Keythorpe Hall is a majestic, Grade II heritage-listed Georgian country house hidden away in the picture-perfect undulating countryside between Leicestershire and Rutland, England’s smallest county. Completed in 1843 by the 11th Lord Berners, it’s remained a private residence ever since. The Berners baronetcy, created in 1455 and currently held by the 16th baroness, remains one of the oldest in England, though their links with the house are long since severed.
Current owners Giles and Barbara began acquiring sections of the former estate before embarking on a meticulous restoration in 2018, and Keythorpe Hall re-emerges into the fall of 2021 as a supremely stylish country retreat available for private rental. It encompasses Michelin-starred expertise in a kitchen supplied by two acres of revitalized organic kitchen garden, an award-winning sommelier presiding over a sumptuously stocked cellar, and an exceptionally knowledgeable head gardener and forager extraordinaire.
With a passion trending toward obsession for sustainability and environmental concerns, Giles and Barbara have eschewed the over-polished, oft-times, overbearing presence of a luxury hotel, whilst leaving guests in no doubt that they’re basking in a carefully curated opulence: a delicate balance of exclusivity and informality, which the Hall’s new owners articulate as perfectly imperfect.
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Bedrooms are large, bright and airy spaces, with huge floor-to-ceiling windows / ©Keythorpe Hall
All of the bedrooms have capacious en-suites apart from two which combine to share a bathroom suite / ©Keythorpe Hall
Heated entirely by biomass, the property accommodates up to twenty guests, with seven bedrooms in the main house, plus a further three-bedroom apartment in the east wing, more appropriate for staff or children. Bedrooms are large, bright and airy spaces, with huge floor-to-ceiling windows affording dramatic views across a seemingly empty countryside. All have capacious en suites apart from two which combine to share a bathroom suite. The clank of wooden floors and absence of television screens emphasizes the traditional, whilst state-of-the-art super-king beds and stunning bathroom design underscores the opulent.
Entertaining has been at the heart of the house’s raison d’être since its inception, with the perfectly proportioned formal rooms peeling off a long and atmospheric Downtown Abbey-esque spinal corridor. Encompassing a spacious reception hall, an expansive double drawing-room, all with fireplaces crackling away, as well as a seductive dining room, scenes of rural tranquillity are imported directly through the same fabulous floor-to-ceiling windows as are found in the bedrooms.
All the services and activities are available in their entirety, where the overriding ethos is a laid-back informality, with staff keen to mold visits to individual aspirations. Guests are equally welcome creating dishes in the kitchen, as they are enjoying them in the dining room; to not just marvel at the abundant floral displays, but also to pick them in the flower garden and learn about the many rare varieties.
Scenes of rural tranquillity are imported directly through the floor-to-ceiling windows / ©Keythorpe Hall
Gastronomy fulfills a pivotal role for Giles and Barbara. Sustainability, though, also represents a prominent priority, resulting in a dining experience that’s not only exemplary, but organic, meticulously sourced, and as close to farm as fork gets.
Culinary development is overseen by Peter Johansen, who boasts experience at Michelin-starred Relae in Copenhagen, and Oslo’s Maaemo, (The World’s 50 Best Restaurants). Supported by Bent Varning with no less a pedigree, embracing St John in Farringdon and Lyle’s in Shoreditch, the skill-set on display in the kitchen is exceptional. There’s an umbilical link with the huge kitchen garden, presided over by Claudio Bincoletto; eco-horticulturalist, wild-food academic and former advisor on wild produce to Antonio Carluccio. Small-scale and organic producers from the immediate vicinity supplement Claudio’s often eclectic daily offerings of freshly picked produce, which might include Oca (South American sorrel), borage or Italian nettles.
Completing this triumvirate of fine-dining excellence is sommelier Bert Blaize. Quietly spoken but exceptionally knowledgeable, he is ever eager to ensure that the right wines find their way onto the right palates. Author of the recently published, “Which Wine When”, Bert’s equally impressive vinicultural backstory embraces the two Michelin-starred Manor aux Quat’ Saisons, as well as London’s feted Clove Club. With Peter introducing each course into the exquisitely table-scaped dining room, Bert then launches into his own enthusiastic elucidation of whatever he’s just poured into everyone’s glasses.
The expansive double drawing-room with a fireplace crackling away / ©Keythorpe Hall
Subtle flourishes of contemporary artistic flair embedded into a traditional country house template might best characterize the design aesthetic. It’s no surprise that Edward Bulmer Paints were widely utilized; the artisan paint company from the committed eco-campaigning interior designer, Ed Bulmer, whose work includes the renovation of Althorp House, Princess Diana’s ancestral home, for her brother, Earl Spencer. Bulmer rails against what he maintains is an unregulated paint industry responsible for dumping 180,000 tonnes of microbeads into oceans, annually. His own natural earth, mineral pigmented, and carbon-neutral alternative color palette, however, is draped all over Keythorpe Hall to spectacular effect.
Period furniture is tastefully juxtaposed with modern additions like the Rothko-reminiscent artworks from artist-in-residence, Selma Parlour. One of the huge shower cubicles, meanwhile, contains an amazing floor-to-ceiling image of Sir Thomas Knyvett, 4th Lord Berners and High Sheriff of Norfolk, resplendent in Elizabethan dress, and sporting an aristocratic glare of disdain.
Local artisan silk screen printer, Charlotte Gaunt, who works with organic linen sourced solely from a small Irish mill surrounded by flax fields, is responsible for beautifully crafted wallpapers, headboards, lampshades, and wall hangings throughout. Her gorgeous but labor-intensive work incorporates a “flocking” technique first developed in the 17th century, with some of the bed headboards displaying her life-like, utterly fabulous furry bumblebees.
The grounds are a sanctuary within which to relax / ©Keythorpe Hall
The twenty acres of grounds and formal gardens, reclaimed from a slow surrender to the elements, are themselves, a sanctuary within which to relax, and simply absorb the mesmerizing far-reaching views. There’s also a wood-fired cedar hot tub, tennis court, croquet lawn, and horse riding. The adjacent countryside, full of paths and bridleways, is one of the few remaining parts of England where perennial wildflower meadows are found. Their aromatic components with names like meadowsweet, lady’s bedstraw (they were used for stuffing mattresses), and hay rattle, hark back to a rural England long since subsumed into history.
The kitchen garden, and honey-producing apiary, is the prized fiefdom of Claudio, originally from Italy’s Veneto, where, as a child, he was taught by his grandfather to identify wild foods. It’s a fascinating hideaway where he will eagerly chaperone a visit. At nearly two acres, once ensconced within its 13-foot walls, the scale of its 19th-century endeavor, becomes apparent. Providing sustenance for residents, guests, and the large retinue of staff, the garden, with its coal-fired greenhouses going 24/7, would have been a world within a world. Now it’s Claudio’s world, as he gradually builds it back towards that Victorian hive of horticultural activity. Minus the coal, of course.
Close by is the historical market town of Uppingham and its 16th-century school, and Rutland’s pretty little county town, Oakham, right next to Rutland Water, England’s largest man-made lake, with opportunities for water sports. For total immersion into film-location historic Englishness, though, nearby Stamford is one of the finest Georgian towns to be found anywhere, with over 600 listed buildings and five medieval churches. This part of England within which Keythorpe Hall sits, whilst not quite as well-known as other regions such as the Cotswolds, is every bit as alluring. Just without the crowds.
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