How do you take something that’s personal and private and turn it into something that’s accessible, available and relevant to a far bigger audience? When Harry Dearden and his wife Gi recently took over the managing of Pennard House and turned it into one of Somerset’s most beautiful venues, that’s precisely what they had to consider; what elements should they keep, what to get rid of, and what really makes a place unique? Below, Harry shares some of his thoughts on the expansion of Pennard from simply, “family home” to family home and venue.
Large stately homes have always been family houses. Yes, there may have been staff to help run the houses and manage the estates, but essentially they have always been family homes and the centre of communities, the hearts of families and places for entertainment.
These homes were largely built and run off the proceeds of their own estates, whereas now, and increasingly more so, these large houses have become unviable places to live privately. So most of them are now – if not already owned by government bodies or charities and run as purely commercial spaces – owned and lived in by families who strive to keep them in the family and protect their heritage. This is mostly done by opening them to the public in different ways and keeping them well connected to their local communities.
However, turning these houses into popular venues is not easy to get right. It’s exactly the fact that it is a family home, with a relaxed atmosphere and an informal feel that has always made it attractive for parties and get togethers. Pennard House has always felt like that – a house that absorbs groups of people and makes everyone feel at home. Whether it was hosting a neighbour’s wedding, an aunt’s 60th birthday weekend, or just being a place for friends to relax and recharge post Glastonbury Festival, friends and family have always turned to Pennard, and they still do.
So when we took the decision to open the house for events, we realised that the most important attraction was the personality and character of the house. We wanted to offer that same ethos to everyone, a flexible and efficient venue to suit everyone’s needs, without losing that family approach and relaxed atmosphere. We quickly realised that people like to connect with the character of the home and feel the history of the house, and that includes meeting the people that live there and understanding their way of life. It’s no surprise that our retreat guests, who normally stay for a couple of days, love that my parents Martin and Susie, who lived in Pennard for 40 years and recently moved out, still come and say hello, and that many of our wedding couples drop by for a cup of tea or to introduce us to their baby. By opening up our house, we have become part of their family story and part of their history too.
So the key for us was to modernise the spaces whilst keeping hold of their heritage and working out how to incorporate the best elements of the two! When we converted the 18th Century Coach House into our primary event space, we wanted to keep the historic character of the building whilst creating something unique.
So we kept the original features such as the wood panelling, original oak beams and flagstone flooring whilst adding all the modern necessities – a lift, commercial kitchen, state of the art lighting, heating and air conditioning. We also wanted to turn the existing features into unique event spaces so we turned the Grade II listed stable stalls into cosy seating booths, a bar and a great dance floor!
We want our guests to feel they can do whatever they want to at Pennard, to offer a blank canvas to style their ideal event. We like to create an atmosphere where people feel at home, so guests can still experience a real sense of connection with the house, and be excited about creating something of their own that will be written into it’s history.
The house is so much more than a venue, it’s a home, with heritage and an open invitation to come back whenever you feel like it, someone family related, we hope, will always be there!
For more information on Pennard House, or any other of our family run houses please contact the team: firstname.lastname@example.org or for more particular details about Pennard House please visit www.pennardhouse.com