Practicality was the main requirement when historic Hardwick Hall Hotel needed to refurbish its carpeting. By David Strydom

HARDWICK Hall, a four-star rated hotel in Sedgefield, County Durham and Teeside, was recently awarded the Tripadvisor Excellence Award for the 5th consecutive year. Surrounded by the Hardwick Country Park, it offers more than 50 bedrooms and is a wedding venue in Durham, with four suites for hire.

Hardwick Hall also has various meeting and event facilities as well as a range of conference venues suitable for everything from small business meetings to corporate events.

But the hotel also has historic significance, being listed on the English Heritage Register. Most of it was built in the late 1700s but it’s possible some of it dates as far back as 1634. Many notable people have stayed in it over two centuries.

Because it hosts weddings and large corporate events, Hardwick Hall needs to ensure its flooring – and particularly its carpets – are always properly maintained and refurbished.  

That’s where Wilton Carpets comes into the picture. The company has an equally impressive heritage and traces its origins to 1699 when William of Orange (William III, King of England after marrying Mary II, Charles I’s niece) granted a charter to Clothiers and Weavers of Wilton.

In the early 1700s, a Flemish Huguenot weaver was smuggled out of the Low Countries by Lord Pembroke and invented the Wilton weaving process in Wilton. The first weaving shed was set up in what’s now one of the oldest industrial sites in the world.

In 1835, another name in carpet-weaving, Axminster (only 100 miles from Wilton), suffered disaster when its original factory was damaged by fire, stopping all production. The then owners of Wilton acquired the machinery from that site and commenced the weaving of Axminster carpeting. To this day most of the production made by Wilton Carpets is actually Axminster weave.

Wilton continued to flourish and its carpets were made for Queen Victoria’s Great Exhibition in 1851. In 1908, the factory was visited by Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, but during World War 2, carpet-making ceased in order to support the war effort. Wilton made camouflage, kitbags and tarpaulins.

By the early ‘90s the company was run down after several changes of ownership. But by 1995 it had been taken into British private ownership and was given much-needed investment and direction, enabling The Wilton Carpet Factory to develop into a company designing and weaving commercial carpets for hospitality and leisure sector installations in 30 countries, including Canada and the US.

More recently, in 2011, several ranges of commercial tufted carpet were launched to complement Axminster and Wilton weave carpets and in 2014 investment was made in new tufting machinery.
So how did these two entities, both with such a rich heritage, come across each other?

The project began when Space ID, a Wearfield-based interior design company that specialises in designing new-build and refurbished hotels, told Stefan Heins, business development manager at Wilton Carpets, about a local hotel it was working on.

Space ID’s previous projects include work at Boclair House Hotel in Glasgow, Vermont Hotel in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Buddha Lounge in Tynemouth and The Rock Bar Ibiza in Leeds.

In this case, Space ID was refurbishing what Hardwick Hall Hotel describes as its ‘magnificent Coleman Suite’, which accommodates up to 380 seated guests. The venue is self-contained with two entrances, three reception areas, two bars and a ballroom. The result is an event space that offers all-round flexibility; a multi-purpose conference and banqueting suite that can be divided into three separate areas to change the size and layout of the room with the use of acoustic sliding screens.

Marc Hardy from Space ID approached Stefan in spring 2016 after being tasked by the hotel director, Helen Roseberry, to achieve a traditional design with a modern feel.

‘Marc wanted to keep the scheme neutral,’ says Stefan. ‘He wanted to explore the idea of having inlaid rugs and borders as well as breaking points in the rugs that led to different rooms, with the texture continuing into the alcoves.’

In June last year, the team started to ‘throw some design ideas around’, and decided on woven Axminster, 7x10 row heavy-duty. Manufactured on an Axminster loom using wool-rich yarns, this type of carpet is available in several designs and has a custom design service.

Damian Roscoe, head of creative at Wilton, reveals: ‘There was constant liaison between flooring contractor, Paul Eade of Pocklington Carpets; Wilton personnel; the designer; and the client, all communicating on the design, specification, pricing and installation. There was a process of continual integration of ideas.’

That process is what Damian describes as ‘a small loop’ in which designs were worked out with the designer in what are called flooded layouts, a carded layout of the area with the design flooded in.

