Restoration, Walter and many rolls of Wallpaper
Our Historical Brochure shows the many changes that the Duke has seen over the last 153 years. For 53 years Walter Combstock has played a huge part in the exterior and interior that you all see and enjoy today…we thought it was about time that we introduced you to the creative mind behind the refurbishment of the hotel.
Walter, (or Wally as he is known to his friends), has been an integral part of the Duke’s rich story, being part of the hotel for such a significant length of time, it has become a big part of him which is why he takes it’s restoration so seriously, professionally and lovingly.
We managed to sit down with him for half an hour over a cup of tea to have a natter and find out more.
Why do you think it’s important to uncover and bring back the features of the hotel?
It is what it was originally. I want to bring it back to it’s former glory – it has such beautiful features and it’s such a shame to have them covered. The pillars in the restaurant for example, they were covered and now that they aren’t they make the room so beautiful and unique.
Is there a feature that you haven’t uncovered yet?
The Lounge has so many nice columns that I want to uncover – under the bar and throughout the room. Also the top of the columns in the Restaurant still need to be uncovered – the detail on them is not something we want to hide, it should be shared and enjoyed by all of our guests and local residents. The domed ceiling was added in the 70’s, but it is our desire to go back to the original ceiling. It would be a huge job, but the end result would be spectacular.
Why do you keep changing and renovating the rooms?
I think it puts us one step ahead. Even during the recession we kept investing in the rooms. People can ask for a certain room as every room is uniquely decorated. When I step into a room I look at every element, if we need to move things around to make the room work better for guests then we will move walls, change bathrooms and make the most of every space we have. You have to keep going and learning from each room you do, peoples needs are changing, they want a more home-like room with all the amenities and technology available today so we need to keep on top of that also.
What was the idea behind designing every room in a different way? How do you come up with new ideas?
We are a unique hotel so every room should be unique too, even if the room is a similar shape to others or has the same layout we always try to make them completely different. Coming up with the designs is very visual for me, I am able to see how the finished room will look before it’s been started. People say to me they don’t like certain elements as it’s coming together but I just reply with “you have to wait till it’s finished”. I tend to mark the room out before it’s finished to sort the layout – I even used to have dummy furniture that would allow me to easily move it about. Doing rooms is always exciting for me, seeing the rooms everyday you loose the “wow factor” that customers get when they see it for the first time. Every member of our team has a different favourite, maybe even on a weekly basis!
Do you have a favourite room?
The last one I have done. Learning from each room gives me more ideas so the last one that gets finished is always the best until another one is completed. I do like the colours in room 102 though – the pink and cream with a touch of green look so calming and inviting.
What room or aspect of a room has been most difficult to do?
The Shackelton room was hard to get a balance in, we wanted to show it off as this is a commemorative room but at the same time the detailing had to be discreet enough for the public to be able to stay and not be swamped with memorabilia. We get such great feedback from guests that I think we found just the right mix.
Are there any big, upcoming plans?
The external work that we have promised for the Make a Difference for Mayflower 400 campaign will be our next big project – we have committed to painting the railings, the side wall and our iconic tower, and we will be enhancing our canopy over the entrance and our flag poles.
This year another six rooms will be transformed and there’s also the small matter of painting the train and the boat at West Hoe Fun Park, a project which I particularly enjoy as my grandchildren love going to the park on a regular basis!
Do you have an end goal for the design of the hotel?
The goal is always to bring it back to it’s former glory, but it won’t ever have an ending – there is always something to do and change and update so that the hotel is delivering the first class, luxury service and comfort as it has for the past 153 years.
We think you will agree that Walter’s passion and commitment to the hotel is just incredible. No one knows the building inside and out like he does and we all appreciate his hard work in maintaining one of the most stunning, iconic buildings in Devon.
We can’t wait to see what’s next!