How homes and interiors became a large part of the Windermere economy
PUBLISHED: 00:00 06 November 2017
Windermere is dependent on tourism, but when the holidaymakers have left there remains a thriving village community
Windermere, the village, has been at the business end of the Lake District for almost two centuries.
After all, it only exists in its present form because the railway station was put as close to the lake which shares its name as Victorian engineering and sensibilities allowed.
Much of the back-of-house industry that underpins the success of tourism is carried out in Windermere itself. Big businesses include McClure’s, which ferries food to the catering industry across an area within a 70-miles radius of its College Road headquarters.
Even bigger is the phenomenon Lakeland, the kitchenware chain with innovative gadgets and cooking utensils, plus homewares and garden products, which still runs its world-wide empire from its headquarters next to Windermere station.
But what also impresses is the army of smaller businesses flourishing by supplying services to the booming tourism industry. Like all the best armies, they support each other.
A short walk from the station is Cedar Manor Hotel, in Ambleside Road, run for the last ten years by Caroline and Jonathan Kaye.
Built in 1854, Cedar Manor was originally used as a country house retreat. Set in mature gardens with the beautiful cedar tree from which the hotel takes its name, recently voted one of the top ten iconic trees in the Lake District.
Caroline has a background in retail. Jonathan trained in hotel management but ran nightclubs in London before the couple decided to quit the capital for the Lake District, which he had visited many times as a holiday-maker.
The boutique hotel now has 10 luxury rooms and suites, all individually designed by an award winning Windermere interior designer, Alison Tordoff, with hand-made furniture, designed for the hotel and hand-crafted in Windermere by cabinet maker Andy Smith.
Typical is the stand alone Coach House Suite, which has the added space, privacy and flexibility that comes with its own open-plan living and dining area. It’s the perfect combination for a couple who crave total escape from the pressures of the 21st century, without surrendering any of its most indulgent luxuries and comforts. Not surprisingly it is particularly popular for weddings or honeymoons, but can also revert to a boardroom with accommodation upstairs.
Caroline and Jonathan have also rebuilt the reputation of an AA acclaimed restaurant with its rosette for fine dining. Food is locally sourced, seasonal and everything served is home-made by head chef Roger Pergl-Wilson and his team.
There has been a clutch of awards for the hotel over the years and at the end of September it was promoted to three red stars by the AA, the top inspectors’ choice.
As well as the awards, the couple are proud of the hotel’s recycling and environmentally-friendly record, with no chemicals used in cleaning. They were phosphate-free even before initiatives were launched by the Government.
They use local builders, local artists and suppliers, which brings us back to Alison and Andy, who have both worked on the redevelopment of the hotel, room by room. There is just one room left to finish, the Orrest Head suite.
Alison is celebrating 20 years at the helm of Fidget Design. She is Windermere bred, being a swimming teacher at Troutbeck Bridge while at Lakes School where she got an A level in Art before BA Hons in Interior Architecture at Brighton University.
After training and starting her career in commercial interior architectural design she moved back to Windermere in 1997 and set up Fidget Design. She was awarded ‘Best Hotel Interior’ in the world at the International Hotel Awards for her work on the Coach House.
Her work has included other hotels, restaurants and bars, both in the Lake District and beyond, as well as showrooms for Jaguar in Mayfair, and Aston Martin, Ford and Smart cars.
In addition to Fidget Design she also runs The Love District, which started with a book wallpaper she designed for the new reception lounge at The Cedar Manor. It has more than 65 different book designs all with slightly quirky and tongue in cheek titles.
‘I was so proud of my very first product The Lakeland Books Wallpaper, I decided to roll it out as a fabric design, with the intention of producing cushions, tote bags, shopper bags, tea towels, aprons …and maybe even boxer shorts!’ adds Alison on her website.
Not surprisingly she was Cumbria Business Woman of the year back in 2003, and more recently won Creative Business of the Year (2015) at the EVAs (Enterprise Vision Awards).
She enjoys working with fellow Windermere-based artisans. ‘It is nice to have confidence in, and be able to work with, other highly skilled and creative people and know that their final products will hit the mark,’ said Alison.
One who was engaged in the Cedar Manor is Andrew Smith whose furniture design and manufacturing business, Lakeland Fells Furniture, is also based in Windermere.
The cabinet maker has provided quality bespoke furniture to a string of top hotels. He has been very active producing furniture for many of the new eating houses in Windermere and Bowness as well as many domestic clients.
He has his own showroom, called Special Spaces, in Woodland Road, and just behind is a new project that aims to make the most of the entrepreneurs and small businesses in the village.
Appropriately named Windermere Works, it is run by managed by Bill Smith, Andy’s father and pioneer of High Street restorations nationwide thorough his own business, Let’s Talk Shop.
Windermere Works provides workspace in the heart of Windermere for independent freelances or teams of up to 20.
The complex started life in the 19th century as Atkinsons biscuit and cake works, supplying the likes of Fortnum and Mason with sweet treats. It was bought by Harold Preston in 1993 and has been in the Preston family ever since, with sons Gavin and Craig now taking the property forward and overseeing its evolution.
Broadband access, printing, cleaning services, access to a board room, security and storage space enable budding businesses to get off the ground in a professional environment. Some use hot-desking while others hire office suites.
One of the latter is Lakeland Gardens, owned by Sam Westcott. He started up in 2004 but following a move to Windermere Works last year has more than doubled in size, with six vehicles and 13 gardeners looking after hotel, guest house and larger private residences. Next year he plans further expansion, with two more vans and four more gardeners.
‘Our expansion was been enabled by Windermere Works, which has given us reasonably priced office space and a depot, of which there was not much choice in Windermere,’ he said.
Bill Smith summed up this appetite for mutually supportive businesses in Windermere: ‘It stems from the fact that we are a village community. If the tourists disappeared tomorrow we would still be a village. People use people they know and can trust. A recommendation works wonders for businesses that deliver good quality at a good price.’
Windermere village has its own attractions, not least Orrest Head, the fell that first inspired Alfred Wainwright to move from Blackburn and set out on his legendary walking career and books.
The fell has been having a bit of an upgrade this year, with paths being improved, including access for the disabled, so they too can enjoy the stunning view of England’s largest lake.
Having worked up a thirst and appetite climbing Orrest Head, the bustling Windermere village is blessed with bewildering array of cafes, bars and restaurants.
One of the latest additions is an attempt to change perceptions of pork. The Pig, based on Crescent Road, opened in March 2016 with 70 per cent of its dishes involving pig meats. Chefs Ian Dutton and his son Harry specialise in everything from black pudding to suckling pig, all butchered and created in house.
Harry says it has already been a resounding success, with winter even busier than summer, and locals enjoying it as much as visitors.
The family already run the award winning Village Inn in Bowness and Miller Howe restaurant in Grasmere. They have just acquired The Lighthouse, also in Windermere. Keeping it in the family, the interior designs are by Harry’s mother Annette, who also dreamed up the pig concept.
The Pig is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as acting as a bar. Just a word of warning: If you opt for the mixed grill, you will need that gargantuan appetite, or be willing to, well, make a pig of yourself.