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The scaffolding surrounding Featherston’s Royal Hotel has gone ... gone? ... (well almost gone) and the gracious building is about to reveal her Victorian style again. Owners Rob Allen and Janelle Harrington couldn’t be prouder.

QUOTE: “I liken Featherston, with its slightly bohemian approach and quirky style, to Wellington’s Cuba Street. It has a flair all of its own, we love being part of it and we believe visitors and residents alike will enjoy its personality. Rob Allen says “the hotel and the town were established around the same time. Like many wooden hotels from our pioneering past, the Royal Hotel was a staging post. Opened in 1869, it was badly damaged by fire and rebuilt in 1893. 

“Alongside the town, it has been through many ups and downs in its nearly 150-year history, and I’m excited at being involved in its latest and probably most stylish incarnation. We’ve incorporated more than a few quirky touches to express its character.

“Janelle and I have a particular interest in heritage buildings, and admired it as we drove past regularly. We liked going there when councillor Dean Davies and the late Ulli Reinartz ran it and Guten Appetit Catering from 2010 until 2014. 

“We thought it would be a good fit with our wedding venue Lacewood Estate, near Kahutara, opened four years ago. That also involved bringing an historic character building back to life and restoring its former glory.

“We see a synergy with Lacewood, to complement the guest accommodation. The Royal Hotel now has 10 attractive bedrooms and 10 well-equipped bathrooms; unlike the 35 bedrooms and no bathrooms when it was first built. 

“We’ve borrowed some of Lacewood’s architectural features. Taking moulds of the intricate cornices means new plasterwork versions feature in all the rooms. We love the soaring ceilings, stately windows and architectural flourishes and have made features of them wherever possible. 

“The look and feel of the hotel is very late Victorian/turn of the century, with lots of rich atmospheric colours. 

“Our concept was to bring together the various strands of our local colonial history, and combine it with designs that fuse 19th century industrial steam powered machinery with the science fiction, steampunk genre. We were inspired by the town’s railway roots, its military history and the coming together of local Maori and Pakeha at the turn of the century.

“And there is a family connection. My great-uncle Christopher Meader left from the Featherston Camp for Gallipoli, but sadly never returned. The idea he probably had a drink at the hotel before marching over the Rimutakas appeals to me greatly,” Rob smiled. 

“Virtually everyone involved in the restoration has been local, with many volunteering to get involved from a desire to see “the grand old lady” back to her former splendour. So much public interest and support locally is very heartening.

“For example, David Reynolds, a local bespoke woodcraftsman just walked in one day and said “I love this building, and would love to be involved”. His expertise meant we could include complex woodwork features that really enhance the building,” Rob acknowledged gratefully.

Expected to open in June/July, The Royal will operate as a boutique hotel, with “better than usual” bar food menu, strongly featuring local foods and beverages, and will be open to the public. A function room will cater for family and corporate events, plus small weddings to complement Lacewood’s larger capacity.

Rob and Janelle see the hotel’s opening as part of Featherston’s wider renaissance. “We have a lot of faith in Featherston, and its complementary relationship with the other small towns of South Wairarapa. 

“I liken Featherston, with its slightly bohemian approach and quirky style, to Wellington’s Cuba Street. It has a flair all of its own, we love being part of it and we believe visitors and residents alike will enjoy its personality.  

“The combination of Featherston Martinborough and Greytown – similar yet different – is a strength of the region,” he concluded.