Aurora Hotels’ boss Steven McLeod has breathed new life into The Cairn Lodge & Hotel Auchterarder with an extensive £3m refurbishment. It was Steven’s own design vision, and he had very clear ideas on how to do the Victorian property justice in his restoration. He explains, “The Cairn is an icon in Auchterader, although I think that it’s always been considered as a bit of a poor relation to Gleneagles. I didn’t want to do a quick paint job and open the place with a low average room rate. The Cairn deserved better than that, so I went for luxury and comfort, as I feel sometimes the latter is completely sacrificed for design’s sake. Customers need to appreciate something better than home, and want to feel comfortable with it. Because the Cairn has been around forever, a lot of people have an opinion on it, so I listened to a lot of feedback too. One particular gripe was that the hotel was too cold, so I installed a few luxury gas fires. I also wanted a grill over a formal restaurant, so customers didn’t feel as if they were going to be robbed to sit in beautiful surroundings.”
The whole project took around two years to complete, and The Cairn now boasts 10 rooms, plus bar and grill, and a separate lodge, which is currently being refurbished into either self-catering accommodation, or as an additional four rooms. It opens later this month.
As you drive up to the Cairn, you can immediately spot attention to detail, from the new fountain at the foot of the entrance stairs to the candles that light your way as you climb them to the main entrance. Once inside the glass-fronted atrium leading to reception, you’re hit by a sense of opulence with a heavy emphasis on monochrome, with twinkling lights and mirrored walls. There’s also a small grand piano in the far right corner of the square space, opposite the reception desk, while the near corners to the entrance have a cluster of white chairs orbiting a black table.
To the right hand-side of the reception is the bar, which is quite compact, comprising a bar in a nook along the back wall, and a seating area, with gas (real effect) fire on a low white marble plinth with a mirrored flume, and surrounded by silver oriental-looking vases. Again, this room is dominated by black and white – silky black wallpaper, black carpet and white furniture. There’s also quite an interesting ceiling lighting feature which looks like the space craft Superman travelled to earth from Krypton in. These lights have been used throughout the grill too, and were imported from Italy. The bar, which is housed in its own wee nook, has a marbled bar top and a mirrored back bar. There are also three white leather bar stools facing a wall in the only corner opposite the bar and these walls have been panelled in white wood.
Back to the reception and straight on, you come to the largest area in the Cairn, the 75-cover Grill. The Italian lighting has been scaled-up in here and really stands out in a space that is essentially divided into four areas. There’s a smaller square separate area as you enter leading into the main body of the Kirk, off which is an area at the back occupied by a white leather banquette that has been encrusted with Swarovski crystals, and a cosy corner with real (effect) fire at its centrepiece.
Steven is particularly proud of the seating in this area and the comfort factor was key in their design, and these high backed chairs are ones you can sink into. They also tick the style box. In keeping with the rest of the design, they’re black and white, and a bit sparkly, and all paired with black tables. The carpet throughout is black and the walls have been decorated in a mixture of plain white, and white padding in the white banquette corner.
I also got a tour of most of the ten rooms, and I have to say, they have a WOW factor, and each is unique in shape and layout, but with certain design constants – such as the large beds, Egyptian cotton sheets black fur throws and black carpets which, like all of the other fabrics and curtains, were sourced by a Stirling-based company called Guardian Soft Furnishings. The company was also responsible for the chandelier lighting in the rooms. Company director Corinne Muir, said, “It was great working with Steven, as his visions are always superbly on the ball. I think that he is taking hotel design to a brand new level, and he knows exactly what it is that he wants to achieve. We also had a bit of fun with the design, like blinging up some of the seating with Swarovski crystals.”
The bathrooms also merit a mention. They are quite something and, like the rooms, come in lots of different shapes and sizes. Again, there are standards – a white minimalist and clean design, with Duravit fixtures and fittings.
If Steven is right and The Cairn was known as the poor relation to Gleneagles, what he has done in the last two years should knock any such notion into a cocked hat.