The stylish refurbishment of the Coopers Arms in Weston-on-Trent
PUBLISHED: 00:00 22 May 2015
Ashley Franklin Photography
The Coopers Arms has recently undergone a dramatic re-styling, combining new style and comfort with history and atmosphere
On its website, the Coopers Arms in Weston on Trent proclaims itself to be ‘one of England’s finest family run country pub restaurants, holding an outstanding reputation for serving high quality food with excellent service, in unique historical surroundings.’
The display of awards it has won over the last 25 years or so bolsters this proud boast – Best Pub in the Midlands and twice named Freehouse of the Year being three. If anything, the confidence and belief of its owners are even stronger following a major refurbishment of the first floor Cromwell Suite, which looks set to enhance its reputation as a venue for weddings, conferences and social gatherings.
Much has changed since I last wrote about the Coopers Arms in 2011. Sadly, owner Tom Cooper died the following year. However, his name lives on, literally and figuratively: his wife Vici is one of three Coopers now running the business, together with Tom’s son James as licensee and daughter Amy as events co-ordinator. Both siblings have continued to develop and grow the Coopers Arms with the same diligence and passion that Tom and Vici possessed when they built up this country pub from its small beginnings in the early 1990s.
Having enlarged the kitchens, which allowed them to offer a more extensive menu in the ground floor dining area, the Coopers then looked at the first floor. This had been converted into a set of four function rooms known as the Cromwell Suite in 1996 and if walls could talk, they would have been crying out for a makeover.
‘The suites were very rich and classical,’ says Amy, ‘but aside from some new curtains, they had lain untouched for 18 years so were in need of a fresh look, something which would appeal to all generations and be suitable for all occasions.’
The Coopers didn’t need to look far for help: one of their regular customers – a Weston resident who lived a few corners away – was Kay Ward, who runs a successful interiors business.
‘I’ve enjoyed many evenings at the Coopers Arms,’ says Kay, ‘and I was nervous initially about working on my own local pub but I was at least familiar with the layout and ambience of the rooms. It was very satisfying to be involved with Vici, James and Amy as I sensed early on that this wasn’t just a country pub but also a well-loved family home.’
The four rooms comprised a reception lounge, bar, and function and conference room. Both Kay and the Coopers agreed that there had to be continuity of look and design throughout but each room also needed to retain its own identity and personality. ‘We achieved this,’ says Kay, ‘by blending colour and texture in varying degrees.’
Working with three people – and with Vici and her children being from different generations – inevitably threw up different opinions but, as Kay found, each of the Coopers brought different strengths to bear on the project:
‘Vici has an excellent eye for colour and detail while Amy has obvious style and a real desire to make the scheme more contemporary. As for James, he took a lot of interest but largely tempered our enthusiasms by making us aware of the budgetary constraints!’
The history of this 17th century mansion was also an important factor: ‘Every design decision was made with the greatest respect and affection for the building.’
As soon as you walk up the stairs and enter the reception lounge, the most eye-catching feature is, ironically, a huge mirror that was an original feature of the room prior to refurbishment. It has been professionally re-sprayed and, previously a deep gold, now has a subtle, metallic finish.
Mirrors also form a striking feature on the opposite wall. As it is the only room without natural light, a wall of mirrors seemed an obvious way of enhancing the room. James remembered several old pictures in antique frames in disused rooms, so they were re-sprayed, fitted with glass and used to create an attractive reflective wall. As a bonus, they also unearthed two antique stags’ heads, which have been re-homed above the fireplace in the lounge and in the bar area.
The sofas in the lounge were also originally there. All handmade, they have been re-upholstered in a sumptuous gold and cream crushed velvet. ‘The sofas look luxurious and add depth, richness and glamour to the lounge,’ said Amy.
The Coopers also wanted to incorporate other fabrics, tones and textures to ‘break it up a little’, so the sofas have been decorated with soft feather-filled, double-sided scatter cushions in a variety of fabrics that co-ordinate with the rich gold and bronze of the curtains and pelmets. while wing chairs are covered, as Kay describes, with a ‘textured touchable fabric.’
‘It looks a really opulent room,’ says Kay, who also points out the ornate, bespoke, broad-loom, Axminster carpet in a modern trellis design with floral motif. The Coopers mention that the carpet was effectively the starting point of the refurbishment: ‘We wanted to run the carpet throughout the rooms, so once we chose the design and settled on the colours of the carpet, the soft furnishings were picked as a tonal palette, giving our designs colour co-ordinated continuity throughout the suite.’
The Reception Lounge leads into the Bar which has original oak panelling. The bar has been extended ‘to cater both for the extra demand and give more balance to the space,’ as Amy points out. A contemporary addition is a set of padded panels above the bar and – again to provide cohesion – the carver seats and bar stools have been re-upholstered in the lounge fabrics while the bronze/gold fabric of the lounge pelmet forms a Roman blind to dress the large Georgian paned window.
There was a flurry of excitement during the refurbishment: in extending the bar, an extremely old staircase was discovered, locked away behind a nailed-shut door. This has been renovated and is fully operational again, giving staff direct access from behind the bar to the lower floors of the building.
