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Behind the scenes at Glebe House in Colyton, East Devon

Every object and accessory has been carefully considered. Photo: George Chesterton
Every object and accessory has been carefully considered. Photo: George Chesterton

Glebe House is a guest house and restaurant and also a much-loved family home. We take a look behind the scenes and chat to its owners, Olive and Hugo Guest, about the vision behind their stylish haven in the heart of the East Devon countryside.

Living in the East Devon countryside, growing vegetables, raising a family, painting and cooking. Olive and Hugo Guest certainly appear to be living the dream. Heck, they’ve even got a beautiful garden room.

‘There are such nice views from in here,’ says Olive, as we take tea in this welcoming outside/inside space. ‘It’s turned into one of the most popular places for guests to sit.’

Great British Life: This homely Georgian vicarage and 15-acre smallholding is in a picture-perfect spot. Photo: Olive GuestThis homely Georgian vicarage and 15-acre smallholding is in a picture-perfect spot. Photo: Olive Guest Great British Life: The welcoming hallway feels like home. Photo: George Chesterton The welcoming hallway feels like home. Photo: George Chesterton

It’s easy to forget that this homely Georgian vicarage and 15-acre smallholding is actually a busy seven-bedroom guesthouse and restaurant in the Coly Valley. Owners Olive and Hugo love being here but they also work incredibly hard to make sure other people like being here too.

Since they took over Glebe House – Hugo’s former family home – it has built up a reputation as a must-visit foodie retreat, with people travelling from all over the world to enjoy a slice of this very good life.

‘It’s always had that very hospitable vibe,’ says Olive, an artist. ‘We just knew there was something here, something special.’

Great British Life: Olive had a vision for 'quite some time' about how she wanted everything to look and feel. Photo: Glebe HouseOlive had a vision for 'quite some time' about how she wanted everything to look and feel. Photo: Glebe House Great British Life: A warm and stylish welcome awaits. Photo: Olive GuestA warm and stylish welcome awaits. Photo: Olive Guest

Hugo’s parents Emma and Chuck lived at Glebe for 40 years and ran the then six-bedroom house and outbuildings as a B&B before deciding in 2020 to sell up and move somewhere more manageable.

‘We thought, we can’t let it go,’ says Olive, explaining that at that time, both she and Hugo had reached a career crossroads. ‘We were living in London and I was working in advertising,’ she adds. ‘I was painting a lot but wanted to move to the countryside to paint more. Hugo worked in insurance for nine years and had been toying with the idea of working as a chef, but he didn’t want to work in London kitchens. He’d also started his own business on the side, making salami.’

All the ingredients for a life change were there.

Great British Life: Guests love the cabin at Glebe House. Photo: Glebe HouseGuests love the cabin at Glebe House. Photo: Glebe House Great British Life: Guests love the cabin at Glebe House. Photo: Glebe HouseGuests love the cabin at Glebe House. Photo: Glebe House

‘It was an idea that had been bubbling away for a long time,’ agrees Olive, adding that although she and Hugo knew they wanted to move to the countryside, it was never their intention to run a hotel. ‘It was more like, we love Glebe, we love this part of Devon, Hugo loves cooking, I love painting – how can we make this work and provide a nice experience for people?’

After applying for an EU grant (just in time), the couple were able to get started on the first stage of their business plan - a large and intense renovation project. Glebe House had good bones and strong features but needed lots of everything else.

It took six months to install proper insulation, plumbing and electrics before reorganising some of the layout. One of the bathrooms was made larger, a couple of walls were knocked down and spaces opened up.

Great British Life: Olive worked with friend and interior designer Ali Childs to get the perfect look. Photo: George ChestertonOlive worked with friend and interior designer Ali Childs to get the perfect look. Photo: George Chesterton

Then came the fun part. Talented artist Olive was able to indulge her creative side when it came to styling the inside, working with schoolfriend and interior designer Ali Childs of Studio Alexandra. The pair were inspired by a trip to Charleston, the famous house in East Sussex associated with the Bloomsbury group of artists. There is evidence of modernist country home feel here, but Glebe is no art gallery. It feels loved and lived in. Comforting accessories and soft furnishings feature heavily in every room. Antique sofas have been reupholstered, artwork repositioned and there are plenty of plants. Hurrah.

‘I’d had a vision for quite some time about how I wanted everything to look and feel, so it was quite fun being able to bring that to life,’ says Olive. ‘For me as an artist, it was important to have objects and touch points that have had this consideration poured into them.

‘The fact that this is Hugo’s family home means we wanted to stay true to certain features and not make it feel as though we’ve completely changed it.’

Great British Life: Olive worked with friend and interior designer Ali Childs to get the perfect look. Photo: George ChestertonOlive worked with friend and interior designer Ali Childs to get the perfect look. Photo: George Chesterton

Apart from all the lovely guest feedback since Glebe House opened in April 2021, one of the biggest compliments so far has come from Hugo’s brothers. They grew up here and have told the couple that it still feels like Glebe.

‘That’s what we always wanted,’ says Olive. ‘It’s so special.’

The couple have now fully settled in and don’t miss their city lives at all. In fact, that seems like another world away, especially now there are two children in the picture: Rufus, three, and Robin, 18-months.

Great British Life: Hugo, Rufus and Olive have well and truly settled into East Devon life. Photo: George ChestertonHugo, Rufus and Olive have well and truly settled into East Devon life. Photo: George Chesterton

When we meet, Olive has just nursed the kids through a bout of chicken pox – a standard month-long ordeal when they each get it one after the other.

Also, the family are currently living in a two-bed flat above Glebe’s bakery while their house in the grounds is being completely renovated. Olive looks remarkably fresh-faced and calm, considering.

‘It’s been hard and last year was tough because Robin was a newborn and Rufus was two and we were basically living in a building site,’ she says. ‘As a family, we’ve just squeezed in and around the business for a long time. But, you know, it’s all part of it and I guess we always knew it was going to be a bit like this.’

Great British Life: The restaurant at Glebe House is very popular. Photo: Glebe HouseThe restaurant at Glebe House is very popular. Photo: Glebe House

The couple have fallen into clearly defined roles now, with Hugo taking care of the restaurant and the kitchen garden (his ‘happy place’).

Olive does the marketing, website, emails and the ongoing interior and homewares tasks. For everything else, there’s a team of up to 15 staff who have helped to make Glebe the destination it is today.

There’s a constant flow of cool-looking people pulling up outside (not including myself, of course).

Great British Life: Guests enjoy the interiors as much as the food at Glebe House. Photo: George ChestertonGuests enjoy the interiors as much as the food at Glebe House. Photo: George Chesterton

‘We never thought we’d be running to the capacity that we are,’ says Olive. ‘In terms of the restaurant, we thought we might get a few locals that would come every now and again, but we’re pretty much fully booked.’

Hospitality is tough going and the couple are under no illusions about that. They’ve got to keep up the good work if they want to keep Glebe fresh and interesting, but they also want to make sure they don’t lose sight of why they came here.

‘Living in the countryside, being so close to the sea, growing our own vegetables and feeling that connection with nature – it sounds cheesy but it’s so important,’ says Olive. ‘We wanted to live this life and this was a way of making it happen.’

glebehousedevon.co.uk



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