Marcus Bennett might be best known for his accomplishments in the kitchen but get him started on the subject of wallpaper and talk of menus goes on the back-burner.
The man just loves a makeover! Chef and restaurateur Marcus has been very much hands-on in the revamp of The Devonport Hotel in the village of Middleton One Row on the banks of the River Tees near Darlington.
He and business partner Jonathan Hall the have given this former coaching inn a relaxed new look that blends character with contemporary to create an easy-going boutique hotel that works for visitors and locals.
Marcus has been living and breathing all things interiors, from paint shades to bespoke wallpaper, while Jonathan has been the go-to for fixtures and fittings – not least the design of a new outside south-facing terrace which will maximise the Devonport’s unrivalled views over the river and countryside.
Marcus and Jonathan are the guys behind some of the area’s best-loved eating places, among them Cena and Muse in Yarm, as well as the acclaimed Bay Horse gastropub in Hurworth.
So within The Devonport you will see their distinctive and cool style played out in the form of woodwork painted in deep moody shades contrasting with the shine of a copper bar or the textures of old wooden floorboards and flagstones. Nothing too matchy-matchy in a style that they say is ‘organic’ and changing as the place settles into itself.
But back to the wallpaper. For the past few months Marcus has been in the midst of a renovation of his own home, a vast Georgian property in the village of Gainford near Barnard Castle. He’s been living and breathing every detail from cornicing to skirting boards, getting period details right and spending his days on the hunt for original pieces to add the right touches to his own home and The Devonport.
He tracked down the wallpaper and fabrics company Lewis & Wood who produce distinctive heritage designs. The papers feature on walls throughout the building, in public and private dining areas, creating a definite ‘look again’ talking point.
Among charming designs is one of birds drawn by the great 17th Century naturalist and wood engraver, Thomas Bewick who spent his childhood roaming the Northumberland countryside. The design comes from the first two volumes of the ‘History of British Birds’.
In one of the Devonport’s lobbies there’s a bold Lewis & Wood design of sailing ships taken from the 18th Century nautical publication Liber Nauticus. The paper has a crisp, outdoorsy feel.
Says Marcus of the project, “This place is a blend of contemporary and historical and we wanted to make it look ‘discovered’.
“We have filled it with things we’ve found that we feel work with the building and its history. We’ve added hints of things that have always been part of our story – I first had little copper pans in the Bay Horse and now we’ve got a lovely warm copper bar in the Devonport.
“There are a lot of textures such as wood, stone and tiles and we have used rich heritage colours – particularly Farrow & Ball’s Hague Blue and Old White in the bar area.
“We have eight bedrooms with Harrison Spinks beds and modern tiled bathrooms. The fitting are supplied locally where we can”, he adds.
The layout of the building was altered to put the main door in the centre of the building and simplify a space that had previously acted as something or a corridor.
Jonathan continues, “Marcus is good at the getting the colours and the vibe right for a place and adding layers to create the look we’re after. We worked with a design team from Northern Pulp and a guy called Ian Crowther.
“Alongside this we are always on the lookout for pieces that fit with the place – we got some weathered old oak stools from an antique fair for example – things that ad a bit of warmth and age.
“What we’ve created is a pub with rooms which offers really good pub food and is family friendly”, adds Jonathan.
Leading the kitchen team at The Devonport is head chef Carl Hodgson. Jonathan and Marcus have a good team who rotate through their different restaurants, ensuring consistency in food and service.
The Devonport offers up a menu of reliable classics and crowd-pleasers such as good steaks, seafood and burgers. Not to mention the unrivalled fish and chips.
Jonathan and Marcus love attention to detail and wanted to make sure the fish and chips were spot-on. They headed to the award-winning Longsands Fish Kitchen in Tynemouth to get the lowdown on the perfect fish fryer, using the place as their reference point for getting it right at The Devonport.
“We spent £35k on what is the most modern fish fryer you can buy – we did loads of research and it’s a very precise art – you can’t get it wrong. Everything is timed and there are eight rules and timers in the process – prep is everything, but we’ve got it right!
“We cook in 100 pc sunflower oil and use sustainable fish – and we do a two for £15 fish and chips special which our customers are definitely embracing!”