Can Laura Ashley Pull Off A Hotel?

by  Alex Schechter | Aug 6, 2013
Hotel room
Hotel room / Kwanchai_Khammuean/iStock

For a company founded on the production of quilts and headscarves in the 1940s, a nationally-lauded boutique hotel is the epitome of success. Laura Ashley, who died in 1985, leaving a thriving textile empire in her stead, would undoubtedly be proud to behold The Manor Elstree, a 49-room former country club that debuted this week as the first-ever Laura Ashley hotel. Boasting contemporary and vintage designs (beds, linens, desks, chairs – all Laura Ashley), the elegant hotel is a Laura Ashley paradise.

For the right person, of course.

When Armani announced their first branded hotel, the world listened. Ditto Missoni and Bulgari. But Laura Ashley? How far can pretty floral prints and paisleys go in transcending the realm of showroom and creating an authentic hospitality experience? On their own, not very. But there's something else the Laura Ashley team has going for it: experience. According to the brand's COO, the company has designed numerous hotel interiors prior to this project. As a result, they've had time to witness what is necessary to achieve that hotel 'it' factor, and the resources to make that vision a reality.

The company spent £5.8 million on the property itself, which dates back to 1540, when an actual Tudor house occupied the site. More history is evoked throughout the property – the front door (lifted from a dungeon in Lewes Castle), and the Beaufort Room's 17th century wooden panels. What's more, the location can't be beat: 9 miles from London – a quick 20-minute train ride for those without cars – the hotel is ideal for luxury-seeking city folk in need of a rural weekend getaway. Or, really, any traveler passing through the British capital.

Before we mention the rooms themselves, let us point out that a quick 'Laura Ashley' Google image search pulls up an endless slideshow of over-adorned bedrooms that are too-cutesy, too-frilly, too...stuffy for their own good.

To our surprise, however, the rooms at The Manor are refreshingly modern-looking. Call it Laura Ashley Lite, or Laura Ashley 2.0; the silvery, bluish and turquoise tones are understated in a way we weren't expecting. The bedding is frill-free. The antique nightstands and the white-painted armoires actually complement the house's history without homogenizing it. And the full range of modern amenities (en suite bathrooms in all the rooms, high definition TVs, free Wi-Fi) add to the appeal.

Sure, there are a few misses (the odd pink-and-grey crushed velvet pairing in one of the rooms), but overall the look is clean, simple, and tasteful. The Feature Rooms are our favorite so far: located on the top floor of the Manor, half of them afford views of the London skyline. So even if you're the type who can't bear the very sight of a Laura Ashley-designed tablecloth (never mind a whole table), then at least you'll have something else to distract you.

Rates start at £150 per night (about $200).

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