David Selves isn’t a man who likes to sit still. That’s either in his business ventures – we’re here to discuss the success of his Faversham Creek Hotel, which he opened in 2014 – or literally. While filling me in on a few of the hotel’s delights and challenges, he leaps up to straighten a light fitting and runs over to adjust the temperature in a bedroom, satisfying himself that things are just so. Similarly, his conversation happily jumps from topic to topic, ranging from the ancient Frost Fairs on the Thames to the BBC, before bringing the anecdotes to bear on what he’s created in Faversham.
Born and raised in London, David left school at 15 (not realising that he was dyslexic until his son was diagnosed, he says), becoming what he describes as a “serial entrepreneur”. His distinguished career encompassed many things before he became owner of the Faversham Creek Hotel. David’s varied interests include establishing the London Grill Club, which specialises in putting famous people “to the flame” with some tough questions. “No wonder people who come here for job interviews here get something of a hard time,” he jokes.
“I set out to create somewhere I’d like to go”
Ending up in Faversham was something of a lucky accident. David was seeking a house within 90 minutes of London, and was given a tip-off about a site in Faversham. There he discovered Abbey Street, one of the finest medieval streets in Britain before, two and a half years later, finally buying a house there. Next door, you’ll find the Phoenix, the pub bought by David in 2009 after its previous owners went bust. David explains, “Faversham didn’t then have what I would consider to be a nice pub. I set out to create somewhere I’d like to go – no games machines, no TVs, no alcopops. Instead, I wanted nice Chesterfields, big log fires and somewhere where women would be happy to go by themselves. And it works,” he adds with satisfaction. “It works very well.”
Not everyone has judged his success the same way. “If people were being cruel they’d say I was being an opportunist,” David admits. But, he continues, “If they were being kind, they would say, well, he sees an opportunity and knows how to make it work.” It was exactly that logic that led him to create the Faversham Creek Hotel. While there were several pubs with rooms within the town, there was no boutique hotel offering. Having sensed the market demand, when this historic building – dating back to the 18th century – became available, David and his wife, Tracy, set about satisfying it.
“Something of comfort and quality”
Their aim was to create “something of comfort and quality. Almost as if coming into the home. And we got four stars from the AA within six months,” David adds, justifiably proud. One reason given for the hotel’s success is its personal touch. Tracy is often there at breakfast, for example, or checking guests in. The rave reviews online tell a similar story, as do the number of repeat visitors over the first year the hotel has been open.
There have also been quite a few amusing incidents, such as the wedding party who had booked the Faversham Creek Hotel for their tier of guests, until the bride and groom saw the rooms and liked them so much that they made their guests swap! Or the grandparents who happily decamp to the hotel when their family come to stay and let their children and grandchildren take over their own home, seemingly a growing trend – “we’ve had four incidents of that in the last six months!”, David tells me.
“A lifetime of experiences”
David brought what he describes as “a lifetime of experiences” to the hotel. This encompasses specifics – such as paint colours used within his own homes, or wallpaper he’s previously admired – but, importantly, also the maturity to be able “bring it all together”. In addition, David wasn’t afraid to risk a few raised eyebrows from Faversham residents. In the months before opening, David put out a press release they had installed £3,500 worth of granite to the hotel loos, knowing it would bring curious locals to the building site and, ultimately, the hotel.
And David was typically hands on in the hotel’s renovation. As project manager, he describes how his team worked their way through the building, room by room. As might be expected while working on a building that dates back to 1723, built as a merchant’s house and has been by turns the town’s coal exchange and the pub, there were a few discoveries as they went along. A painting was discovered on one wall, hidden under decades of wallpapers, and possibly dating back to the 18th century. David took the decision to partly restore it, and it now happily sits along Quentin Blake cockatoo wallpaper in the stairwell.
These tweaks aside, David says that “in terms of the concept of the final product, it is 98% what I sat on the floor one night and envisaged.” Each of the eight bedrooms has been given a different concept, inspired by an individual wallpaper design, and adapted to the historic quirks of the room. Antique furniture complements the aesthetic perfectly and there are some show-stopping pieces, including a stunning four-poster bed in the Queen Matilda Room (below). That’s all alongside the luxury comforts you’d associate with a boutique hotel stay.
An entirely local team worked on the renovation, with the exception of the tiler – who came from nearby Herne Bay – and known to David from the Phoenix. In an additional tribute to the local area, each bedroom is named after a different person connected to Faversham’s history, from the magician Robert Heller to the murderess Alice Arden, who inspired the 16th-century play, Arden of Faversham.
“Never be afraid to make a mistake”
Although both the Phoenix and the Faversham Creek Hotel gave David the opportunity to create profitable businesses as well as “something to do”, they also – importantly for him – allowed him to contribute to the local community. David describes the mix of clientele he gets in the pub – from postmen to barrister – “all sitting down chatting, which is what they do every Thursday night. And that’s what makes society cohesive.”
It’s from a mix of people “all sitting down chatting” that David believes great ideas are born. And it’s ideas that really make him excited, even though he’s aware that only “2 percent will work. When I walk in to a room and I say ‘I’ve had an idea’, my staff run for the hills!”, he jokes. Whether establishing a boutique hotel or any other business, the important thing, David believes, is to “never be afraid to make a mistake. Your mind should always be open.”
“We’ve set a bar for the local”
And, when it comes to Britain’s towns, David credits independent businesses for driving “this or any other town forward. That requires flair, imagination, initiative and being brave.” I suggest he’s been responsible for bringing that to Faversham. Noting my compliment, he continues, “The Chairman of Chamber of Commerce kindly said that what we’ve done is set a new level, we’ve raised the bar for the local. If you look at Faversham now, everyone has copied me. The town is definitely changing for the better and other people have been kind enough to say that I’ve been a catalyst.”
Of course, what inevitably follows is the challenge of staying ahead and moving forward. Another relatively new project for David has been the Faversham Food Festival, which made its debut in 2014 (again, born out of a conversation in the pub). David’s all too aware that “it’s too easy to get too clever, to think you’re important. You’re not, you have to carry on, wherever you set your bar, and you have to work very hard to maintain it.” Having witnessed the enthusiasm with which he talks to guests and staff alike, I can believe he’s more than happy to put in the necessary the elbow grease to keep his businesses at the top of their game.
Typically, there are lots of ideas bubbling away as to what might be the next challenge for David. He’s envisaged a third offering in Faversham that will tie into the services already offered by the pub and the hotel. Or he could franchise his hotel concept and take it to similar towns. Although he’s been encouraged by Tracy to take the occasional day off, he seems unlikely to slow down any time soon. As he tells me, “I haven’t grown-up and I don’t intend to!”