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Sea Change

Eastbourne, UK

The debut from new hotel brand Port sees a Victorian townhouse transformed into a boutique hotel with polished interiors, bringing a dose of pizazz to Eastbourne’s seafront

These days, Eastbourne is more synonymous with faded seaside charm and blue rinse retirees than the coastal glamour of its Victorian heyday. However, a new boutique hotel Port –  just moments from the pebbly beach and ocean roll on Eastbourne’s Royal Parade – is seriously ramping up the area’s style credentials.

The debut from Port Hotels – a new hospitality brand helmed by Peter Cadwallader and Ian and Clive Douglas, with decor by Imraan Ismail Interiors – aims to “reimagine what a British seaside hotel should look and feel like,” according to Cadwallader, who has overseen the transformation of an unloved Victorian townhouse into a scene-shaking boutique hotel with nods to Scandinavian and modern Bauhaus design.

In a departure from familiar British seaside pastel facades, Port is announced by a bold charcoal frontage which references Norfolk’s clapboard houses and the stark, dark colours of industrial ports. The contemporary, confident colour was chosen to “break with convention … and to stick out from the crowd,” adds Cadwallader.

Conversely, interiors – in bedrooms, and the restaurant-bar sport a more gentle palette of soft pinks, sage greens and cloudy greys, paired with cork flooring and warm oak details. “Contemporary with simple, clean lines, natural materials and a timeless look were key elements of the brief ,” says Ismail, an interior designer well-versed in crafting high-end residential interiors, with Port his first foray into hotel design.

“The building’s core was beautiful, but it was dated inside and out,” he says, with both structure and decor requiring attention. Working with Jorges Salman Architects, a large structural spine wall dividing the ground floor was removed – involving underpinning the foundations and putting in a large steel box frame to spread the load of the five-storey building above – to open up the space and create more light, while outside, an enclosed glass sunroom has been replaced with a more modern al-fresco dining deck.

Now home to a light-filled open-plan bar, restaurant and lounge, the ground floor’s old fashioned Dada rails and tired crimson wallpaper are long gone, and instead, walls are licked in a dusky pink from Farrow & Ball, which mirrors a specific tone that Ismail glimpsed one afternoon, “sat outside the property when the sun was just dipping into the sea creating a beautiful pinkish glow.”

This quartz pink canvas provides a soothing background for theatrical bespoke bar cabinetry and counter, clad in slender reeded oak strips with a smooth concrete countertop by The Poured Project. Back bar alcoves house bottles of local Ditchling Gin and Rathfinny Estate wines, and displaying a vast circular slab of onyx, backlit to create the look of a delicate giant peach-hued moon against a reeded forest. Nautical winks and industrial grit come via a wooden ladder and black Ambit Muuto pendant lighting.

In the restaurant, pared-back look Vitra Belleville wooden chairs and pink Gubi armchairs are tucked into window nooks alongside Hay square dining tables with an anthracite finish and rounded affairs by &Tradition, while bauble-shaped Moebe wall mirrors reflect the shifting sunlight.

One corner of the ground level, furnished with a statement curved sandy-toned beige Elba Armchair and footstool by Domkapa, sitting next to a Shuffle side table by &Tradition – reminiscent of a spinning top with boiled bon-bon colour pops – is a lounge space. Here, shelving – currently lined with Karen Peters’ minimal clay ceramics – was included ‘to create a space for local talent to display their work,’ explains Ismail. Peters’ pieces, alongside Jonathan Murphy artwork on the walls, is for sale, and the space will act as a rotating gallery going forward.

Towards the back, box-shape backed banquettes, upholstered in a salmon shade of Kvadrat’s Steelcut 2 fabric are finished with natty ROAR Studio leather straps which lend a touch of Wes Anderson quirk, and a design fluidity with bedrooms, where straps and wooden rails combination create a non-traditional hanging space.


For bedrooms, Ismail adopted a surrounds-led approach, with rooms at the back – which face the town and the South Downs – having sage and mossy tones, while sea-facing rooms draw on a pebbly palette with putty and stone tones. Reeded oak headboards above Hypnos beds mirror the bar’s Scandi feel, and artful port-inspired references are layered throughout – a contemporary take on the porthole motif in the form of a round marble disc detail, Domkapa brass bedside tables nodding to Eastbourne Pier’s gleaming brass dome, and smooth concrete basins by The Poured Project given a touch of submarine know-how with wheel-shaped black matte taps from West One Bathrooms. Homely finishing touches including subtly-striped fabrics from The Cloth Shop in Notting Hill, dried floral decorations, refillable Haeckels toiletries and binoculars – to wonder at the beautiful natural scenery – only add to Port’s sanctuary-by-the-sea appeal.