«The endgame is being able to have a circular sustainable system where the estate is funding the house, which provides the business that supports the estate»
Heckfield Place in Hampshire
Its history stretches back centuries. First established as a private country estate in the eighteenth century, in fact, the manor has morphed through various iterations for over two hundred years. Today, the property has reached fruition as a five-star resort driven by eco-conscious practices and sustainability, powered by a self-sufficient, circular system. «The founding mission or ethos of Heckfield Place is one of longevity. We have four-hundred-and-thirty-eight acres where we farm. The produce comes into the house, onto the tables, and into the rooms, including flowers, dairy, herbs and eggs», says Olivia Richli, General Manager at Heckfield Place. After an eight-month renovation turned into a nine-year restoration project, it was September 2018 by the time guests were welcomed to experience the newly-reimagined Heckfield Place. For locals and historians, its significance in the heart of Hampshire far predates this.
Olivia Richli says, «a lady, Jane Hawley, who was twenty when she came to Heckfield Place, built the first part of the house in the 1760s. Hawley was widowed with a child, but remarried and had eight children. In 1795, the Shaw Lefevre family, who were French Huguenots, bought the house. They grew their family here. One of their sons became a politician – the second longest-serving Speaker of the House of Commons. On his retirement, he was elevated to become Lord Eversley». Committed to expanding the property, the landscape under Lord Eversley’s watch grew. «A gardener, William Wildsmith, worked with Eversley for thirty years developing the landscape to what we see today, growing in the Walled Garden and on the farm. We also named our skincare collection after him: Wildsmith Skin», says Richli.
By the time Lord Eversley passed, the two had accrued three thousand acres. With no heirs to his name, the property was sold again, this time to the Walpole family, who, during their tenure, whittled the estate down to seventy-one acres. The Walpoles eventually sold the manor in a state of disrepair in the 1980s. Racal Electronics then acquired it to convert it into a training center. The company is responsible for founding the telecommunications group Vodafone, developed on-site at Heckfield Place. In 2002, the Hong Kong-born billionaire Gerald Chan purchased Heckfield Palace. The site maintained its training center status for some time before evolving into an events space. In 2008, Chan’s vision for the newly-reimagined Heckfield Place was laid out, and the estate closed for what was to be a swift transformation.
Lampoon review: Restoration and renovation at Heckfield Place
Nearly a decade later, Heckfield Place reopened. «There were changes in thought as well as changes in design throughout that period. We have now increased the property again to four-hundred-and-thirty-eight acres, and the house has been restored. It is a country home with the twenty-first century comforts», says Richli. «During that nine-year process, the building blocks for our future practices were put in motion, such as developing our Market Garden, growing our Guernsey herd of cows, and putting in a biomass energy center that we could use for heating and hot water. The elements put in place over those nine years will fuel us for the next ninety years. The endgame is being able to have a circular sustainable system where the estate is funding the house, which provides the business that supports the estate».
Today, its regenerative commitment is considerable. «We follow biodynamic practices across the estate, which means there are no chemicals and that there is a biodiversity of wildlife. We use sixty percent of the farm produce currently in our restaurants and in-house – from [producing] eggs to making ice cream to [providing] lamb and pork. Further, we have bees, so we make honey. We have an orchard, so we harvest fruit. Then, we serve seasonal produce throughout the year. We are not eating out of season or importing products – that is core to our eco-credentials. This is also accompanied by a composting regime. We have plastic-free rooms and single-use plastic-free kitchens. We use energy-saver bulbs, we bottle water and create amenities, which are in refillable bottles».
No one can be held entirely responsible for the transformation, says Richli. «Over the years, there were countless people working in Heckfield Place. Chan is our owner, investor, and the vision behind the estate, and he has gathered people that are experts in their field and are contributing towards that vision. There were several architects and designers that worked». Ben Thompson – British designer and founder of bwt – is a name Richli singled out. «The feel and the color throughout most of the house are Ben Thompson».
Staying true to time and place, says the General Manager, Chan felt it imperative to use British-based designers. «British craftspeople provided the furniture, carpets and ceramics. Felicity Irons, one of the last rush weavers in the United Kingdom, is present at Heckfield Place. She harvests rushes from the River Ouse. She has made the carpets, bed heads, log baskets, and bread baskets that we use in the house».
The walls and rooms follow in this suit. As a collector of art, photographs, Windsor chairs, milking stools and dressers, Chan’s personal lot is laid out. «For Heckfield Place, the collection is of mid-twentieth-century British artists, including watercolor, oil paintings, and antiques. The subject matter is varied. There are abstract, landscape, and portrait works. The location that these pieces were placed was of concern. We spent two months planning this out». Guests curious to explore the artworks in detail can do so at leisure. In each room, there is, on supplied iPads, a directory of the artists on display and a history of each painting in the house. The Gary Bunt collection, says Richli, is of particular note.
