Tuesday 19 June 2012

Artists in residence

The seaside guesthouse has been much maligned over the years, but the counterattack on our sullied preconceptions is being spearheaded by a few visionary owners. While, overall, we believe the accommodation in Penzance to be of an excellent standard, one new establishment is making waves by staging an extravagant debut.

The Artist Residence opened on Chapel Street last spring, and while its arrival was barely noticed by the local community, the excitement it stirred among trippers, scouring the internet for a bed in our town, has been fanatical. The reason? It's different. And that's refreshing when many British B&Bs stick to a familiar homely style, and chain hotels opt for making their own lives easier by rolling out innocuous, wipe-down interiors. The phenomenon of the boutique hotel has done much to provide guests with another, more inspiring, option. But even in this territory, what once appeared to be individual, now looks generic.

Artists Residence, we believe, is genuinely breaking new ground, and in more than one way. The most obvious departure from the usual is the wildly characterful rooms; the interior decoration of each guest room has been designed and executed by a different artist with a local connection. It's an original idea and one that sits well with our area's artistic leanings. The styles vary from room to room, creating unique, personal worlds which guests love, and enjoy picking the one that suits them. From Jo Peel's vibrant murals to Dolly Divine's delicate collage style, there's something for everyone. The 'A.R. Blank' room even allows residents to make their own mark on blackboard-painted surfaces.

While the overall effect is a brilliant riot of creativity, much practical thought has gone into the balance of styles and the exact execution. In fact, behind the sense of playfulness is a serious commitment to customer service. To owners Justin Salisbury and Charlie Newey, guest happiness is paramount, and getting to know the people who visit them is an important way of understanding their needs – and this invaluable information is the basis on which the hotel is developed. Increased flexibility in accommodation is a direct result of customer feedback; many rooms now have extra beds or sofa beds to house additional guests if required, and some feature kitchenettes.

There's a good deal of uninhibited energy at work here too; the Penzance enterprise is the younger sister of the original A.R. in Brighton, and in the pipeline there are plans for a further location in London's Pimlico. But beyond the accommodation side of things, at the core of the Artist Residence concept is art. While the rooms themselves are already an exhibition of artist's work, there is also full-on Gallery downstairs, designed to showcase a wider group of artists to a wider public audience. Last Saturday saw the opening of Mat McIvor's solo show, and his dynamic work, and the buzz that it generated, demonstrated how the A.R has more to offer tourists and locals like. The extensive Georgian building has space, and much of it is unused by guests, so the vision is to create a busy social destination and arts venue, something that Penzance is crying out for. The shop is one aspect of this, selling local and artisan pieces. Food is another important piece of the bigger picture; presently, chef Nic Lennon creates 5-star breakfasts and premium cakes for morning and afternoon tea, but in a few weeks he will be opening a full-time cafĂ© that will spill out into the secluded rear courtyard when the sun shines. 

Strangely, it feels like the sun always shines inside the Artist Residence; the boundless ambition, youthful enthusiasm and creative spirit is infectious, and you can't help but smile while you're there.

Words © Dee and Gerard Ivall. Images © Nik Strangelove


  1. Wow, what a fantastic read! Love the photos and colour! :)

  2. Doubly gutted we couldn't make MMs solo previews show :-((