The two men be­hind the Grand Palace Yurt at Hilles House

One of the Cotswolds’ most beau­ti­ful Arts and Crafts houses has a strik­ing new ad­di­tion, in the form of the unique Palace Yurt

Cotswold Life - - NEWS - WORDS AND PHOTOS: Candia Mckormack

Spend­ing an hour in the com­pany of Det­mar Blow is an en­er­vat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. I mean this in the nicest pos­si­ble way, of course; he’s a de­light to spend time with, but his bound­less en­ergy and quick-wit­ted hu­mour are apt to leave the less-gifted of us feel­ing some­how lack­ing. And, if it’s pos­si­ble, his beau­ti­fully bonkers dog, Snowy – “His mother was a crys­tal meth ad­dict from Lisbon” – is tak­ing the en­ergy to an­other level as he skids around the huge kitchen ta­ble we’re sit­ting at in Det­mar’s fam­ily home, Hilles House, near Pain­swick.

Hilles is the as­ton­ish­ingly beau­ti­ful home built around 1914-16 by his Arts and Crafts grand­fa­ther, Det­mar (who, in­ci­den­tally or­gan­ised Wil­liam Mor­ris’s funeral in 1897, and af­ter whom Det­mar jr is named)… and was “never to be com­pleted.”

If this is in­com­plete, then it’s right up there with the other fa­mously in­com­plete manor house in the Stroud district – the Gothic pile that is Wood­ch­ester Man­sion.

“The house was orig­i­nally thatch – Nor­folk reed,” he says, “but burnt down in 1951 so was re­built by my grand­mother, re­plac­ing it with stone tiles.

“Grow­ing up, ev­ery­one talked about the fire that could be seen as far as Tewkes­bury… and this is the next ma­jor thing that’s gone on phys­i­cally with the house.”

The ‘this’ he is re­fer­ring to is the colos­sal Palace Yurt that has been de­signed and built by Wil­liam Tem­ple­man of Chel­tenham Yurt Hire specif­i­cally for Hilles’s north lawn, with breath­tak­ing views over five coun­ties.

“It’s very much de­signed with the Arts and Crafts ethos in mind,” says Det­mar, “it’s both beau­ti­ful and rus­tic.”

Manag­ing the won­der­ful Hilles House is no mean feat, and Det­mar quotes his “three C’s” when con­sid­er­ing what’s best for his beau­ti­ful legacy: Com­merce (wed­dings); Cul­ture (“we’ve had Arts and Crafts tours with Clive Aslett!”); and Char­ity (he’s hosted the Red Cross, Glouces­ter Cathe­dral’s Three Choirs, and more). And I think he could add a fourth ‘C’ to this list: Com­mu­nity.

“We want to give em­ploy­ment to lo­cal peo­ple,” he says, “our caterer is Wes­ley Birch and the wooden floor is by Hec­tor Cobbe, both from Stroud… I do like things to have an in­di­vid­u­al­ity. We’re not a fac­tory, and wed­dings shouldn’t be about money; it’s a spir­i­tual cel­e­bra­tion of peo­ple com­ing to­gether, so we’re not look­ing to make a lot of money out of this, but we do want to get it right. What we’re of­fer­ing is unique.”

The word that’s al­ways in the fore­front of your mind when talk­ing to Det­mar is ‘bo­hemian’. There’s no room for con­ven­tion at Hilles, and the wild, won­der­ful and avant-garde are in ev­i­dence in the very fabric of the build­ing and the way the man of the house does busi­ness. “I al­ways say to my son ‘do what you want to do in life; work as hard as you can and do not do

what your par­ents want you to do’. I think that ap­plies to wed­dings, too – it’s your day and you should spend it ex­actly as you wish. You have to re­spect that.”

Every wed­ding at Hilles is truly unique, and so com­mis­sion­ing Cotswold yurt maker Wil­liam Tem­ple­man to de­sign and build a one-off struc­ture that would make the most of the lo­ca­tion, be able to house up to 250 peo­ple and fit in with the Arts and Crafts ethos seemed a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion.

Det­mar and Will first met many years ago in Shored­itch, Lon­don, where the lat­ter was manag­ing a restau­rant and Det­mar was an art dealer, and they have ob­vi­ous af­fec­tion for each other. Det­mar is quite ev­i­dently full of ad­mi­ra­tion for Will’s tal­ents, as he can turn his hand to build­ing, de­sign­ing, craft­ing and sail­ing (aside from his yurt busi­ness, Will also has a zero car­bon im­port busi­ness called ‘Shipped by Sail’: www.sail-freight.org).

They were rein­tro­duced a cou­ple of years ago when Det­mar was look­ing for a spe­cial semi-per­ma­nent yurt for Hilles. Plans for the Palace Yurt had been in Will’s head for some years, but he hadn’t been sure whether it would ever come into be­ing. “It’s not the kind of struc­ture you can move around and erect eas­ily,” says Will, “so I was hop­ing that some­one might come along and pro­vide the land to put it on, and this came pretty much bang on when we needed it.”

The big­gest change to Will’s orig­i­nal de­sign was putting in win­dows – none of his other yurts have th­ese – but he knew that he should try to max­imise the view across the Cotswold land­scape.

“It was im­por­tant for us to tie in the de­sign of the yurt with the Arts and Crafts style of the house so that the two didn’t clash,” he con­tin­ues, “and the win­dows, with their curves, lend them­selves to that and be­came the link.”

There’s a smaller yurt fur­ther down the site where the wed­ding cou­ple can stay af­ter the cel­e­bra­tions – as well as a sump­tu­ous room in the house com­plete with four-poster bed – so flex­i­bil­ity is very much the or­der of the day here.

“A big house like this should have lots of things go­ing on,” says Det­mar, “and it should con­nect with the com­mu­nity. I’m only here by ac­ci­dent of birth, and so I be­lieve I should share it with oth­ers.”

There is im­mense gen­eros­ity of spirit in both Det­mar and Will – both be­lieve pas­sion­ately in do­ing things well and keep­ing to their prin­ci­ples, and nei­ther would dream of cut­ting cor­ners.

“I like to be ef­fi­cient,” Det­mar con­tin­ues, “there are all sorts of le­gal re­quire­ments when it comes to host­ing a wed­ding – but you can get things done while still be­ing bo­hemian,” he laughs. And, should you want a civil cer­e­mony on site, those are con­ducted in the main hall of Hilles – a glo­ri­ous space steeped in his­tory and much laugh­ter from over 100 years of ev­ery­day life and play.

The yurt will be on site for six months in the year – from April to Oc­to­ber – and will be used for wed­dings and other se­lect events.

“As long as it’s le­gal,” Det­mar laughs in his wildly dis­tinc­tive way, “we’re open to sug­ges­tions! I don’t want to im­pinge on other peo­ple’s en­joy­ment of this beau­ti­ful area, though; I think it’s im­por­tant that ev­ery­one’s peace and hap­pi­ness is re­spected.”

He looks thought­ful as he adds: “Life is tough; there are all sorts of chal­lenges we have to put up with, so I think we all need a lit­tle magic in our lives.”

ABOVE: Will Tem­ple­man in The Palace Yurt at Hilles HouseLEFT: Det­mar Blow out­side the yurt, show­ing the large win­dows mak­ing the most of the stun­ning view

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