Babylonstoren's owner creates a country retreat on an epic scale in the UK

Situated in the Somerset countryside, The Newt is a lifestyle utopia featuring a hotel, show-stopping gardens and a buffalo herd among other delights

08 December 2019 - 00:00 By Julia Freemantle
The show-stopping gardens of The Newt country estate in Somerset, UK, are designed to take visitors on a historic journey through British gardening.
The show-stopping gardens of The Newt country estate in Somerset, UK, are designed to take visitors on a historic journey through British gardening.
Image: Supplied

Having created a globally iconic destination in the form of Cape winelands farm Babylonstoren, Karen Roos is a past master at contextually led design, and drawing on cultural, natural and traditional influences to inform an experience.

Her ability to temper a big-picture vision with attention to detail is what sets her apart. Her new project, a few years in the making, is a country haven in Somerset in the UK, a location that Roos fell in love with years ago. "I like Jane Austen, and many years ago took a trip to Bath. The beauty of the Somerset countryside in spring captivated me," she says.

With the same epic scale and all-encompassing immersive effect as Babylonstoren, The Newt (named after the great crested newt, a protected species discovered on the property) is set on 30-something acres, ranging from formal planting to landscaped parklands and woodland.

Roos and her husband, Koos Bekker, bought Hadspen House, an estate that dates to the 1680s, in 2013. The headquarters of the Hobhouse family for 230 years, it was fittingly the former home of renowned gardener Penelope Hobhouse, among other avid plant people.

Now a lifestyle utopia, the estate houses a hotel, show-stopping gardens, orchards, cider cellar, deli, bakery, gelateria, buffalo herd, restaurants, spa and garden museum.

The Newt's artisanal farm shop stocks local goods.
The Newt's artisanal farm shop stocks local goods.
Image: Supplied

With grounds landscaped by French architect Patrice Taravella, who also played an integral role in the design of Babylonstoren's gardens, the property has been reimagined to include several areas of interest designed to take visitors on a historic journey through British gardening and celebrate the various eras and owners the property has seen.

One such hub is the estate's original parabola walled garden reinterpreted as a homage to the apple, which Somerset is famous for. The mathematically inspired maze is planted with 460 apple trees with 267 varieties, laid out according to region of origin.

Like Babylonstoren, this celebration of local is central: local history, local produce, local beauty, and the seasons. "Babylonstoren is about mountains, wine, the Spice Route and subtropical fruit. Somerset is about cows in meadows producing milk for cheese, apple orchards that turn into cider and woods of oak and beech. We tried to capture some of that," says Roos.

While the gardens are the showpiece, the grade II-listed Georgian stone mansion that dates back to 1745 has been reinvented to retain its heritage and charm, while making it a little more conducive to 21st-century hospitality.

The hotel was a collaboration between Roos and architect Mike Tyler of Simon Morray-Jones in Bath and celebrates the setting by responding to the light, the green woods and the Georgian building itself.

"It's rather smallish, built in local limestone the colour of burnt orange. I enjoyed films like Gosford Park, Portrait of a Lady and Howard's End and drew some inspiration from them," says Roos.

The interiors are by Roos herself, her seemingly effortless style and lack of stuffiness evident in the blending of tradition with playful contemporary touches and hints at the origins of the estate, down to 18th-century portraits of the Hobhouses, which came with the property, hanging on the walls.

Therein lies Roos's genius. Rather than forcing her personality onto a space, she draws out its own nature and lets it speak for itself - a rare trait which allows it to feel perfectly in step with its surroundings.


Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments? Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.