Fuelled by an entrepreneurial spirit and a drive to do things differently.
Words by Dan Warden
Regular readers of DRIFT may well recall our recent home and interiors special, DRIFT Abode, in which we featured Cornish Gems Interiors – the team behind the design of some of Cornwall’s finest holiday retreats. But the story behind Cornish Gems Interiors actually starts back in 2007, with the conception of Cornish Gems.
The founders, Julianne Shelton and Nadia Macer-Wright, met at university and quickly realised they had a shared connection to Cornwall, a family history in hospitality, and an interest in property. In 2007, they joined forces and set up Cornish Gems. It was a business idea that would quickly flourish, in fact this year Julianne, Nadia and the team are celebrating 15 years as one of the UK’s leading holiday specialists.
So, what’s the secret? This is often the question asked of entrepreneurs who have enjoyed success as resounding as Cornish Gems’, and I think it’s a fair one! In a marketplace that is now busier than ever, what is the magic ingredient that enables Cornish Gems to continue setting itself apart? “As an independent company, we do things a bit differently to the corporate template,” says Commericial Director, Michelle Baillie. “We’re proud of our entrepreneurial spirit and sustainability is at the heart of the business. We’re very lucky to be able to call Cornwall our home, and that we’re rooted in the local community, so we work with passion and integrity to do right by people whilst looking after the environment, the importance of which is perhaps nowhere more evident than here.
“We set the highest standards in holiday homes,” continues Michelle, “and our success lies in the strength of our team of regional experts. There are no scripts, just great knowledge and attention to detail. It’s a privilege to care for our owners and customers, who trust us to deliver the very best holiday experiences.”
Cornish Gems currently has a portfolio of 200 properties, each of which exudes the utmost in luxury and quality. “We have very high standards,” says Michelle, “so each property in our collection has been picked by our expert team.” When it comes to curating the finest homes, she explains that they have to look beyond the physical bricks and mortar, although they do, of course, play their part. What’s key, however, is understanding that it’s not just about the home itself, nor the location; it’s about the facilities and the interiors, too – it’s about delivering the whole package.
Offering an example, Michelle points us to Trevanion Cottage, a beautiful property in Coverack on the Lizard peninsula. Styled by Cornish Gems Interiors, it has so many amazing details to explore. Perched above the harbour with views over the water, not only is it a testament to Cornish Gems Interiors’ eye for detail and the team’s ability to celebrate a home’s character whilst infusing it with a touch of the contemporary, it is also typical of the stamp of luxury that Cornish Gems has become known for. Bedrooms are sumptuously furnished; living spaces are cosy with plenty of room in which to socialise; beautifully tiled bathrooms shine with a contemporary luxury; the log burner makes for a traditional Cornish comfort and the elevated outdoor space boasts astonishing views of the ocean.
“Molesworth Manor is another,” says Michelle, “a 17th century manor that’s been carefully renovated, with meticulous detail and exciting interior design. It’s a place for a special occasion, and every room is incredible. There’s plenty of space for hosting group celebrations, and there’s even a wellness suite!”
But it isn’t only the standard of each property that makes a stay with Cornish Gems so comfortable. The team strives to take the hassle out of planning the perfect retreat, which frees up their guests to focus on making memories with their loved ones. “We know all the best places to stay in unrivalled locations,” says Michelle, “and we can take care of the finer details, too, from ensuring our guests’ home from home is kitted out with baby essentials and arranging food deliveries, to offering a choice of welcome gifts and providing hand-made, sustainable children’s activity packs. We have it all covered, meaning you can simply arrive and start your holiday.”
It is perhaps because of all of this that Michelle believes their biggest accolade is the trust of their guests. “They entrust us with their holidays, and we have a loyal community who come to us for the highest standards of properties, customer service and insider knowledge. We understand that it’s the whole experience that counts; we care about the little things, as it’s often those that make the biggest difference. Our clients also see how passionate we are about sustainability. We work tremendously hard at being a responsible travel company – it runs right through the heart of the business – from offering eco-properties, to sourcing a choice of local and environmental welcome gifts. And we’re always on the lookout for ways we can improve.”
I ask Michelle what she thinks it is that people are looking for in a dream Cornish escape. The UK staycation trend has changed and evolved immensely in the past couple of years, and I wonder whether guests’ needs have changed at the same time. “For some,” says Michelle, “it’s about embracing the elements – to dive into the sea or hike the South West Coast Path, all the while surrounding themselves with nature.” This will ring true for many who are still feeling the after effects of the pandemic that left them clamouring to get outside and connect with nature, and the new eco-concious property collection is another step towards this. “Others wish to soak up Cornwall’s culture and heritage, walking its cobbled streets and stopping to sample the local foodie delicacies along the way. But for all of us, a holiday is an opportunity to escape the everyday – to explore somewhere new and take time to relax and reconnect. Cornwall’s got a hard-to-put-into-words kind of magic about it which, combined with an exceptional property to retreat to after a day’s exploring, really is a dream combination.”
What all of Cornish Gems’ guests have in common, however, is the value they place on a service that enables them to truly relax and simply enjoy their time away, which is where the company’s concierge service really comes into its own. “It’s where our team of local experts really get to shine! We’ve got amazing personal recommendations, so guests get the inside scoop on the not-to-be-missed new restaurants, activities, days out and places to explore. So much of a holiday in Cornwall is best enjoyed outside in the elements, and we know intimately the best places to go and do that. We also have a little black book of other brilliant Cornish companies with whom we collaborate,” reveals Michelle, “offering at-home beauty and wellness treatments, and even private chef dining experiences.”
What all of this allows Cornish Gems to do, is present Cornwall as the year-round holiday destination that it truly is. “The summer months of long hazy days at the beach are, of course, truly wonderful,” says Michelle, “but in truth, it is genuinely a fabulous destination throughout the year, and outside of the main season, it feels so special to step out onto footprint-free beaches, let the children run wild, and bag the best table in the pub. It’s this kind of experience that fills me with confidence that anybody who stays with us will be planning their next visit before they even head home from their first.”