The resulting 3D imagery and card layout gives the client an idea of what’s achievable, Damian explains. Then if things need to be changed, Wilton consults with Paul, who indicates what will or won’t work.

‘It can be as straightforward as deciding whether to centralise a rug or whether to use two rugs because the Coleman Suite is L-shaped,’ says Damian.

Helen told Paul Eade, commercial director at Pocklington Carpets, that lasting quality was a prerequisite, so Paul recommended a 10 or 11 row Axminster from a premier British manufacturer, the best one in his view – Wilton Carpets. And instead of making it last 18 years, changing it after 10.

The reason for that is designs change over time, Paul explained. The carpets begin to look tired because you want them to last as long as possible. What is needed is the best product to do the standard of job required.

The standard of job required referred to the fact that carpets in the function suite need to withstand the pressure of ‘350 people drinking, spilling and dragging stuff across it,’ as Paul describes it. ‘You aren’t going to get anything that performs better than Wilton.’

There is a difference between drawing a design on paper and actually designing it, Paul points out. ‘You can make anything look good on paper, but there are many things to consider when you’re onsite such as joints.

‘Sometimes you can make a design slightly bigger or slightly smaller to fit better in with the width of the carpets produced. Fortunately, I was offered three different widths of carpet to use in variations of 3.66m, 4m and - as silly as it sounds - 4.11m which can help in corridors because they can be 2.3m or 2.4m wide.

‘You can end up with a tremendous amount of waste or have seaming in every doorway, so offering the aforementioned variation is another positive aspect of Wilton.’

Once Paul has picked up the designs from Wilton, they must be made to fit. ‘Having done this job for 30 years, I’ve a good idea of how practical design differs from that on paper. I feedback ideas to Wilton which presents the drawings to the client. We usually have it confirmed after two or three designs.’

The scale of the project highlighted the strength of the relationship between Wilton and Pocklington Carpets, Damian points out: ‘It helps everyone get the job done. In addition, it’s really helpful having Paul be part of the design process because he lives and breathes the site. If something isn’t going to work while we’re talking, he’ll point it out. Having that relationship between those three or four parties is crucial.’

The choice of Pocklington by Wilton came down to the fact that Stefan had previously worked with Paul on a large contract for Q Hotels, a UK-based group that uses predominantly bespoke carpets featuring lots of inlaid rugs – Paul’s forte.

In its own way, Pocklington Carpets has a history as interesting as Hardwick Hall and Wilton Carpets. It started trading in September 1984 from a rented warehouse in New Street, Pocklington, East Yorkshire. It was founded by brothers Tony and Steven (A&S) Donohue.

In 1985, they decided to purchase a permanent site at 8-10 Union Street, Pocklington. ‘The purchase of our own property reduced overheads and created a stable base, and this became the pattern for our expansion,’ says Paul.

‘As turnover increased so did buying power and with low overheads we could operate very tight on margins. Our policy of supplying top end, quality branded products at competitive prices quickly paid off.’
After 32 years the formula remains the same, only now many new products are available. Wood, click laminate flooring and natural textures are now all part of the standard product range with ranges being added all the time, including recycled carpets and underlays.

WHEN I ask Paul if the project at Hardwick Hall Hotel was trouble-free, he brushes off the suggestion; ‘There’s no such thing as a straightforward down-the-line job. Problems can start from the moment you start measuring because you’ve got to interpret the designs you’re given and measure them. In addition, you’re working in a live hotel.’

That problem – the challenge of laying carpets or floors in a busy commercial environment that needs to keep functioning - will be recognised by contractors all over the UK. ‘It would’ve taken us much less time to complete the project if the suite had been closed down, but the hotel would have lost a lot of revenue.’

The solution was to break the job into specific areas and concentrate on the corridor while functions were taking place. ‘The big thing is you’re always working to deadline. For instance, we had to be out on Wednesday evening because there was a function on Thursday, but then a water-pipe burst, delaying things.’

Pulling up old carpets may sound simple but can also cause delays. For instance, the carpet at Hardwick Hall was a double-stick installation and so it had to be scraped, which Paul describes as a long, laborious process.