To the right of the bar, the James I Room is a multi-functional space with original oak panelling from floor to ceiling. This will undoubtedly add grandeur and intimacy to conferences, private dining occasions and the small civil ceremonies which can be held here (larger civil ceremonies can take place in the Cromwell or Fairfax Rooms). It can also be used as a buffet space for wedding receptions. The Coopers are delighted with this room: ‘We think the panelling looks stunning against the neutral window seats and curtains and the bordered carpet. We also like the way the grand windows and original wooden side panels have been opened up by removing the former pelmet and adding a fitting wooden pole with golden curtains. It really brightens the room.’
Traditional and contemporary grandeur have been added by a chandelier and oval shaped mirrors. This room also gives access to a newly-built veranda which provides either a quiet escape or a party space and is decked with twinkling fairy lights and candle-lit lanterns at night.
To the left of the bar is the biggest room of the four: the Cromwell Room, which can seat 80 guests for a sit-down meal. As the Coopers explain, it was designed with the bride in mind: ‘We decided with Kay that we needed a simpler and more neutral backdrop for weddings, though using the luxurious fabrics to complement the historic features such as the beams, the old bread oven and the fireplace. This gives the bride a blank canvas for her own colour scheme, from flowers and bridesmaids’ dresses to chair sashes. She can be safe in the knowledge that nothing will clash with any aspect of the décor.’
A marked feature of this room is a number of large arched mirrors – ‘perfect for providing a beautiful soft reflection of crystal-dressed tables and floral centrepieces,’ comments Kay, who also points out the full-length interlined curtains framing the four large imposing windows and the window seats dressed with feather-filled scatter cushions.
Already, the feedback from customers, staff and suppliers has justified the effort and expense. ‘It’s all very positive,’ says Amy. ‘Guests who had booked weddings and functions prior to the refurbishment love the fresh, contemporary new feel which we’ve achieved without losing its historic features. We have never felt more proud to show customers what’s hiding behind the arched doorway.’
‘It was a daunting job in the sense that I was doing business in a place I go to for pleasure,’ says Kay. ‘In the end, doing business with Vici, James and Amy was a pleasure itself. The Cromwell Suite is now a plush elegant venue as befits such an imposing building that is so steeped in history.’
And, there is more to come, promises Vici: ‘Our long-term plan is to complete Weston Hall, refurbishing the remaining three levels to transform it into one of the best hotels in Derbyshire and beyond. The story of the Coopers Arms is to be continued...’
Kay Ward Interiors was responsible for design and overall implementation of the project, along with the provision of soft furnishings and fittings.
The carpet was bespoke designed by Wilton Carpets and A J Floorcraft, Derby. Upholstery by Martin & Parker, Derby. Decorating by Andy Weston, Breedon on the Hill. Flower arrangements by Isobel the Florist, Melbourne.
The Coopers Arms in Weston-on-Trent
The fishing lake
Fireplace in Reception Lounge
James I Room
James I Room
The original fireplace in the bar area adds a warm welcome during the cold months
Fine dining in the Cromwell Room
Amy, Vici and James Cooper
James and Amy in the Reception Lounge
Kay Ward of Kay Ward Interiors flanked by Vici and Amy Cooper, inside the Cromwell Room
Mirrored wall in Reception Lounge
THE COOPERS ARMS
My village local excitingly claims Dick Turpin as its most famous regular. Even if true, this doesn’t hold a candle to the Coopers Arms. This 17th century Grade II listed building, built as Weston Hall, has a Fairfax Room, named after Sir Thomas Fairfax, the leading Parliamentarian general of the First and Second Civil Wars and Lord-General of the New Model Army. The Hall, which had stabling for around 200 horses, was also used by the Roundheads as a garrison.
A huge five-storey edifice, Weston Hall could have been even bigger: it is only one third of an Elizabethan E-shaped house which William Roper began building in the 1630s. After plunging into debt, he never finished it. As it stands – still imposingly overlooking a scenic 35-acre fishing lake teeming with bream, carp, roach and tench – Weston Hall is the only moated private house in the county and one of only a few remaining in the country.
Fast forward to the 1960s... when Tom Cooper inherited the building, then known as Weston Hall Farm. In the mid-1980s, he and his wife Vici occupied the first and second floors and the ground floor was good only for forced rhubarb! Today rhubarb and custard are just part of an extensive menu which attracts over 1,200 diners a week. This remarkable figure shows how far the Coopers Arms has come since 1991, when Tom decided to open as a pub.‘The villagers thought I was mad to do it,’ Tom told me. ‘We were isolated, out of the way, not even on the main street but I always believed that if the pub was good enough, people would travel. And they did.’
As Tom and his family took the Coopers Arms into the 21st century, its reputation as a country pub restaurant grew. Known especially for its Sunday carvery, it also developed as a busy, popular venue for weddings and, more recently, for private functions and conferences.
According to Tom, success was due to the simple ethos of ‘giving our customers what they want: quality, fresh, wholesome food, and good ales.’
‘We still pride ourselves on those same values,’ states Vici, ‘and because this place was his whole life, Tom always strived to make it better. We carry on his vision.’
The legacy of Cromwell’s Roundheads lives on, too, and not just in the naming of the Cromwell Suite and Fairfax Room: surrounding an upper floor door are hundreds of grooves in the stonework where Cromwell’s soldiers sharpened the tips of their swords.