Best known for appearing on Grand Designs, this luxury venue has a lot to offer its guests. Discover interior design top tips, how you can provide the ultimate romantic retreat and steps you can take to increase direct bookings.
Sitting majestically atop the hills of Bowness and overlooking the largest lake in Cumbria, Dome House is a building like no other.
You may recognise this building from an episode of Grand Designs, where viewers watched the build take a turn for the worse. The current managers, Joyce McGuire and her husband Phil, were asked to run Dome House by Phil’s mother, who invested a lot of money to get the building finished.
“The house was going to be repossessed by the bank and my mother-in-law would have lost all that money she loaned, so she ended up buying the house,” said Joyce.
“She basically said, ‘If I buy it, will you guys run it?’ So we jumped at the chance to move to the Lake District.”
Nowadays, the story of Dome House is much more positive and the business is thriving under Joyce and Phil’s management.
This picturesque building promises exclusivity, with only three guest suites and one self contained, two-bedroom apartment on offer.
Each of the three guest suites have a stunning lake view, and are individually designed in their own unique styles.
“They all have little kitchens, but there’s no cooking facilities available,” said Joyce.
“They’ve got cupboards and a fridge and access to plates, cups and cutlery so that people can make a sandwich, or if they want to order food in, they can eat in their rooms, on the balcony, or upstairs.”
The two bedroom self-catering apartment has its own entrance, a fully equipped kitchen and a private patio with outdoor seating.
“And then we have the big lounge upstairs, the swimming pool, and lots of seats in the garden so everyone can enjoy the view,” said Joyce.
The eye-catching exterior and location of Dome House is not the only wow factor of the property.
Each of the three guest suites and the self-contained apartment are all beautifully designed, so we asked Joyce how she went about creating these uniquely luxurious spaces.
“To be honest, I’ve always said if I love it, I’ll buy it. It’s as simple as that,” said Joyce.
“I used to worry about things going together and I would be in Dunelm looking at pictures of all the rooms, trying to match the cushions and it was giving me brain ache!
“So I decided, no. I told myself to just go and pick things I love and it’ll work. And it does!”
She added: “I pick stuff up off Facebook marketplace, online, and local shops. We try to get stuff made locally wherever possible.”
Joyce explained that she had lots of fun designing the rooms and after all the love and effort she put into creating these luxury spaces, she has plenty of advice to pass on.
“I’m not afraid of colour,” said Joyce, “too many people go down the beige route.
“We’ve got these really bright and colourful rugs that are a real wow factor and it just gives people joy. Colour is really uplifting and for me, that’s so important.
“I just love colour and absolutely going for it. It doesn’t have to appeal to everyone. You shouldn’t worry too much about pleasing everyone. Just find your niche and go for it.”
Dome House is full of colour and unique items, but if you don’t want to go all out, there are other ways to avoid ‘the beige route’.
“If you’re afraid to use so much colour, just turn it down a bit,” said Joyce.
“Use cushions and throws. They can completely change a room with only little pops of colour and if it’s still too much or you think it doesn’t work, you can just change it.”
However, interior design is not just about colours and pillows. Joyce suggests paying a lot of attention to different accessories that can easily brighten up any space.
“After the year we’ve all just had, people need a little joy in their life,” she said.
“Just doing simple things such as buying a parasol that looks like it should be on a Hawaiin beach for the garden.
“I try to give our guests some joy and you know, things like putting flowers in the entrance to make it nice and colourful.”
Although accessories are great for adding atmosphere and joy, Joyce said to pay attention to how much you spend on them.
“You don’t want to spend lots of money on something that may get broken,” she said.
“It would break your heart if you loved that accessory and it got broken.”
Joyce and Phil try to source items as local as possible, adding to the overall individuality of their property.
“I’m always on Facebook marketplace," said Joyce, "you can find some real gems on there, like beautiful art deco cupboards and so on."
She added: “We’ve also had a lot of stuff upcycled or re-upholstered locally. I’ve actually just been given an amazing egg chair, and that’s going to get upcycled."
If you need new chairs, Joyce suggests you ignore the materials.
“Don’t gravitate towards materials because they are easy to change.
“Look at the structure and shape; if you love that, you can easily change the covers.”
