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
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