Dunstane Houses – 4 West Coates, Edinburgh
Walk through the pristinely kept garden and into the entranceway at Dunstane House and you’ll find a colourful map of Orkney on your right and a cabinet full of military memorabilia – including a bust of Winston Churchill – on your left.
It isn’t hard to see why owner Shirley Mowat describes the 16-room townhouse as “a wee bit different”, and it’s that reverence for history which has underpinned the refurbishment and relaunch Dunstane has undergone this year, re-opening just in time for the 70th Edinburgh Festival.
The B-listed building dates back to 1852 and is part of the larger Dunstane Houses complex, which also includes Hampton House, situated directly across the road in the Capital’s tranquil Western suburbs. Hampton is due to have a similar renovation carried out on it later this year – no surprise given how delighted the owners – Shirley and her husband Derek – are with the job done by Hannah Lohan Design & Styling on Dunstane.
Said Shirley, “Hannah is on the case for Hampton House already, we want the same tone and feel. She’s based in London so I project managed the work on Dunstane up here. I love interior design and I really enjoyed the process. We’re chuffed with the end results and have had great feedback so far.”
Shirley has always made it her mission to use Dunstane as a vehicle to promote Orkney, where she and Derek met, and that strong Orcadian flavour remains post-refurb. The rooms, all named after different parts of Orkney, are perhaps the best expression of the new theme, which combines the neoclassical design of Old Town Edinburgh with pared down luxury. Most of the rooms contain a free-standing copper bathtub, a vintage radio and telephone, Orkney Tweed cushions and Persian rugs imported from as far away as Iran and Afghanistan, but Shirley and Derek have also strived to ensure each room has individual character. The en suite bathrooms, created by Fired Earth, are spacious and stunning.
If Orkney dominates in some sections, then Edinburgh certainly reasserts itself in others. The staircase, for example, where you are met with a panoramic triptych painting of the city, the complete works of Robert Louis Stevenson resting on a sill and some artfully taken framed shots of Derek’s classic car selection – which he uses to take guests on guided tours.
Explained Hannah, “Derek is passionate about classic cars and vintage planes, he’s a huge collector of memorabilia, and so we wanted to display things and reflect it in the art work at the hotel.”
She continued, “The colour palette throughout comes from Orkney. I started the process looking at the stunning scenery and then took the earthy, rich colours from this. The hotel was originally designed during the neoclassical period, and wealthy Victorians tended to use neutral colours then adorn their homes with interesting things.”
The reception desk faces onto some starkly beautiful black and white photography of shipwrecks and Orkney landmarks, and just beyond that lies The Ba’ Bar. Formerly The Skerries Restaurant, this area has been transformed, opened up and given a whole new theme revolving around The Ba’, a no-holds-barred ancient form of football played between rival factions – the Uppies and the Doonies – in Orcadian capital Kirkwall. Shirley tells us that you can kick, punch, scream and pull hair in The Ba’, but thankfully there’ll be no such rowdy behaviour in The Ba’ Bar!
She added, “We decided to move away from The Skerries and have an all-day menu with some smaller bites, and we do afternoon tea too. The concept has changed but we still get things like cheese, salmon and mackerel from Orkney.
“We’ve got a huge collection of whisky and we sell a lot of (Kirkwall-produced) Highland Park in particular, plus Orkney Gin’s Kirkjuvagr, which is a really nice gin. Our drink sales have probably doubled because there’s much more room for people to sit.”
The Ba’ Bar has wide windows looking out onto the undulating garden and the street beyond, a vintage marble fireplace with blue tiles and gold panelling and a mixture of high backed chairs and comfortable couches. A cabinet with backlit compartments shows off the star whiskies, while the centrepiece is mounted on the wall behind the bar – a battered old leather ball like the ones used in The Ba’, flanked by bottles of Highland Park.
The garden is on two levels and boasts new circular wooden tables ringed by grey wicker chairs, all framed by vivid bushes and plants.
The location, away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre but just ten minutes walk from both Haymarket Station and Murrayfield Stadium, is one of Dunstane’s real strengths according to Shirley, who first took over back in 1998.
“We’re only 10-15 minutes’ walk from the city centre and lots of people love it because it’s quieter. The old buildings are lovely round here and there are nice walks to be had nearby at the Waters of Leith. One of the rooms on the top floor has a telescope and on a clear day it’s stunning, you can see for miles.”