Deciding how to decorate your property can be hard, especially if it’s a unique building.
“Dome House is a weird house to try and decorate,” said Joyce.
“It’s the Lake District. There’s lots of chintz and old style furniture, which I love, but you have to rein it in a bit and try not to go too traditional. Dome House is modern, so it’s about finding a balance between the things you love and not making it look like an Edwardian townhouse.”
She said: “I always just say to people, if you love it, it’ll work and just be brave.”
Joyce said: "Custom made to our specification. It shows my love of art deco style with a modern twist. Very simple geometric shapes that adds a bit of drama. Love it. Was made by Tracy at Mad Chair Company."
Joyce said: "Once again custom made as it was for the guest lounge and ordinary size sofa was gonna be lost up there. Chesterfield will always be a classic piece of furniture so worth investing in. Made by Abode sofas."
Art Deco Unit
Joyce said: "This is my pride and joy that used to be our TV cabinet but after us both suffering from sore necks I had to admit defeat and move from pride of place in our living room. I think it looks even more splendid in its new home in reception. Found online on a charity shops page in barrow. Rang and asked them to hold it for me. Had palpitations it would be gone when I got there."
Joyce said: "We try not to take ourselves too seriously here at dome house. We like to add touches of whimsy to make people smile and a sheep stool is perfect considering we live in the Lake District. Bought at Fab interiors Bowness."
6 TOP TIPS FOR INTERIOR DESIGN
- Don’t be afraid of using colour
- Buy accessories that can add some joy
- Choose items YOU like
- Don’t put sentimental items out on display
- Don’t spend a lot of money on things that might get broken
- Don’t let materials put you off an item - materials can be easily changed
Most Romantic Getaway
Dome House recently won the 2021 Luxury BnB ‘Most Romantic Getaway’ award, so we asked Joyce and Phil what makes them the perfect property for a romantic getaway and what advice they would pass on.
Phil said: “We give people space. We’re quite hands off and only in the background if we are needed.
“We don’t take many guests, so there’s lots of room for couples. Even if everybody is in the lounge at the same time, there’s plenty of space.”
He added: “We’re also an adult-only property, so there’s no kids screaming and running around spoiling the mood.”
Phil explained they didn’t set out to be a romantic getaway location.
“It just evolved that way,” he said, “the feedback we got said people really enjoyed the tranquility and relaxation, particularly if they had come away from the city for a weekend.”
Joyce added: “We’ve had so many nervous fellas ring up and wanting to propose here, and I love that.”
"We don't have a tv in the lounge because we want people to spend quality time together"
Phil and Joyce are always happy to assist with proposals.
“We’re always thinking, ‘how can we help them?’ and we can help them put together an engagement plan,” said Joyce.
The first engagement at Dome House happened just after they first opened, and Joyce and Phil went above and beyond to ensure it went without a hitch.
“We were on this show, and they filmed us running up the hill with champagne and glasses,” said Joyce.
“We’d hidden a flamingo teddy in a hedge so they knew where to turn up to where the seat was, and we hid behind a wall to make sure nobody went up there and drank the champagne!”
She added: “We hid there for about half an hour, crouched with the cameraman beside us in the rain!”
Joyce explained the little extras they do to make a getaway that bit more romantic.
“We can set up champagne and chocolates and flowers,” she said, “I guess everybody can do that, but it’s what we do. We can arrange restaurants and anything else they want.
“Some people come and we do almost a whole itinerary for them. Other times, they will go down the hill for drinks and be back within the hour because it’s too busy, so they’ll just sit on the balcony with a bottle of wine enjoying the view.”
She added: “We also don’t have a TV in the lounge upstairs. We want people to spend quality time together and even though it’s a big room, it’s quite snug in there because we’ve got little separate seating areas.”
With so many people booking Dome House for romantic retreats, Joyce and Phil have plenty of advice to help get you started.
“Give your guests a feeling of luxury and pampering,” said Joyce, “robes and slippers help, so they don’t have to get dressed.”
She also suggested delivering breakfasts in hampers right to their rooms.
“Also, if you can, put in a bath and a shower," she said.
"Langdale View gets booked out really quickly because they want the really big bath which is right next to the bed, so they can watch TV and enjoy the view at the same time.”
