Drake hotelier and visionary, Jeff Stober, has enlisted design firm +tongtong under the direction of John Tong to reinvent a tired bed and breakfast and foundry in the small historic town of Wellington, Ontario – transforming it into an 11-room and two-suite contemporary in.
Perched over a meandering creek and a private waterfront, with sweeping views of Lake Ontario, The Drake Devonshire Inn is in fact the rural counterpart of Toronto’s Drake Hotel, also designed by John, and his former firm, 3rd Uncle.
In direct contrast to the urban style of its sister hotel, the team opted to draw inspiration from the cultural background and vernacular of Wellington’s local community for the interior, adding a contemporary perspective into the mix. The design thus takes aesthetic cues from a lexicon of references, from a British country inn to a Hampton retreat.
“The Drake Devonshire offered an amazing opportunity for us to explore another side of our design approach that has become integral to the Drake Brand,” says John Tong, creative director and designer, +tongtong. “Drawing on the local culture is key to creating an authentic experience for visitors from abroad while also bringing something new and relevant to the local community.
“One of our goals was to balance the rational aspects of the architecture with contrasting colours and textures throughout the interior spaces. The outcome is a seemingly ad-hoc collection of controlled compositions and dynamic collisions.”
With the help of ERA Architects, specialists in heritage and conservation, John removed a series of additions that had been made to the original foundry and then ‘reinstated’ them, with seemingly iterative additions. These include a barn-like pavilion, a Douglas Fir dining hall, a modernist special events space, the Glass Box and an outdoor bar.
John and the Drake’s in-house stylist and Drake general gtore buyer, Carlo Colacci, scoured local and international antique markets and vintage fairs, picking and curating furniture, fixtures and accessories. These were refurbished and set with bespoke furniture, hand-turned lamps, virgin wool blankets and accessories that all follow the centuries-old tradition of ‘made not bought’.
The Drake’s in-house art curator Mia Nielsen, commissioned site-specific and evolving contemporary art installations by emerging and well-known art stars to surprise and delight throughout the property – indoors and out.
Entry through the main door leads guests to the warm hotel lobby with its heavy oak and black slate desk, along with a mix of custom and found display cabinetry. A vibrant mix of patterns and textures, including ornate decorative wall and floor tiles, floral wallpaper and exposed brick, create a patchwork that sets the theme for the entire project.
The main corridor leads visitors to the principal dining room and terminates with a framed view of the lake. The semi-open kitchen is framed by patterned tiles, sculptural steel coat racks by +tongtong and a blackboard wall illustrating local sites and seasonal events.
The Douglas-fir and steel A-frame vaulted dining room establishes the aura of a barn or a camp mess hall, with a ribbon of large-scale windows overlooking the forest and Lake Ontario. A signature of Toronto’s Drake Hotel, Tong’s One Arm Stools with green leather seats encourage guests to informally lounge at the bar, which is formed from white painted wood, black steel, and marble slab. These are combined with painted wood chairs and leather and wood slat banquette seating.
Warmed by a working fireplace, the intimate hub of the living room links the restaurant and reception to the Glass Box – a light-filled games room that caters for informal gatherings, table tennis, private parties and corporate events. Here, old and new furniture collide, and are juxtaposed with Park Life – a site-specific installation by Toronto-based artist Jeremy Jansen.
The Glass Box filters visual connections between an intimate patio at the edge of the creek and the forest and the front garden courtyard.
Upstairs, the central corridor opens up onto a sun-filled space over the main entrance, highlighting the jewelled site-specific installation entitled Cabin Fever by Kirsten Hassenfeld. The rooms are a comfortable mix of whitewashed floors, vintage and custom contemporary furniture with boldly patterned carpets and upholstery, schoolhouse lamps, and tongue and groove headboards.
Continuing the Drake’s tradition of artistic dolls that welcome guests with their quirky personalities, each bed features a unique Merrill Doll custom designed for the Devonshire and hand sewn by Ontario artist, Jane Boyd of Firefly Works.
The Owner’s Suite, meanwhile, treats guests to a private experience with their own A-frame space featuring a panoramic lake view and a private outdoor deck.