Accommodations at the hotel
The house consists of thirteen rooms. «The original house from the 1760s is the main arrival, but over the years, Lord Eversley and the Walpoles added to it, so there are wings that you don’t notice when you first arrive», says Richli. «We have three cottages which are on the grounds of the property. One is the Church Lodge, which is a signature room. Then we have two cottages which are currently our Little Bothy Spa and Gym, which face onto the Walled Garden». Positioning itself as a homely country estate, guests can also expectedly privatize it for birthday parties, family takeovers, weddings, or corporate buyouts. «It feels like a home, complete with a drawing room and a dining room. There is no reception desk – that is not how we roll», says Richli.
Further, a program of events and activities expand Heckfield Place’s offering. «There is a sixty-seven-seater screening room with Dolby surround sound. We show the latest releases here, and it is open to outside guests and residents of Heckfield Place. This is part of The Assembly, which is our ongoing, year-round program of events that include workshops, walks and talks. We have watercolor painting, and we do events with our chefs and bar team, such as cocktail masterclasses and wine tasting. Every equinox and solstice, we host events and invite astronomers and foragers». Heckfield Place has a helipad at a sister property which is five minutes away. «It’s not on the property», says Richli, «because it would break the peace. There are three Land Rovers to drive guests around the estate, and, where possible, pick up guests from the nearby station».
Aside from this, yoga and meditation classes, fishing, boating, and estate walks are available to guests. Off the property, arrangements can take place to enjoy falconry, archery and other activities. «While the activities are exclusive to those staying at Heckfield Place, the spa, screening room, Assembly events, and dining facilities are available to non-staying guests». The new year will mark a milestone with the launch of the full Bothy Spa, including a pool, steam room, sauna, gym, barbershop and hairdressing facility. This spa will double as a retail space for the estate’s product line – the aforementioned Wildsmith Skin – a brand that was first developed during the early stages of restoration under Chan’s control.
«To develop the amenities available for our rooms, including shampoos and conditioners, was of importance to us. We like to know, in fact, where the products come from, the provenance of the ingredients, and being able to refill the bottles and keep plastic out of our rooms were the reasons behind founding our range», says Richli. It started as a simple skincare line, including facial products, wraps, and scrubs, and has grown into a larger offering that is available at Liberty, Harrods, and Fortnum & Mason. Currently, there is also an online retail store. The upcoming Bothy Spa will be the brand’s first dedicated retail space.
Heckfield Place’s culinary direction
Led by Australian chef Skye Gyngell, the culinary direction stays true to the estate’s ethos. Her culinary journey started with Petersham Nurseries, which then led her to Spring, her restaurant at Somerset House. Now, she is also with Heckfield Place. «Skye has been the driver of seasonal products. There is a dedication to presentation, and she will exclusively create dishes with seasonal produce. That is what she has brought to Heckfield Place». As for the culinary experiences, there are three venues to explore.
Marle – which is a synonym for fertile soil – is the first. «The name connects us back to the farm», says Richli. This restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day. «We have Hearth, which is located in the Old Stables of the house, featuring red brick walls, and an open fire. The produce used in Hearth is from the farm. The restaurant offers small plates with an outside terrace and is open five days a week. The chefs are in the room with you – it’s a dining experience therefore. It is our signature restaurant, where we can show everything we do».
The third dining venue is the Glass House, which is located in the Walled Garden. Here, resident and non-staying guests can avail of afternoon tea daily. «Within the house, we have our House Menu on offer, designed by Skye. It is different from what you expect – there is no club sandwich or burger on the menu – but it is representative of our personal style. And, in the minibars, there are Skye’s snacks. We make nuts, biscuits, crisps, fresh milk, ginger beer, jams, chutney, bread and butter», explains Richli.
When asked what the future holds for Heckfield Place, Richli, no stranger to managing exclusive resorts – such as the five-star Soneva Jani in the Maldives and Aman Venice – responds, «the goal is for us to create a sustainable estate that will still be here in one hundred years time with the practices that we put in place now. There are layers to the initiative. That long-term view is something that differentiates us from hotels on the market. The next five years are what hotels will generally plan for. Here, instead, we plan much further ahead».
Heckfield Pl, Heckfield, Hook RG27 0LD, United Kingdom
Set in a Georgian manor on a 400-acre estate, Heckfield Place is four miles from opera at West Green House and six miles from the M4 motorway.