Contemporary design, old-fashioned values: inside The Queensberry Hotel

Fiona Sims finds luxurious suites, striking design and Michelin-star dining at a unique hotel in Bath, one of the UK's most beautiful cities

Words by Fiona Sims In partnership with Absolute

The Queensberry Hotel

I’m sitting in a fabulous bath in Bath. The building itself is part of a sweeping terrace of pale honey-coloured stone houses, surrounded by rolling hills in what is arguably England’s most beautiful city. Room four at The Queensberry Hotel is ticking all my boxes. There’s a showstopper of a bathroom – thanks in part to a large, ribbed tub in the centre of the room revealed after flinging back a set of double doors – and an enormous, vaguely kinky, turned-leg four-poster bed. And as for a sense of place: the hotel is four Georgian townhouses linked together on one of Bath’s grandest streets, right next to The Assembly Rooms, where Jane Austen et al once swapped gossip.

The hotel is named after the eighth Marquess of Queensberry, who built it as a private residence in 1771. This was a time in which Bath was at the centre of the social universe, the wealthy flocking to its famed restorative waters and fashionable parties. After his death, the house passed to the ninth Marquess, John Douglas, who made sure that the Queensberry name went down in history. The abridged version of the story is that Douglas endorsed the code of rules that governs modern boxing, consequently known as The Queensberry Rules, and cruelly outed Oscar Wilde, who was having an affair with his son, landing the author in prison.

Stephens, Beere and the team developed a concierge character to help guests make the most of Bath

The current owner, Laurence Beere, bought the 29-room Grade II-listed hotel in 2003 with his wife Helen. They are seasoned hoteliers, having met at The Savoy Group and worked in many a prestigious property. Every year, they update different areas of the hotel and room four is the latest to benefit, Beere tells us, as he throws open the door. And yes, he often escorts guests to their rooms. ‘It’s a small, tightknit team here, where everyone does everything,’ he says. Indeed, we have already met affable restaurant manager Aisling Bury in the lobby, giving guests the lowdown on what to see in the area and watched while bartender Netra lifted bags into the boot of a guest’s car. She later makes us a killer Gin Basil Smash.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so much wallpaper in one place. The Queensberry is unashamedly maximalist and in the case of our room, monochrome maximalist – my favourite kind. There are Ralph Lauren tones and covetable ‘Crane Fonda’ wallpaper designed by Bath-based duo Divine Savages, whose wallpapers are used liberally throughout at the direction of Cornwall-based design agency Absolute. If you don’t manage to bag the four-poster suite, as we did, then junior suites seven and eight have also been ‘Savaged’, the latter boasting a spectacular ball chandelier that will prompt a raid of your bank account.

The hotel's Olive Tree restaurant has a Michelin star

Add to the stylish decor a gem of a bar that fizzes with fun – the mood set by a comically rewritten version of the Queensberry Rules (‘Anyone overheard attempting to sell timeshare properties in the bar may be asked to leave’ reads one rule) – and a buzzy restaurant, The Olive Tree. Chef Chris Cleghorn keeps visitors happy at breakfast, lunch and dinner in the latter, with his impressively flexible, elegant menus that showcase the best the area has to offer.

The restaurant has earned a Michelin star, the only one in Bath, after five years of diligent tweaking and refining. Guests choose from four, six or nine courses, chopping and changing within each. The wine list is forward-thinking, with interesting options by the glass and bottle complemented by special pairing suggestions devised by Bury, who knows her Catarratto from her Carignan and is a great raconteur.

The four-poster suite, with wallpaper by Bath-based duo Divine Savages, is a highlight

Storytelling is a key feature of The Queensberry. For example, the ‘Equerry’, explains Beere, is not a real person but a mythical character that gives a historical voice to the hotel. He even has his own room, a former smoking area between the restaurant and the loos, now transformed into ‘The Equerry’s Office’, complete with ancient desk and typewriter. ‘At The Queensberry, we like to continue the tradition of doing things a bit differently,’ grins Beere.

The Equerry flags up the hotel’s concierge element, a list of Bath highlights that guests are urged to visit during their stay, some famous, others not so. The Roman Baths are an astonishing step back in time, as is No. 1 Royal Crescent, a perfectly preserved Georgian house that sees Jane Austen fans arrive dressed in character and pose for pictures taken, rather incongruously, on mobile phones.

Only one thing about the Queensberry jars; there’s no coffee or tea-making equipment in the bedrooms. It’s an unusual move that seems risky, particularly if guests are British, but Beere elegantly dismisses it as an issue: ‘Why have people lost the ability to be looked after? We are just trying to hold on to old-fashioned values; we are here to serve. Of course, we can send a kettle to your room but we would rather make fresh leaf tea for you in a pot and bring it to you.’ If it means a few more moments in the tub, there’s simply no reason to argue.

The show-stopping bathroom with freestanding ribbed tub

The Queensberry & Absolute

Laurence Beere has worked with Helen Stephens, Creative Director of the design agency Absolute, for more than 10 years. Stephens has brought Absolute’s distinctive experiential brand approach to the hotel’s design and interior, creating a seamless marriage of the two that expresses the Beere’s collective dedication to the independent, individual and exceptional.

Using a combination of illustrations and storytelling (some true, some with a dash of artistic licence), The Queensberry’s unique branding dances across its website, social media, in-room materials, artworks and crockery, as well as in the hotel’s hallways, bar and restaurant.

In their initial brand design, Stephens and her team reimagined the reasons for the (otherwise somewhat prosaic) ‘Olive Tree’ restaurant name. They created the story of two Bath ladies, Miss Olive Snodgrass and Miss Cherry Beckford, who fought for a full twelve and a half minutes – wearing boxing gloves à la The Queensberry Rules of the sport – over whether the restaurant should be called the Olive or the Cherry Tree. They were the talk of Bath for three or four months before the women chose to devote their time to less raucous activities.

A more recent creation is The Equerry. He is a well-informed concierge who makes it his business to be inquisitive. Alongside the rest of the team, he is constantly on hand to impart knowledge about the most intriguing Bath experiences and the hottest new local places and faces. Stephens, Beere and the team developed the character of The Equerry as the eyes and ears to The Queensberry household, keeper and divulger of all knowledge of the city of Bath. The Equerry has his own little room, with an unfinished missive waiting in the typewriter. More is to come from The Equerry soon with the full support of the teams at Absolute and The Queensberry.