When a window of opportunity arose, the Fairfield family realised their dream of leaving London behind to set up home and hotel in the popular seaside town of St Ives, Cornwall. Words: Nicola Smith. Photographs: Penny Wincer
Within a few minutes of stepping out of our front door we feel like we’re on holiday,’ says Suzy Fairfield. ‘You don’t get that in London.’ You also don’t get a view of sweeping golden sands from your bedroom window or wake to the sound of seagulls. But all this is very much part of the Fairfield family’s everyday life since they relocated to Cornwall’s St Ives from their London home. With David working long hours as a corporate lawyer and Suzy reaching 40, the couple decided it was the right time to make a change. ‘Our two oldest children are both 21 and they were about to go off and do their own thing, and our two youngest children were about to start new schools. It seemed like a perfect time for a new challenge.’
With no prior experience of running a hotel or working in the hospitality industry, David and Suzy found their ideal property in St Ives and set about realising their dream. ‘We used to come to St Ives and be surprised that there wasn’t anywhere central for families to stay that was relaxed enough to have little ones but also felt special and boutique-like,’ says Suzy, who has a degree in illustration and has designed numerous interiors for the couple’s past succession of properties. ‘We wanted to create somewhere where we would like to stay ourselves.’
And so The Tide House was born. Tucked down a sharp steep road that runs down towards the sea, the hotel is an oasis of calm and tranquillity in what is a busy and bustling town in the height of summer. Inside is crisp and clean with a palette of cool, neutral colours, from the French limestone tiles in the reception area to the seagrass carpet in the snug, and the smoked, white, oiled floorboards in the roomy lounge.
Throughout is a fusion of old and new. Exposed brickwork is paired with white-washed walls, and light floods through the floor-to-ceiling glass doors running the length of the breakfast room. Upstairs, the six bedrooms are carefully considered, with the delicious penthouse room, Godrevy, even offering vast sea views from the bath. It is ‘homely chic’, if there is such a thing.
A TOUCH OF SERENDIPITY
But it wasn’t always this way. David says it was a ‘warren of little rooms’ when they bought the property. It was being run as a hotel when they made the purchase, but the building – constructed in about 1540 – had also seen life as a tavern, school and doctor’s surgery, and had retained its labyrinthine character. There was much work to be done to achieve their vision, but that wasn’t the only project. They also needed somewhere to live.
‘We wanted a place where we could spread out and have friends to stay, and accommodate our older children when they visited,’ says Suzy. Serendipity played a part: the parents of the lady managing the hotel when David and Suzy viewed it were looking to sell their house, which sat bang opposite. The couple bought both properties in November 2010 and completed in March 2011, and major construction work commenced on both buildings straightaway, transforming them into larger, brighter spaces.
During this time, David, Suzy and their two youngest children, Max, 13, and Clara, six, rented a small flat in the town’s Fore Street, right at the heart of the action. ‘To go from a detached house in west London to a little flat in the town centre was quite a shock,’ says Suzy. ‘There was suddenly noise from bars, buskers, seagulls and church bells – it was constant.’ Despite anticipating a stay of six to nine months in the flat, the family was there for a year and a half, until work was completed. Suzy admits that she ‘kept her eyes on the prize’ when times were tough, imagining how both the house and the hotel would look when they were finished. ‘It made us even more pleased when we did finally move into our house.’
INTERIOR DESIGN SKILLS SHOWCASED
It is not hard to see why. The five-bedroom house is a continuation of the hotel in both style and comfort, and serves as another showcase for Suzy’s interior design skills. At the top of the three-storey house is the pièce de resistance – and a central part of the extension the couple had built – David and Suzy’s bedroom, which opens on to a balcony with far-reaching views over the rooftops to the sea. As Suzy says, their new home is perfectly positioned for both coast and culture. ‘We like to be able to walk out and get a coffee and feel culture around us. There are plays and festivals on our doorstep, and the art and food scene in St Ives is pretty rich, which I think we would really miss if we were in a sleepy place.’
The family also likes to explore the other wonders of Cornwall. ‘You only have to drive for five minutes and you are in a totally different landscape,’ says Suzy, who loves spending time on Porthmeor Beach, and walks the family’s dog, Salty, around the rocks every morning.
The family also enjoys visiting Porthminster Café, a stone’s throw away. ‘On a nice evening we might get a G&T and sit on the beach and eat from the café’s barbecue while the kids play in the water. Max and Clara love it here.’ Suzy’s sister often visits from London bringing her children with her. ‘They are all of the age now where they can wander down to the beach.’
Suzy’s top tips for relocating from the city to the coast
• Rent before you buy. This allows you to immerse yourself in a new place, giving you enough time to decide on exactly the right location, down to the right street.
• Decide how rural you really want to be. Again what may be fun for a week’s holiday can be too remote day in day out. Make a list of your everyday priorities and requirements so that you can make an objective decision about whether a particular area suits your lifestyle.
• Embrace everything the coast has to offer. For example, take up an activity that gets you out on the water, whether surfing, sailing or kayaking, and explore the area on foot or bike. And don’t forget
the cream teas!
• Be realistic about how long it takes to achieve your goal. Moving in one go isn’t always possible. Build in extra time for unforeseen events, and remember
to be flexible.
• If you’re setting up a business, join your local Chamber of Commerce. You can benefit from the support of small business owners who will have more local knowledge of the coastal business community.