With a keen eye for detail and a flair for design, Geraldine Milsom, Director of Milsom Hotels and Restaurants, is successfully transforming the interiors of Milsom Hotels to reflect the heritage of each individual building while providing guests with carefully curated furniture, art and sculpture that can be discovered in the rooms and suites, the restaurants and in communal areas.

Talking to Geraldine, it’s clear that such creativity runs in the family: 'Dad was a Technical Illustrator and Mum an Art Teacher, so I have always had an interest in art and I enjoy buying pieces from local artists,' she explains. 'I started many years ago when I purchased several paintings from James Dodds, an artist from Wivenhoe, and these amazing boat pictures still hang in The Pier at Harwich and the Talbooth Restaurant in Dedham.'

The Dedham Vale on the Essex/Suffolk border is known across the world as ‘Constable Country’, providing some of England’s most recognisable views across pretty local villages. 'We actually feature in a John Constable painting of the Dedham Vale, which depicts Talbooth Restaurant (formerly Le Talbooth) and our self-catering cottage, Idle Waters,' enthuses Geraldine. 'It mostly resides at the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh and we were excited to see it when it was on loan to the Royal Academy, London in 2021.'

Geraldine Milsom is Director of Milsom Hotels & Restaurants  (Image: Courtesy of Milsom Hotels and Restaurants)

Milsom Hotels proudly boasts a portfolio of four luxury hotels and one beautifully appointed self-catering property. The buildings are very different in terms of history and setting, so creating the interiors takes a decidedly personal approach. 'The design aesthetic comes from what surrounds each of the restaurants and hotels,' Geraldine explains. 'For example, when you look out to sea from The Pier, you can see the fisherman’s boats and then through the other window a busy dockyard. That’s why I introduced a more industrial feel inside the hotel with suspended grid like ceilings and lots of zinc, copper and wood.'

Not far from The Pier is Milsom Hotels’ newest acquisition – a café now named ‘Deck 1853’ at Ha’penny Pier. The chefs at The Pier restaurant have devised a new menu for visitors, while Geraldine is overseeing the interiors. 'It is ‘beach house’ style with banquette seating, sand and stone colours and lots of outside tables overlooking the sea,' she reveals. 'Pizza will be served in sustainable boxing – perfect for munching on the benches or to take away!'

All art and furniture in the hotels and restaurants are individually sourced by Geraldine, either through local artisans, by attending auctions in the area or commissioning one-off pieces. 'I commissioned a series of Beatle LP collages from local artist, Alison Stockman, as an example. I also went to the huge Newark Antiques fair when we first opened Milsoms and Jonathan Benson from Reeman Dansie Auction House never fails to send me an auction catalogue.'

This framed poem by William Wordsworth appears in one of the bedrooms at Talbooth Hotel & SpaThis framed poem by William Wordsworth appears in one of the bedrooms at Talbooth Hotel & Spa (Image: Kieran Harvey)

In Talbooth House & Spa the twelve individually designed bedrooms are named after poets and a framed poem of their best-known work is hung to be read and enjoyed by guests.

'I believe my late Father-in-Law – Gerald Milsom – debated between poets and painters,' Geraldine reveals. 'If I had been part of the decision-making process I would have of course voted for painters!'

Two of the suites in Talbooth House & Spa have recently undergone a refurbishment and as testament to Geraldine’s vision for the future of the hotel, while reflecting its past, one now features an unusual Georgian Dolls House cabinet – a quirky and unusual addition that provides a real talking point in the room. 'Our Shakespeare suite features the Georgian Dolls House, which replaced a Chippendale Chest on Chest,' explains Geraldine. 'I spied it at the Andrew Martin showroom years ago and just wanted to use it – it is such an iconic piece.'

This impressive metal crab, imported from America, is displayed at The PierThis impressive metal crab, imported from America, is displayed at The Pier (Image: Kieran Harvey)

There are so many genres of art spread across the hotels for guests to enjoy, but there’s one piece in particular that generates the most complements: 'At Milsoms Dedham, my flock of birds created by Charlotte Bernays, which hangs in a wire cage, draws a lot of positive feedback,' asserts Geraldine. 'Another popular piece is my Seagull - an incredible charcoal drawing by Jason Gathorne-Hardy.'

Among all her artistic finds over the years, the one that Geraldine singles out as being her favourite was where her love of sourcing local artists started: “James Dodds is an Essex boat builder who moved to painting boats such as smacks, crabbers and barges. The boats float against background of light or dark but in many you can feel the paint flaking – or gaze at its construction.”

While many artworks and furniture are traditional in style, fitting the period of the building, others are much more contemporary. It, therefore, takes a particular kind of talent to successfully incorporate old and new within the same room space. 'There is no secret,' says Geraldine modestly. 'I just love the mix: the old is a nod to tradition whilst the new is a salute to modern design.'

The Beatles visited Le Talbooth in May 1963 with their agent Bryan EpsteinThe Beatles visited Le Talbooth in May 1963 with their agent Bryan Epstein (Image: Courtesy of Milsom Hotels and Restaurants)

Guests may be surprised to see retro Beatles curtains and artistic prints of the band’s members at Milsoms, yet there’s a very good reason why these contemporary artworks were chosen: 'Mr G’s is our private dining room at Milsoms and was named after my late father-in law who upon hearing that the Beatles had eaten in The Talbooth Restaurant (formerly known as Le Talbooth) asked “who were The Beatles?,"' Geraldine laughs. 'When I came across the life size ‘Beatles’ fabric I couldn’t resist using it. The photos in the room are original stills of various James Bond movies and who doesn’t love a Bond movie!'

Those keen to recreate a little bit of the Milsoms design magic in their own homes should follow Geraldine’s simple rules: 'Opt for Farrow & Ball paint colours, source local artwork and, above all, have faith in your own ideas,' she says. And she should know - after all, who else would have the courage of their convictions to incorporate The Beatles and Bond alongside Shakespeare and Keats!

Geraldine commissioned a series of Beatle LP collages from local artist, Alison StockmanGeraldine commissioned a series of Beatle LP collages from local artist, Alison Stockman (Image: Kieran Harvey)

Milsoms Art Trail Package

Between April and October, Milsoms will be running its popular Art Trail Package, which is a collaboration with Munnings Museum, Dedham and Gainsborough’s House in Sudbury. This includes a two-night stay at Talbooth House & Spa, dinner at Talbooth Restaurant overlooking the River Stour and admission tickets to the galleries. It’s also an excellent opportunity to learn more about former local artist John Constable. For details ring 01206 322795.