled. And all the building work. “It quickly became hard to get materials, so we started in the garden – it was completely overgrown and we cleared it all. My dad built the courtyard and we designed and planted a Mediterranean style kitchen garden filled with herbs.”
This work also enabled them to really get to know the terrain of the property, discovering an ancient mulberry tree, oaks and a pond, with wildflowers galore from spring onwards. Plus, they could see where to put more terracing, for outdoor dining, and where to apply for planning permission to put in some luxury lodges.
Covid’s restrictions also gave Kristie acres of time to browse online auction catalogues. “The early Covid months were great for auctions. I found lots of period antiques that were the perfect fit for Boys Hall.” A particularly splendid find, from Bentley’s in Cranbrook, was the giant Rupert Bevan mirror that hangs behind the bar in the dining room. Which exactly fitted the space – although it took four men to hang it.
Also on a pleasingly grand scale are the massive wicker light fittings, perfect in the barn-sized space, supplied by Ben Stokes of Kagu Interiors, in Tenterden, who collaborated with Kristie on the interiors – a very natural fit, because: “We’ve known each other since childhood and I adore Ben’s interior style.”
Having the perfect interior designer based locally chimes in with one of the very pleasing details of Boys Hall – wherever possible, products are supplied by local companies.
“I bought lots of antiques not knowing where any of them would specifically go, but knowing they would all find their place. We splashed out on certain bits and were creative with others”
The compostable tea bags in the bedrooms are by Debonair Tea Co, based in Hythe, and the compostable coffee pods by Lost Sheep Co in Whitstable. Guest toiletries – in refillable bottles – are by Pelegrims, of Aldington, five miles away, made using grape extracts from Westwell Winery, seven miles away. The hotel’s bespoke fragrance – a blend of rose, tomato and oakwood – was created by Hunter Jones in Rye.
Other decisions I particularly appreciated are not having TVs ruining the décor in the beautiful bedrooms (because as Kristie says, people bring their own laptops and tablets now) and no complicated WiFi code. Your phone just hops onto it – which seems like the perfect metaphor for the welcoming atmosphere of the house/hotel.
Going back into the body of the house, from the dining room at the rear, you pass through two more ancient recycled door frames and the shallow steps of the main staircase – one of several, I lost count – and into the reception hall, where two six-seater sofas sit next to a roaring woodburner, with original Delft tiles behind it.
Off to one side is the original dining room – now available for private parties – a room of such splendour, that the famous Victorian novelist, Mrs Henry Wood, wrote a piece describing a Christmas party that took place there, in her periodical The Argosy. It describes in detail the exceptional features of the room, including the painted fireplace – which are still exactly as they were then.
From here, across the reception hall and through that very special doorframe, you come into the magnificent, purple-painted drawing room, both grand and cosy, with velvet and old leather club chairs clustered round antique trunks and coffers and portraits on the wall of some of the illustrious visitors.
Through an inner hall – this house has rooms I don’t have proper names for – you come to the bar, which they call The Pub. The shelving behind the bar is an old bookcase from a manor house in Windsor and it just fits, in that ‘meant to be’ way that happens when someone knows what they’re doing furnishing a house from second-hand and reclamation sources. And Kristie really does.
As we tour the ten beautiful bedrooms, all finished with a mixture of pre-loved furniture, Kristie gets to the nub of how that style of decorating works best.
We are in a room called Knatchbull – they are all named to reflect the history of the house – taking in the lovely half-tester bed, the warm old mahogany wardrobe and the curtains in Sanderson’s Canteloupe print on velvet. “This room had scarlet carpet and mustard wallpaper, black 1980s built-in wardrobes and a pink marble shower in the bathroom…” she says.
But although the room now looks as though it still has the furnishings that were there centuries ago, none of it was chosen for this room. “I bought lots of antiques not knowing where any of them would specifically go, but knowing they would all find their place.”
With this approach, the whole house feels organic and uncontrived, as though it has been furnished over time – and proof of the decorating advice that if you just buy what you like, it will all go together. “We splashed out on certain bits and were creative with others,” says Kristie. “My dad made the doorframe for the bathroom from a walnut tree that had fallen in the garden. He already had the door itself in his shed.”
Something the people who built the house in 1616, using bits of their old house to such great effect would deeply relate to. No wonder it has such a happy atmosphere. Which I can’t wait to experience as a hotel guest.
To book a stay or meal at Boys Hall, see boys-hall.com or call 01233 427727
Kagu Interiors kagu-interiors.co.uk
Bentley’s Fine Art Auctioneers bentleysfineartauctioneers.co.uk
Chair Repair Workshop chairrepairworkshop.co.uk
Failte Studio failte.shop
George and James Furniture georgeandjamesfurniture.co.uk
Hunter Jones hunterjonesstore.co.uk
Susan Stock Designs 07973 299595
- words: Maggie Alderson
- pictures: David Merewether
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