On a long weekend in Dartmoor, Jo Gossett and Sam Perry decided to quit London and open their own boutique hotel. A few years later, they’d created Weeke Barton. They share a few before and after shots, and talk us through the highs, lows, and plying the locals with wine…
When did you start Higher Westcott Farm, your first guesthouse?
Sam’s dad suggested looking for a property on Dartmoor. We’d never been before, but we went one weekend, saw three houses and bought one! Six weeks later we left London and arrived at a cold, dark and damp house in the hamlet. The next day we woke up to glorious sunshine, and that was our lightbulb moment!
Clearly the gamble paid off, because four years later you set up Weeke Barton (above).
Yes, but it took us a year to buy Weeke Barton. We had to drink a lot of wine with the previous owner and his family before he agreed to sell – an old-school country vetting process. This time round we were more organised (we discovered during our dry run at Higher Westcott Farm that we’d forgotten to put handles on bathroom doors).
Tell us about the more challenging aspects.
To achieve a lived-in style you need to shop wisely; it was difficult to furnish houses we hadn’t bought yet. A tight budget meant that we had to use our Victorian-style furniture in Higher Westcott Farm, which is 500 years old! For Weeke Barton, we bought artwork from No Guts No Glory (137 Fore Street, Exeter), and bits and bobs from Trinity Marine (Scatter Rock, Sheldon Lane, Dunsford, Exeter, +44 (0)1647 253400) – a warehouse full of naval antiques, which we discovered when a guest stayed here just to get porthole windows for his Chelsea houseboat. In Hackney, we filled a room with furnishings we liked; then we started one for Weeke Barton. Another room’s getting full now…
Which parts have been the most fun?
Sourcing the food! Spending time cruising around the National Park tasting produce made us very happy.
Speaking of food, in London you worked as a Conran restaurant manager and Sam was a graphic designer: did that help, and what did you have to learn as you went along?
Working for Conran gave me great guidelines to model our service on. Sam designed the marketing materials and website, and he spent a few years learning trades that helped with renovations. The one thing we’re still learning is how to balance our relationship and working together. Going from a few hours a day together to 24 is tough!
We can empathise. Was it difficult to restore a period property?
Everything within a listed building is unique, so every job created three more. The non-existent ‘five-minute job’ was a standing joke throughout the renovation: it just didn’t exist.
What do you miss about living in London?
We miss takeaways! Here, you might as well make dinner yourself rather than hot-stepping it to Exeter and back before your food goes cold. But we used to leave London at weekends to go to places like this. It’s a slower pace of life in some ways, and the work can be all-consuming at times, but your quality of life improves. Happy guests are so rewarding, and we love sharing our local knowledge.
If you’d like to see the end results of Jo and Sam’s work, take a peek at Weeke Barton.