Designed and built by Sir Edwin Lutyens in a two year period between 1911 and 1912, The Salutation is one of the finest hotels and best kept secrets in the UK. EatSleepDrink Magazine spoke to Owner, Dominic Parker, about the painstaking work him and his wife, Stephanie, undertook to restore the property to its former glory.
Originally built for William, Gaspard and Henry Farrer as a weekend retreat, The Salutation was named after an inn that stood within the grounds and is supported by Knightrider House, The Coach House and Gardener’s Cottage. Having been hidden and neglected for more than a decade, Dominic and Stephanie embarked on an extensive and meticulous renovation programme. Today, the property stands a testament to both their hard work and the original integrity of the house and the gardens.
A chance encounter
Located in the heart of Sandwich in Kent – one of the finest medieval towns in the UK – The Salutation is surrounded by three-and-a-half acres of exquisite Lutyens and Jekyll gardens, as Dominic begins by explaining. “In 2004, my wife and I lived locally and we were looking for a six bedroom farmhouse on the edge of the village. We spotted what would become The Salutation in Country Life and came along just to be nosy but we immediately fell in love with it, although it was completely run down.
“The sale was a protracted affair and took about nine months from start to finish and we were never sure if we were going to get it,” he remembers. “The first thing to do was to bring the main house to a relatively liveable condition for ourselves and the children. In July 2005, we bumped into some Americans in a local pub and we explained our project and one of them ended up coming to have a look at it that same night. He was particularly impressed and told us that if we did it up like a hotel then he’d tell all of his friends to come and stay”.
This serendipitous meeting was the beginning of The Salutation, as Dominic continues by recalling. “Once we had finished work on the majority of the main house we then started on the three cottages and the following May one of the Americans had his bachelor party with us, took over the place for five days and all of a sudden we found ourselves in the hotel industry. At the time, I was still working in the family steel business and the work was all going on in the background and the rest is history.
“In terms of major milestones, the completion of Knightrider House was then followed by The Coach House and Gardener’s Cottage,” he asserts. “I think the last lick of paint was applied about five minutes before the Americans arrived, so it really was a last minute thing but they really did tell all of their friends. Because of our strong American business, we have only just started to market ourselves to the UK market – chances are that if you’re a golf fanatic on the East and West Coast of the US then you’ll have heard of us – but until recently we were relatively unknown over here”.
Having painstakingly restored the guest accommodation with quintessentially British touches, it is perhaps unsurprising that The Salutation is such a big hit with the American market. Indeed, with the majesty of the beautiful gardens, the property is almost entirely surrounded by the old city walls of Sandwich which further augment the seclusion and privacy of Dominic and Stephanie’s charming hotel.
“My wife is completely responsible for the interior design of all of the rooms and the majority of the furniture is antique,” he affirms. “Both of us have travelled extensively and stayed in some fabulous and not-so-fabulous places, so this experience is certainly reflected in the style of our rooms. We have tried to put in all of the bits that we liked from our favourite hotels, such as the little flagons of whisky and sherry in all of the rooms. We lifted the free bar concept from America – we’re partial to a gin at the end of the day and we thought that having complimentary alcohol was a really great touch for guests”.
It is these touches that really complete The Salutation experience and guests will find a plethora of other delights, such as ice machines, White Company and Penhaligon’s toiletries as well as complimentary dental kits and shaving sets. “For what you get, with Royal St. Georges – the world-class championship golf course – just down the road, I think our rates of £210 per night including breakfast are very good value. If you have a few drinks in a hotel bar it doesn’t take long before the bill adds up whereas with us, you can relax in the living rooms or in your bedroom and help yourself to the free bar without worrying about what the final bill will be”.
Made to measure
As well as these delightful touches and the immaculate standard of accommodation, guests of The Salutation will also be treated to breakfast in Main Dining Room, which overlooks the spectacular gardens. “In addition to our steady stream of golf enthusiasts, we are now getting an increasing number of visitors from the UK who are coming down to explore Sandwich, our gardens and the surrounding area,” Dominic confirms. “We received our wedding license as of January 1st this year, so we are now getting quite a few bookings and we are already getting listed in some of the relevant publications.
“I would say that we are very much aimed at the mature second marriage site, with drinks and canapés on the terrace,” he notes. “We are the ideal venue for low-key weddings (maximum of 40 guests). In total, we can host 18 guests overnight, so this really fits with our relaxed atmosphere. Many of our guests are return visitors and we consider a few them as part of the family now. Because we got into the business by accident and through a chance encounter, we feel like we are welcoming guests into our home, which I think makes for a more relaxed experience”.
Speaking of rounded experiences, Dominic and Stephanie are also proud to be promoting an Olympic promotion in their gardens, as he continues by describing. “A chap named Paul Cummins was given some money by The National Lottery and he has designed ceramic flowers to celebrate the London 2012 Games.
“It is being done in a pretty unusual way and the exhibition will run simultaneously at five sites including Blenheim Palace, Castle Howard, The Houses of Parliament and ourselves, so we are in with some major attractions, which will hopefully be great publicity for us. We have the roses and I think we’re going to have about 1,000 of them and it will run from May through to July. And because we’re only an hour and twenty minutes from London on the fast train, The Salutation is now well-in-reach of overnighters from London”.
In terms of the future, Dominic is keen to expand The Salutation, potentially using the family residence in the Main House to make room for additional deluxe accommodation. “We are now in a position where our two children would like to be able to run around outside but because of the public gardens it just isn’t possible. In an ideal world, we’d like to turn the three master bedrooms on the first floor of the Main House into guest rooms and we would move out into a nearby house and continue to run The Salutation from there.
“We now share the gardens with 30,000 people a year – my son is obsessed with football and the two simply don’t mix!” he laughs. “Because we are Grade I-Listed, all of the planning for renovation work is painstaking and has to be approved by a myriad of different bodies, but we think the three master bedrooms would be perfect for guests. Somebody classed Sandwich as Kent’s best kept secret – we are about the same size as Rye, we’re older than Rye and yet it gets 300,000 visitors a year. Sandwich is a massively friendly place and in the spring and summer there really are few better places to visit.
“When we came here there was nothing but overgrown gardens and a dilapidated house and cottages,” Dominic concludes. “You couldn’t have lived in the house or even walked around the gardens, such was the disrepute. We now have seven full-time gardeners and luxury accommodation for 18 guests. When Monty Don opened the gardens in 2007, he classed them as among the top ten in the UK, so we’re looking forward to opening The Salutation up to a new wave of visitors and sharing all of our hard work with the British audience”.
Having experienced the world-class accommodation and delightful gardens first-hand, EatSleepDrink can confirm that The Salutation is truly one of the UK’s best kept secrets. And with Dominic and Stephanie’s integrity and concept for future expansion it surely won’t be long before the three extra rooms are more than necessary.
Visit: www.the-salutation.com for more information and reservations.