Luxury living: Inside the former Harpenden House Hotel
PUBLISHED: 14:58 28 January 2020 | UPDATED: 11:26 29 January 2020
The transformation of Harpenden House Hotel into five luxury apartments has been a topic of much interest locally. Jane Howdle paid the development a visit.
Set back from Southdown Road in a prime spot overlooking the Common, the former Harpenden House Hotel building is a local landmark.
Grade II* listed with a classical Georgian facade, it dates back to the early 17th century when it began life as a timber-framed house.
The building was greatly extended, eventually becoming a school before being turned into a hotel in the 1970s, operating under various names including, eventually, Harpenden House Hotel.
Developer Fairview New Homes bought the site in 2014 and their redevelopment plans were passed two years later.
Two sets of newbuild homes - Welcombe Mews and Welcombe Gardens - now stand behind the main building, Welcombe House; the 37-home development has been aptly named The Welcombe House Collection, with Welcombe being the original house's name.
The former hotel has been transformed into five luxury two and three-bedroom apartments, two of which were reserved long before the work was complete, and are now occupied; the remaining three are still for sale, with asking prices of between £1.5m and £2.12m.
For those who went to school here, got married here or simply stayed the night, it's a fascinating sight.
The entrance hall with its winding staircase remains relatively unchanged, though the colour scheme is now on-trend grey, with crisp white woodwork.
The grand staircase winds to the right before forking in two directions: left to the apartments, right to a dead end, with half a dozen steps leading to a wall.
It originally led to some of the hotel rooms, explains Ellissa Christopher, who works in the development's on site sales office: "We could've boxed it in but it's quite a nice feature to have, even though it goes nowhere!"
Ellissa says initial reactions during viewings have been universally enthusiastic: "there's been a lot of 'wow!'"
It's easy to see why.
The apartments mix the very modern - underground parking, lift access to all floors and inevitably high end kitchens and bathrooms - with quirky layouts and uneven floors. The original windows remain, plus many arches and some ceiling beams.
Reaching this point has been a lengthy process, and Fairview have worked closely with St Albans district council to ensure that no period features were squandered.
The design of the apartments therefore evolved as new features were discovered, with the original plan then being adapted to accommodate them.
Sometimes the builders had to go that bit further to preserve the building's integrity.
In apartment No.3 - The Aubrey - the master bedroom's panelling had to remain. Originally a very dark brown, this too is now grey. A special kind of paint has been used so it doesn't ruin the woodwork, Ellissa explains. It also boasts an original fireplace and ceiling rose.
Ellissa adds: "Flooring-wise, you can feel it's not completely level. As part of the restoration, we weren't permitted to make alterations to the floors.
"[The council] were very involved the whole way through - what we did, when we did it, what was shown, what wasn't. There was a lot of back and forth, checking what we'd done, redoing some bits."
"Even though the listed [status] only covered the outside, there are certain things inside that we weren't allowed to rip out for example, which we carefully boxed in."
This includes the ceiling painting former guests may remember from the dining room; while it's no longer visible, it's still there.
There were compromises in the outdoor areas, too: one side at the front of the main house was allowed to be turfed, but the other had to become a sustainable wild garden so the wildlife that had been living in the previous shrubbery could stay put.
As for whether there's a typical buyer, Ellissa is quite clear: "Downsizers, who are selling their larger houses. The two buyers we've had have been that type of buyer, one from Harpenden, one from Letchworth that used to live in Harpenden."
She says a lot of those who come to view are "people who have history here; they've stayed here before or had some sort of event here.
"People have their own stories about what led where [when it was a hotel]; it's nice to hear."
And very nice to look at, too.