(First published in Lancashire Life, April 2014)
Jo Vincent’s stunning chandelier
He was a tough, worldly-wise climber fresh from Everest base-camp, with years of Lake District hiking behind him. She was a pretty, petite beauty consultant and fine jewellery expert who had spent years tripping along Kensington High Street and Sloane Square. And the two of them were alone in a blizzard on a bleak February day on the Langdale pikes.
Were this a Mills and Boon novel, our hero would have swept our heroine into his arms and his duvet jacket, and carried her down to safety.
“In fact, she beat me to the summit, even though she’d never been on a fell before in her life, danced down the mountain, and showed no signs of aches and pains the next day,” says our hero. It was a defining moment in the delightful romance of Jonathan and Caroline Kaye. Not only did it put a seal on their relationship, but she joined him in a love affair with the Lakes.
Ten years later they are living the dream, running the stunningly beautiful Cedar Manor hotel which looks across Windermere to the hills of their adventure – and occasionally running up the hills near their Lakeland home. They bought the hotel in 2007 and have turned it into a delightfully quirky country house with contemporary twist kind of place, where they are constantly revamping and innovating, always with the help of local designers and local craftsmen.
It’s a labour of love to which they have given their lives, with a great deal of fun and enjoyment along the way. “Pleasure shouldn’t be a serious business,” says Jonathan. “Though that’s not to say we don’t take it seriously.”
He’s a host with an easy manner honed by a wealth of hospitality experience in hotels and restaurants – and ten years running the legendary Raffles nightclub in Chelsea, an unusual diversion on the career path of a man who always wanted to be a Lakeland hotelier. “Well, it was either that or airline pilot. I did actually go along for a first interview for that. I took a friend along with me for company. He got in, and I didn’t,” says Jonathan.
There’s no sense of regret, though, for it’s clear he is now doing what he always wanted to do. His family, from Birmingham, spent a week every summer in the Lakes, at a hotel on Ullswater. It was a basic place, a converted monastery with just essential facilities and solid-fuel cooking. “During the years we stayed there, the proprietor went to college, learned about fine dining, and married an interior designer. Together they transformed the place, and year by year we made that journey with them. That’s when I decided what I wanted to do with my life.”
It was also where he fell in love with the lakes and the fells although his parents were not adventurous and, as an only child, he wasn’t allowed to explore far. “I went pony trekking with my mum. My dad preferred to look at the scenery from the comfort of the car.” But the seed was sown, and he embraced the chance to take on the Duke of Edinburgh challenge at school, and later camp in the Lakes with friends. His adventurous spirit was really fulfilled when he joined the mountaineering club at the former Leeds Polytechnic where he spent three years on a degree in hospitality and business studies.
It was on work placement as part of his course that he found his instinctive work ethic rewarded, gaining valuable experience with London’s Sweeney Todd restaurant chain, along with the Forte and Thistle groups of hotels. By the time he graduated, he had worked in virtually every department of catering and hospitality (and served cocktails at a Fleetwood Mac post-concert party).
He worked for some time in hotels across the south of England until he spotted tiny box advert in the London Evening Standard for a manager for a prestigious night club. “It was so elite, they didn’t name it in the ad,” says Jonathan. He survived a bizarre and unorthodox recruitment process, and took on the managership of Raffles, transforming it in 10 years into a hugely successful business as well as a top quality night club where celebrities and royalty were welcomed discreetly, and where the clientele drank champagne as if it came out of a tap
It was during this time that he met Caroline. She was a single parent with a 10 year old daughter (who will be 21 this year and is working as a make-up artist in Selfridges in London). Caroline was working as a beauty consultant for Estee Lauder for John Lewis, at their flagship Peter Jones store, and Harrods. She had also managed the jewellery department for John Lewis – that is, fine and fashion jewellery, and also second-hand pieces which she bought for the store. It was a career which would prove invaluable in her future life, offering the opportunity to develop a natural sense of artistry and style. And, as she discovered once running the Cedar Manor, a talent for decorating.
