Design Focus: Craigellachie Hotel, Banffshire

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The Craigellachie Hotel in Speyside is a landmark with whisky enthusiasts due to its renowned whisky bar, The Quaich. It has recently changed ownership and has benefitted from a “sensitive” make-over, which was completed just in time for the recent Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival. As is often the case, when we visited it was still a work in progress, as the new Quaich Bar is still under construction, but the hotel itself was open for business as is the brand new pub on the ground floor.
The hotel was originally built in 1893 as a destination for the Victorians who wanted to take in the clean air and enjoy the local countryside, and it was bought by Londoner Piers Adam, who is best known for his involvement with some of the capital’s most popular night clubs, Mahiki’s, Bodo’s Schloss and Canaloa, Whisky Mist, and his private members venue, the Brompton Club.
You might have thought he would have brought some of his Londonesque style glamour to the Highlands, but in fact the make-over of the Craigellachie, involves very neutral colours and furnishings.
The hotel’s original features, such as fireplaces and cornicing have been retained, and there are some lovely antique furniture pieces. Its open fires have been re-instated, and each of the hotel’s 28 bedrooms and en-suites have been refurbished in keeping with the traditional feel of the hotel.
Thomson Projects carried out the work although Malcolm Thomson told DRAM, “Originally our brief was to refurbish the bedrooms, and do some external work. But then Piers came back and asked us to do the Copper Dog pub, breakfast room and new Quaich bar.”
If you are a returning visitor to the Craigellachie the first thing you notice is that when you walk in, the Quaich Bar, which was situated on your right and was a traditional dark green and tartan bar area with walls filled with whisky, has been converted into a bright and airy space which looks twice the size. This area is now considered to be a room for meetings – a boardroom of sorts, and houses a couple of cream sofa’s, a chaise lounge and an antique sideboard which acts as an honesty bar. The windows too appear much bigger – you certainly hardly recognise it as the same room.
The new Quaich Bar, which will open later in the summer, is now situated at the rear of the hotel, and is much larger and brighter than the original. The wall will still be lined with whisky but now they will be cased bespoke cabinets, created by Thomson Projects, from ex-VAT (not of the HMRC variety) timbers. Explains Malcolm, “The timbers have all been kiln dried and the saw-milled timbers made into the panels. The shelves of the new cabinets are all under lit and give the bottles a golden glow. The bar itself will be formed in the shape of half a Quaich, but will be wooden like the original Quaich’s were, it is currently being hand-made.”
The ceiling in the new Quaich bar has also been wood panelled in Oregon pine, which is not original, but has been created by Thomson’s.
The other change to this part of the hotel is the addition of a balcony. Kevin explains, “When we looked at some old photographs of the hotel from around 1896 we spotted it had a balcony. And once Piers saw it he had to have it back. It is a direct replica of the original style.” Says Malcolm, “We had to re-create the original lattice work but I think it was worth it because it looks great.”
The balcony which is fairly substantial offers great views over the Spey valley and also presents guests with the ideal area to partake of a smoke.
Once you have got over the shock of the Quaich bar moving, you can enjoy the new-look entrance to the hotel which has also been given some TLC – all the floors throughout the hotel have either been restored or carpeted. In the public areas the wooden floors have been stripped back and lovely Chinese rugs now adorn them, while the stairs will be carpeted in Tweed. In the foyer the fire has been restored and now works, in fact all the fires in the hotel are now in working order.
General Manager, Kevin Smith explains, “We had five fireplaces, but only one worked. Now they all do, and we will be burning peat in them.”
The library has been re-decorated in a lovely yellow shade from the Farrow and Ball palette – in fact all the paint used is from the same colour palette – pale yellow’s, blues, sage green and cream. While the fabrics and upholstery mainly come from Johnstons of Elgin, and feature softly twisted line and lambswool yarns and tweedy marls. While the many throws you see throughout the hotel, particularly in the bedrooms, are also made of cashmere and from Johnstons too. Says Kevin, “We wanted to use natural fabrics, and have quality rather than bling. We wanted the hotel to have a country house feel and using a mix of fabrics and a neutral palate creates this impression.” There are also lots of different cushions scattered around which, although coming from Johnstons, feature fabric from Timorous Beasties.
The biggest changes in the hotel are the two wining and dining areas – the Quaich has been moved, and downstairs a new pub has been created called the Copper Dog.
Says Malcolm, “The Copper Dog was very much an organic build. We stripped the area back and then we could see the space that we had to work with. Before the area had been the dining room and it was very dark and quite dingy. When we stripped it back we discovered some lovely stone work and we simply restored the stone walls and wooden floors and painted the concrete floors. We also created walls lined with reclaimed whisky vat timbers which I think gives a traditional but homely feel to the bar. The idea was to make it look like it was a bar that had evolved and not one that had been designed.”
The Copper Dog, mischievously named after the cylinders distillery workers used to pilfer whisky from, also has a bar which is made of copper, with the front of the bar looking like it is made from whisky vats, and the lamps are also copper pan lamps. The furniture has been sourced from auction rooms, and much of it looks like it was made for the pub. Guests can now see into the kitchen, and can savour the tempting smells of the food, while large rugs add warmth to the bar.
Says Kevin, “Local suppliers have been handpicked including beef from Raeburn’s in Huntly, game from Estates Direct and sustainable seafood coming direct from Buckie. The bar is well stocked with a range of lagers and beers with Tennent’s lager on tap and a selection of real Scottish ales from the Windswept Brewing Company among other local breweries.”
Upstairs all the rooms have been redecorated and refurnished and every bathroom has been totally renewed. The colours are neutral, the fabrics are all top quality and the furniture includes four poster beds. All the bathrooms are tiled, with slate floors and Burlington sanitary ware. Says Malcolm, “They were originally avocado and that pink from the 70’s. Now they are white and we’ve used traditional tongue and groove wood and slate, with white tiles.”
Piers said of The Craigellachie, “Most of my businesses are related to bars and restaurants in London and internationally so I really hadn’t considered a hotel in the Highlands of Scotland. However, there is something special about The Craigellachie and Speyside. There is a real sense of community in the area and I really want The Craigellachie to continue to be part of that!” I’m sure it will be.