‘Everything we’ve done is stretch fit which not a lot of people do,’ Paul explains. ‘It enables us to repair the carpet with seam stretchers and other implements in cases of a water leak or if something is dragged across the carpet and a seam is split on the terracing.’

The main drawback of a stuck-down carpet is that if, for instance, it shrinks after a water leak, it can’t be pulled back. ‘People think stretch fit is challenging, but it’s straightforward. With a good team around me, the objective is to get it down quickly so the client doesn’t suffer loss of income from decreased business.’

Paul joined Pocklington six months after the Donohue brothers founded it. With the brothers having now retired, Paul is responsible for the commercial side of the business while Gavin Donohue looks after the domestic element.

‘Our domestic business serves local areas and market towns near where we set up,’ says Paul. ‘But the commercial business has grown exponentially and we do some very prestigious jobs across the country which we like because it’s challenging. We can get a 60-bed refurbishment which is straightforward but this – Hardwick Hall Hotel – is the sort of thing we really like. There are no second chances on a project like this.’

Pocklington prefers to fit carpets because, as Paul says, ‘we know them inside-out’. The company also fits LVT (Paul emphasises his admiration for Amtico products in this regard) but says it tends to avoid solid flooring.

‘On vinyl, for instance, you need to be fitting it day-in and day-out and if you don’t, I believe in leaving it to someone who does.’

Pocklington has more than 25 employees, plus about the same number of self-employed fitters. I ask Paul why he chose the flooring industry. ‘I trained as an engineer but found it restrictive. I did an apprenticeship through an engineering company but I got frustrated by the ins-and-outs. I just thought at 19 I needed a change and as I knew the Donohue brothers, I went in that direction.’

Paul says he enjoyed the job from the first day. There are issues with some people, he points out, but it must say something that he still gets job satisfaction 30 years later.

‘I’ve seen plenty of lads come and go during my time,’ says Paul. ‘We train them, then encourage them to go self-employed. Some have, others haven’t and some have left the trade altogether.’

But two young men who’ve stuck around are Luke Hatfield and Matt Bilsborough who were part of Paul’s team at Hardwick Hall. Matt has been with Pocklington for 10 years; he was trained in-house, at no expense to the company but, like Luke, he’s repaid the contractor several times over.

‘These two are very loyal lads,’ says Paul. ‘Sometimes they may be required to work a 16-hour day – we might travel eight hours in a day to do four hours’ work, but that’s what we do. They enjoy it. They’ve understood how it works from day one. I can leave them to get on with their job or I can work with them as a team.’

During his first week at Pocklington, Matt was sent away for a few days to work on a project in a four-star hotel, where – at age 18 – he was well looked after and thought it the best thing, according to Paul.
‘He got a love for the job and both Matt and Luke now find the work satisfying. They’ve got consciences. I couldn’t rate them highly enough.’

WILTON Carpets has been fantastic to work with according to Helen Roseberry, who adds that it’s taken the stress out of committing to a large sum of money and such a vast area to carpet.

Various designs were put together by the design team that suited the hotel’s specification and colour palette.

‘Space ID, the chosen designer, worked very closely with Wilton,’ says Helen. ‘The designs were turned around quickly and production was soon in place. We went for a high-end 10-row carpet, as we wanted quality that would last.’

With the area being so vast, Helen needed the help of a professional carpet fitter familiar with large-scale projects. She opted for a broadloom to reduce the number of seams and used an underlay made out of recycled clothing.

‘Pocklington’s carpets fitters worked around our busy hotel schedule ensuring business was never interrupted, and this meant working through the night at times. Nothing was too much trouble for Pocklington.’

Stefan returns the compliment, saying Helen has been a pleasure to work with. And Paul intones with praise of his own: ‘I’m fortunate to have some very good clients but Helen is just outstanding. She and her staff have worked with us and the staff often express appreciation for the improvements we’re making.’

Paul also has the highest praise for Wilton. ‘My points of contact are Stefan Heins and Jo Skeates in the sales office. I know if I ring Jo, everything will be sorted in 10 minutes and that she’ll be speaking for everyone at Wilton. It’s a fantastic company to work with.’