“Working on a beauty counter, and as a make-up artist, teaches you the fine details. It’s come in very handy when I’m grouting the tiles,” she says. Indeed, Caroline does take a very hands-on approach to the design and décor at the Cedar Manor, and is happy to tackle painting and decorating on the grand scale as well.
But back then, a cedar was a tree that grew in the countryside, and Caroline was a city girl. If Jonathan was to entice her to share his dream, she needed to fall in love with Lake District. Hence her dramatic first visit, climbing the Langdale fells in snow and hail. “I’d never done anything like that before,” she admits. “I really loved it, and realised how fit I was. But when I got back to work on Monday, on the beauty counter, my colleagues were astonished – my face was raw and peeling with the effects of wind and snow and occasional sun. I’d never known anything like that.”
She was hooked, on the Lakes as well as the man and his dream. And by the time she and Jonathan had a daughter of their own, Elizabeth, they were ready to make the life-style change, head north and find their own hotel to run. The Cedar Manor was waiting for them.
“It’s named after the cedar tree in the garden, a Himalayan species that seeds only once every 40 years, and it happened last year,” says Caroline, London lass now fascinated by the botany, history and geology of her adopted home. The house was built in 1854, designed by the same architect as the neighbouring St Mary’s Church.
That notion of keeping it local applies still, with the Kayes determined to use the best local designers, craftsmen and products. The evidence is throughout the hotel, in the individual rooms with their distinctive names and matching views – Claife Heights, Wansfell, Crinkle Crags – but is showcased ultimately in the detached Coach House suite.
Here is sumptuous luxury with every possible attention to detail. The carpet is made from a Herdwick/Swaledale blend from Cumbria Carpets. The flooring is oak from RR Stone at Staveley. The furniture is made to measure – no, to fit, precisely – by Andrew Smith’s team at Lakeland Fells Furniture just down the road in Windermere. That’s everything from a dining table concealing a remote console for the TV and computer connections in the “conference” suite, to the mirror-surround for the astonishing bathroom with its twin spa bath, colour changing lights, twin basins with Philippe Starck taps, and platinum leaf bath design by Alison Tordoff.
Andrew built the discreet kitchen on the upper floor of the Coach House, where room service can deliver breakfast at a guest’s requested time, or where guests can make their own toast, and choose from the full range of Nespresso coffees. He also built the hide-away conference facilities, for the Coach House can also be booked for meetings and presentations on a daily basis, as well as for private dinners for up to 10 guests or wedding breakfasts.
The individual touches are there, of course, throughout the hotel: fridges with fresh milk in rooms, as well as Farrer’s coffee and cafetieres, I-Pod docks, hand-made chocolates, environmentally friendly cosmetic products. Cedar Manor has a gold standard “Green Tourism” award, using LED lights, replacing out-dated boilers with energy-efficient alternatives and using only recycled paper products, recycling whatever they can along the way.
The Coach House has delicate chandelier-style lighting in the bedroom, though none so dramatic as the recently-installed Bombay Sapphire chandelier in the main hotel, made with glass from gin bottles.
All bear the hallmark of Alison Tordoff, the designer from Fidget based nearby in Bowness, who has played a key role in stamping the distinctive mark on the Cedar Manor style. She designed a bespoke “bookend” wallpaper for a reception room where Caroline and Jonathan are displaying the work of local artists, jewellers and craftsmen. Look at the book titles, and you can see that Jonathan and Caroline’s sense of humour has proved that style can be fun.
They are having the time of their lives, and so are their guests. Happy? For 51 out of 52 weeks in the past year, the Cedar Manor was voted top hotel in Windermere on Tripadvisor. Their guest book overflows with superlatives. And the best hotel interior in the Bloomburg International Hotel Awards went to Fidget and Alison Tordoff for her work on the Coach House, lounge and Crinkle Crags bedroom at the hotel.
Are they sitting still? The plan is for more improvements, better design, constant development. And for Caroline, a personal goal this year. Having moved to the Lakes she and Jonathan took up running, and now she has a place in the Great North Run. She’s excited about that, as she and Jonathan are about everything in their lives. Their guests may come to the Cedar Manor for a quiet rest; they are more likely to go home feeling restless – and inspired.