Escape to the city
PUBLISHED: 10:12 17 May 2016 | UPDATED: 10:12 17 May 2016
A city crash pad in Norwich is the ideal solution for Robert Greenfield and Michael Bell.
MORE THAN a decade ago, author Robert Greenfield and his partner Michael Bell left London for a complete change of pace in north Norfolk. Their first move was to buy Holly Lodge B&B in Thursford and turn it into a luxury boutique place to stay. Having built up that business, they sold and moved to Stiffkey, where in addition to the cottage next door to their new property they bought two others at Salthouse which, when all were completely renovated, formed their portfolio of holiday cottages to rent.
Robert, also an interior designer, created three entirely different interior themes and all three cottages - let through Blakeney Cottage Company - have been highly successful, so what I wondered was behind buying a Norwich apartment.
Michael says: “Please don’t get us wrong, we truly love our life on the north Norfolk coast, but now servicing and managing our three rental properties is a full-time job, due to their popularity. We rarely get much time off, but when we do for a complete contrast we love going to Norwich, to go around the shops, maybe a restaurant and the theatre, for a change of pace.”
Robert adds: “So that is how we came to decide on buying a city crash pad, mainly for use at weekends when we can. As Michael says, it’s a total difference to our quiet lifestyle in Stiffkey, but we love having everything here on our doorstep, without having to climb in a car to go anywhere. It’s such a novelty for us both.
“We looked at several potential locations, but settled on an apartment at The Pavilion, which is part of the old Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, where the developer has kept the original grand period entrance building, which we were both seduced by, although everything added on is the new build from 2010. What attracted us both was the delightful architecture of the old building - a subject I am very interested in - coupled with the turn-key modern apartment with every possible facility, right in the city centre. Our apartment is tucked around the back and is amazingly quiet, no traffic noise, very private, and we liked the sizeable balcony off the spacious main living/kitchen/ dining room.”
I ask Robert how he went about the decor, as each property he has taken on is so individually different.
“This time,” he says, “I went for the retro/modern look, plus some kitsch coupled with a Scandi look, so my starting point was the distressed tan leather mock 1950s sofa. You need a bold statement piece or splashes of colour to start. This sofa had the right look and was the correct size. To continue the Swedish look and timeless classics, I teamed it with the butterfly hide chair. I then added the dining table and chairs, plus tripod light from Made.com.
“To bring in elements of kitsch, the portrait of the Blue Chinese Lady, a classic from the 1950s, and other furniture from Maison du Monde. The portrait always reminds me of my father, who was in the clothing trade as an importer/exporter. He had one hanging on the wall of his office, above his desk. It is my favourite item. Items such as the faux cactus plant and the illuminated carnival star are finds from a super shop in the Royal Arcade, Norwich, called Berrys & Grey, who have such an eclectic, ever changing stock. It’s our favourite and we look in every time we are here, not knowing what exciting new items they will have just got in.
“Following the Scandi theme again, we had to have the photo-mural of a Swedish silver birch forest, covering the bedhead wall. I followed that through with a simply stylish Scandi bed and retro bedside tables, a rocking chair and a deer picture.
“The bedroom is very spacious for a city centre apartment, as is the entrance hall and bathroom and, of course, the main living areas, so it makes an ideal bolt hole. Also everything we have bought in the past has required major renovation, so a turn-key set-up was the icing on the cake.”
Michael says: “Our ideal relaxing weekend here is to pop into Frank’s Bar in Bedford Street for a coffee, then a walk around the shops, particularly The Lanes, to Elements men’s fashion shop, which we love and then on to the Royal Arcade and Upper St Giles. Maybe meet up with some friends for a drink at The Birdcage, a great Art Deco building with funky industrial interiors. Often in the evening we enjoy fish and chips, at home in front of the telly, from The Grosvenor Fish Bar, opposite The Birdcage. On Sundays, we like sitting on the often sunny balcony reading the papers, before a walk along Elm Hill and the river, crossing over to go through Norwich Cathedral grounds. Then maybe it’s a lunch at Tatlers, next to the Cathedral. Another of out favourites is The Library as well as Hickmans in Upper St Giles.”
I ask Robert how his latest book, titled The Cedar Cage, a mystery thriller, is coming along. “I am hoping to have it published later in 2016. A leading London agent was highly impressed but has asked me to re-edit, cutting the word count a bit; being so busy it’s taking a little longer than I would have hoped for. I tend to fit it in between the needs of our holiday cottages, so when Michael and I are here, we can just have quality relaxing time.”
Robert continues: “We still relish our walks, both coastal and city, and I read a lot. We both also enjoy working out when we can and have become involved with animal welfare, particularly dogs who are badly treated in other parts of the world.”
Michael concludes: “So, as you can see, a dash of city life mixed with our north Norfolk lifestyle is an ideal combination, which we are thoroughly enjoying. I suppose you could say, you can take the boy out of the city, but you cannot take the city out of the boy!”
Riverside Cottage at Stiffkey, plus Chapelmarsh and The Lookout at Salthouse are available for holiday lettings from The Blakeney Cottage Company; 01263 741777
Words & pictures: Tony Hall