5 TOP TIPS FOR ROMANTIC RETREATS
- Be prepared to go above and beyond
- Create a feeling of luxury and pampering by providing robes and slippers
- Deliver breakfasts to bedroom doors
- Rose petals, flowers, chocolates and champagne
- Offer to organise itineraries for stress free getaways
Booking direct is becoming increasingly important for smaller businesses. Dome House doesn't list on any OTA and only take direct bookings from their own website.
Joyce said: “We used to be on Booking.com and Expedia, but we stopped because they took the business out of our hands and we didn’t want to be dictated to.”
Phil explained they had wanted to take direct bookings from the start, but it wasn’t until last year that they made the move.
“The OTAs take such a huge cut of the income and after COVID, we decided to invest more in our own website, get some high quality photographs and publicize ourselves using our own social media channels,” said Phil.
“We don’t have many rooms to sell either, so it works in our favour really.”
Joyce and Phil are lucky enough that they don’t have to spend much on publicity.
“The house is quite well known already,” explained Phil, “so that’s a lot of the publicity done already and we were able to make that move to direct bookings.”
He added: “It was a great relief to be back in control of our own business, because we weren’t too happy with the OTAs, and we didn’t really lose much by leaving them.”
If you’ve considered removing your property from OTAs, Phil definitely recommends it, however they are some things you need to keep in mind.
“If you can, do it. But I wouldn't just dump all of these travel agencies straight away, because they do bring in bookings,” said Phil.
Before you drop all the OTAs, there are some things you should focus on first.
“Try increasing the percentage of bookings coming directly from your website,” said Phil.
"It's worth Investing in your website and high quality images."
“You need a good website that’s clear about what you offer to people and if you’re able, really push the use of social media. Images do a lot of the work for you.”
He added: “Luckily, we’ve got a very instagrammable house and not every house has the benefit of a Grand Designs episode being repeated on TV every few months.
“So we do realise we’re in a slightly different situation to a lot of people, but it’s absolutely worth investing in trying to bring in more direct bookings, because the percentage that goes to the travel agents is just so high.”
Joyce explained social media is an extremely important tool for increasing direct bookings:
“Facebook groups are brilliant if you can utilise them.
“I have a friend who sells her place almost exclusively from putting it in Facebook groups! It just means you have to be more proactive, and that’s not for everyone.”
She added: “It’s about using OTAs wisely. I mean, if we have a room that we need to fill last minute, we can switch it on and fill that room. But if you’ve got six months full booked, why would you open it up for OTAs?
“You’re better off filling that last minute room yourself. And if you are stuck, most channel managers will let you choose where your bookings come from, so it’s just about being a bit cleverer and not using OTAs to 100% do your business for you.
“You should be more proactive and make them work for you, rather than you working for them.”
6 TOP TIPS FOR DIRECT BOOKINGS
- Invest in your website
- Invest in high quality images of your property
- Be prepared to be more proactive
- Utilise social media channels
- Don’t worry about bad reviews
- Use OTAs wisely - they work for you, not the other way around
Interior design, romantic getaways and direct bookings aside, Joyce wanted to pass on some final pieces of advice.
“Don’t be afraid of bad reviews,” she said.
“Don’t sweat it and don’t overcompensate for people who are trying to pull a fast one. Stand your ground.
“I’m not saying be rude, but don’t be so worried about getting bad reviews that you allow people to take the mick.”
She added: “Always remember that you get the last say with a bad review. Just make sure your response is great, because that’s what people are reading.
“You’re not replying to the person who left the bad review; you’re replying to the next potential guest.”
She laughed, saying: “Don’t worry about bad reviews. It happens to us all!
“If you are getting consistently bad reviews, then take a look at what’s going on, but if it’s just the odd one, don’t sweat it. It won’t affect your business that much. It’s probably one review out of hundreds of brilliant ones.
“We always remember the awful ones and you can’t help it because you put your heart and soul into the business. It’s like someone’s stabbing your baby, but don’t be held hostage by those negative comments.
“You will always have the final say.”
Phil acknowledged it’s been a hard year for everyone in the hospitality industry and wanted to wish everyone luck.
He said: “I just want to wish everybody luck for the summer. I think it’s going to be a really year and I hope everybody claws back some of the money that they’ve lost.”