Last year, Laura Ashley bought an old hillside manor which dates back to 1540. After a six-month renovation programme, the manor opened in August, hoping to attract businesses, tourists and to create a ready-made customer base for the Laura Ashley furnishings. Like other British heritage brands, Laura Ashley faces the challenge of retaining its core customers while attracting new ones.
This is the first time the quintessential English brand has entered the luxury hotel market, but it follows a recent trend of fashion brands moving into hotels. Bulgari, Versace and Armani have all recently opened hotels across Europe, driven by a resilient luxury travel market.
MT decided to check out Laura Ashley's new offering, which celebrates the company's 60-year history.
The site dates back to 1540. Photo credit: Laura Ashley
Set in 10 acres of gardens, every one of the 49 bedrooms in The Manor Hotel in Elstree, Hertfordshire, has been individually decorated using pieces from the Laura Ashley collection.
Housed in a mock Tudor mansion, the hotel has been given a 16th century feel by the presence of steep staircases and wooden beams (some of which are thought to have come from one of the Spanish Armada ships). Although Laura Ashley is known for its floral prints, the décor is made up of soft, neutral colours – greys, duck egg blue and pale greens. With sales up last year, perhaps the hotel can give them another boost.
Just 30 minutes away by train from Central London, the Malaysian group MUI, the owner of the Laura Ashley company, hopes to attract both Londoners and overseas visitors flying into the capital. All of the ensuite bathrooms even include Japanese-designed combined toilet and bidets to appeal to international customers.
All in all, the hotel provided a very comfortable night's stay and is great if you're looking for a quick getaway, being only 11 miles from London. The staff are very helpful and attentive - they'll send a car to pick you up from the station, if you request one, and no problem is too small. The highlight of the room was the mattress, which was very soft and extremely comfortable. It seems to be a favourite among other guests as well - reception staff say they have sold a number already. Is that a sign of success? It could well be.
No two bedrooms are decorated the same. Photo credit: Laura Ashley
Laura Ashley Manor – the detail:
Number of rooms: 49
Prices: Doubles start from £175 per night. The most expensive room is the Mayfair Bridal Suite, which costs £500 per night.
Furnishings and fittings: Everything from the curtains to the beds can be purchased from the Laura Ashley catalogues.
Views: From the bedroom windows you can gaze at a terrace with a rose garden border, a lawn with a giant-sized chess board and you might even spot the BT Tower in the distance on a clear day.
Food and drink:
The Cavendish Restaurant inside the Manor has two menus. One serves traditional English food such lamb and guinea fowl, the other offers Malaysian dishes.
The Terrace Bar serves afternoon tea.
The Cavendish Restaurant. Photo credit: Laura Ashley
The Manor has conference facilities, and the hotel mainly attracts business guests in the week. There are five conference suites designed and furnished by Laura Ashley, which can accommodate up to 84 people.
Laura Ashley The Manor (020-8953 8227, lauraashleyhotels.com)