Bringing more than a touch of bling to Pitlochry – Design Focus: Fonab Castle

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Perthshire has a new luxury hotel in the shape of Fonab Castle at Pitlochry. The Castle, which was purchased by the Clark family a decade ago, is now open for business following a lavish refurbishment costing millions. Susan Young reports, having had a wee preview a few days before the opening.

It’s not often you see a traditional Scottish castle with an adjoining contemporary Scandinavian style annex – but this juxtaposition actually works at Fonab Castle. Although the castle, was originally the home of the port and sherry owning Sandeman family, it was latterly the base for the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board who also built a building next to the castle. Says (quiet and retiring… not) General Manager Peter Sim “It was a monstrosity and it was taken down, but because there was planning in place, this allowed the current owners, Jed and Joanne Clark, to build instead, the new wing which has 13 bedrooms. Their daughter Becky Cross is an Architectural Visual Designer and she helped make the interior work the space, blending together a contemporary style with a traditional feel.”

Mind you, the Midlands-based couple had the castle for almost 10 years before embarking on the restoration project which was prompted by the fact that they decided to use Fonab Castle as the venue for their daughters wedding.

Says Jed, “I decided to buy it on a whim, and it remained closed for a number of years, but when we couldn’t find the perfect location for my daughter’s wedding we decided to renovate it for the occasion.”

However this couple don’t do anything by halves and since the wedding the hotel has been further enhanced. Explains Peter, “We’ve made some of the rooms into suites, and we have redecorated.”

The hotel now has a total of 26 bedrooms, 13 of which are housed in the castle with another 13 rooms in the adjoining new building. The clean lines of the Scandinavian style new build is a stark contrast to the traditional red sandstone of the castle.

Says Peter, “Fonab Castle is a lifestyle hotel, not a corporate hotel, or a boutique hotel. We are aiming to give our customers a unique experience. We want to offer a more personal service and give our customers a five-star level of attention and care. If you are the sort of person who likes good things, but at the same time you are down to earth you will like it.”

The new wing is clad in timber and the upper floor rooms all feature glass balconies, while the rooms on the lower floor have small patios. The new and the old are joined by the hotel’s main glass reception area which fits snuggly in the corner. From the moment that you walk through the door the quality of the finish and the quality of the interior design is apparent.

Peter describes the look of a hotel as a “contemporary take on a classical look.” And no expense has been spared. He says, “Jed and Joanne have been in the nightclub, hotel and property business for many years in the Midlands, and they have brought understated Midland bling to Pitlochry.”

For instance the ladies toilets feature Swarovski crystal taps and door knobs while the wallpaper in the penthouse is encrusted with Swarovski crystal. In fact it is obvious that all the wall coverings are a bit special. Cole & Son wallpaper features in all the contemporary bedrooms (in the new building) while in the slightly more traditional castle rooms its all Casamance wallpaper. The carpets are all bespoke, created by Newhey Carpets in the UK and every stick of furniture has been specially made. So by now you should be beginning to get the picture!

From the reception, you head left into the Tea Lounge – which has a feature doorway as well as a feature fireplace. It’s got a very Scottish feel but with a modern twist. It’s got oak wood panelling – and bespoke couches – covered in crushed velvet one in gold the other in purple while a leather chesterfield matchs perfectly. The tartan carpet also features shades of purple and gold. There is a large bespoke cabinet, designed by 360 Degrees, in the corner which Peter describes as his “Ministry of Malt”, it holds 140 malt whiskies.

The Tea Lounge leads into the Fonab Brasserie – a 120 cover restaurant with floor to ceiling windows displaying an amazing view, which leads out to a decked area. The dining room is on two levels – the upper level hosts the bar and a large wine rack, which lights up, and a white baby grand piano. The walls on the right, as you walk in, have bevelled edged mirrors with a diamond pattern creating reflections of the panoramic views on the top half of the wall and a walnut dado panelling below. This level also features the Fonab bespoke tartan carpet and leather banquettes. While the narrower floor below, leads out onto a terrace and features tiled flooring. This is more of a casual dining space,which will open from breakfast all the way through.

In order to reach the upper level you head back through the reception and up a modern staircase which features huge modern chandeliers. As well as taking you into the Sandeman Fine Dining restaurant, this also brings you to the new bedrooms.

The Sandeman also has a spectacular view and floor to ceiling windows. A modern stainless steel wine rack, the width of the room creates a feature wall, and semi circular booths mixed with seats upholstered in Antique green complete the look.

Head Chef Graham Harrower will preside over the dining at Fonab Castle, and his credentials are impeccable he comes from The Langdale Estate in the Lake District, where he headed up four restaurants and bars. He has previously worked in Scotland as a Commis Chef for Michelin-starred One Devonshire Gardens in Glasgow, and at Cromlix Country House Hotel.

The contemporary rooms include Woodland Rooms and Suites both patio versions and balcony rooms, and feature lovely shades of silver and pink, with the wallpaper carrying through the woodland theme – some of it features what appears to be thin tree trunks, while the  other wallpaper features floral patterns. The rooms also have contemporary furniture, including the bespoke crushed velvet sofas, while the rooms in the castle are more traditional – with walnut furniture and more classical lamps. The colours too in the castle are different – the colours are more traditional from golds to dark reds, but they are still very vibrant.

On the top floor of the castle there is a penthouse with a vaulted ceiling, a massive super emperor bed (the biggest I have ever seen) crystal chandeliers and the previously mentioned Swarovski encrusted wallpaper with a silver shag pile carpet. It’s definitely a luxury room. You can get to this room via the lift – which has the bling element… it’s all mirrored.

The traditional part of the new hotel features traditional radiators, original windows and cornicing, but the one room which is almost as was is the ‘Quiet Room’ which was once the entrance to the castle. It has all the original wood panelling, the parquet flooring has been refurbished and the room also host the castle’s spiral staircase which takes you to the castle rooms.

Now that the hotel is finished, the Clarks have set their sights on finishing their luxury leisure complex and spa complete with gym and pool, and of course treatment rooms. This two-storey, 1000sqm building will also provide a function suite. It will only be open to hotel guests and is situated two minutes from the hotel. And the dog loving couple have not forgotten their four legged friends – heated and air-conditioned dog kennels will be completed shortly.

The estate also includes 12 luxury holiday lodges also built in a scandinavian style one of which Peter Sim is luckily enough to be staying in at the moment. He is loving it, in fact he’s obviously loving the whole experience of Fonab Castle and no wonder…

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