We’ve always felt Cambridge lacked the type of accommodation that we would stay in if we were visiting Cambridge. Wherever we’ve been in the UK or Europe, even further, there are interesting, small, independent places to stay that excel in comfort, service and location. So why not in Cambridge? Why not indeed?! So instead of having the same conversation over and over, we decided to do something about it and what we now know as Duke House was conceived…

We both have a longstanding commitment to sustainable development, Fairtrade and high-quality design. Previously, we ran Flag, a design agency specializing in sustainability communications and I am just completing a four-year role as Chief Executive of Fairtrade International, the global umbrella body for Fairtrade. So our vision was to create a leading example of sustainability in boutique accommodation. No compromise on comfort; no compromise on sustainability. A compelling prospect to us, but not easy to fulfill!

Our first challenge was finding the right property. Few large houses come on to the market in central Cambridge but patience paid off. When Liz visited 1 Victoria Street in December 2010 she simply said “that’s the one”. Of course, it’s never an easy business, but we finally got there in Autumn 2011.

The house suits us very well with potential for four good-sized, en-suite guest rooms and a separate living section for us at the back of the house. Look out for a separate blog on house history coming up soon but the headline is that it is a large, Victorian villa with a huge rear extension. It was once owned by Prince Richard, now the Duke of Gloucester who was up at Cambridge University studying architecture. 1 Victoria Street offered him the opportunity to create something and many of his original designs and alterations are still present. So too, thanks to his sensitivity, are many of the original Victorian features.

My original idea on the building was to focus on energy and water consumption. As with any Victorian building, the first task is energy retention. So we have invested heavily in insulation in all the guest rooms and renewing the box sash windows (keeping to the original design of course!). We intended to generate our own energy and figured solar would be a good option. That’s where the problems hit. The boiler is in the basement – a long way from the roof. The roof is not big enough to generate sufficient heat when guests will most need it. The government feed in tariff scheme was scrapped which changed the entire financial dynamics of solar power just when we were making our decisions. And the building budget was going up and up… I always knew sustainability involved dilemmas but this was a big one for me.

In the end, we decided to invest the budget in a super efficient boiler and install it in the roof. That way, a solar (or air source) project will be relatively easy to install later. We upped the level of thermal insulation and at the same time, decided to invest further in even better sound proofing. The rooms were pretty quiet as it was but to ensure we achieve the aim of a “haven of peace and tranquility” we felt it was the right thing to do.

So that part is done; the rooms are taking shape; the marketing is under way. Much, much more to do. But we will be posting regularly now on the story behind the house, the launch and life in the heart of Cambridge – one of the most beautiful cities in Britain.