Bringing some bling to Burton Bradstock

By Lawrence Hansen

There they sit on the clifftop behind Burton Bradstock – big white villas named Alpha and Omega by the Pitt Rivers family who built them in 1885-90 as summer homes (those were the days). After this promising start the buildings experienced a generally downhill century including spells as the Burton Cliff Hotel and as guest houses and retirement homes. Now Alpha has been reincarnated as the splendid new Seaside Boarding House while Omega serves as home to Juliet and Billy Bragg.
Seaside Boarding
The overall aesthetic of the Seaside Boarding House is restrained without being anal. It has a kind of Cape Cod poshness – no background music and no TVs (though they’ll bring one to your room). Mary-Lou Sturridge, the transforming fairy godmother, had in mind the lonely white houses in Edward Hopper’s paintings. The comparison is an approximate one: Hopper’s houses carry a very American kind of gloomy menace which is wholly absent in her up-beat pleasure dome.

It has been an expensive business and this is reflected in the rates for its eight bedrooms. But the prices in the restaurant and cocktail lounge are surprisingly moderate – martinis cost £8.50 and main courses are £14-£22. Even better, you can drop in at any time from 10am to 10pm for food and drink. The Seaside Guest House turns a remarkable trick: it is attractive to the metro glitterati yet equally welcoming to casual visits from local people.

The building fully exploits its terrific view south over Lyme Bay. All the rooms have it. A 30- metre-long terrace with tables is an especially good place to drink, eat and pose. (It can be glaringly bright there so don’t forget your shades.) The terrace is shared by the dining room and the cocktail lounge.

The south wall of the restaurant is a series of glass doors which open onto the terrace when weather permits. Glass doors form the interior wall as well and behind them is an interior events space which can seat 100 diners or up to 160 guests at a dance. It all sits there waiting for a balmy evening and a big party with all the doors thrown open.
Seaside Boarding 2
The cocktail lounge is an all-seasons place to be. The light from the sea is always a delight but especially when there’s a good storm. JMW Turner remarked that “there is no such thing as bad weather” even though he was often out of doors with his sketching pad getting wet. The worse the weather, the more it can be enjoyed from the Boarding House’s indoor comforts. It’s a way of blissing out – sitting there with cocktail to hand, reading an amusing book from the excellent library, and looking up from time to time to see what the Storm Fiend is up to. Calling all this a ‘boarding house’ with its connotations of smelly shabbiness is a coy trading ploy but a charming one.

Mary-Lou, who was co-founder of Soho’s famous Groucho Club in 1985 and then its boss until the sale in 2008, has brought her West End experience, her architects, and her financial backing (including that of her Groucho partner, Tony Mackintosh) to bear on the project. She has continued to run it herself since the opening in February.

The Alpha of yesteryear did however have its moments – as a dance venue (its event room has a sprung floor) and for various louche activities. But when she bought the place in 2008 she was landed with a big pile of shabby gentility complete with valences and floral-patterned bed sheets. After clearing these away she painted the salmon pink walls white.

While the building was still empty there was a pop-up cinema show of The Shining.

As the spooky Overlook Hotel appeared on the screen, a real little boy could be seen riding his tricycle down the corridor while this same scene was happening in the film…

So the Seaside Boarding House is a stylish business altogether – in process as well as outcome.

For more information on The Seaside Boarding House click here to visit their webpage.