I’ve visited The Lochside on Islay on numerous occasions over the last 20 years… I’ve seen it at its prime, enjoyed the hospitality of its former licensee, the famous Duffie; and last year, after Neil Morrison took it over. I stayed for a weekend. I was actually quite sad to see how tired the hotel had become over the years. But knowing Neil had taken it I didn’t think it would be too long before it had a refurbishment. I wasn’t wrong.
Neil, who also owns McGochans on Mull, embarked on the refurbishment programme with the help of designer Ranald MacColl, but it wasn’t without its challenges. Namely, once they started working on the hotel, it soon became apparent that it needed to be stripped right back to the brick. And Neil had an ambitious time scale – seven weeks.
Says Neil, “When I first took on the Lochside, I realised it was tired, but I could see the potential. Sometimes you can renovate bit by bit, but I could see that we needed to refurbish it all in one go.”
Neil who has initially leased the hotel, but with an option to buy, has used Ranald before. Says Ranald, “I didn’t really have a brief, I worked with him on McGochans two years ago – I had two projects the main bar and the Bar Beag gaelic for wee bar. Then we did the upstairs more of a function suite. A three pronged project. So Neil knows what I do, and he was happy to let me get on with it at The Lochside. He said “I trust you to do your thing.”
Ranald continues, “He had a tight budget for 12 bedrooms and en-suites, which were done totally from scratch. We took the walls down and rebuilt. Downstairs we had the two bars, the main bar which is the whisky bar, and Duffies bar the small quirky bar, and the dining area – and it all had to be done in 7 weeks.”
Before Ranald’s intervention there was light timber everywhere. Now the hotel has been zoned using various timber stains. Says Ranald, “It was a tight budget and although we have replaced a lot of the timber, we have stained other areas such as the floors – it’s the same floor throughout, but treated differently in each public area. ”
Now, when you come into reception, there is a statement fireplace. The original fireplace had a wooden surround, but now it has a slate surround that stretches to the ceiling, with wee shelves for candles. The whole area has been redecorated and Warwick plaid used for the curtains. There is not so much a rug as an inset carpet. Says Ranald, “We want an all timber floor in the reception area, so we cut out a bit of the flooring and created a tray and sat a carpet in there and put a brass surround on it. It works well.”
To the right of the reception area is the first of the hotel’s two bars. When it came to the two bars it was a difficult call from a design point of view. Says Ranald, “For years people had been coming from all over the world to this bar, and they must have been disappointed when they got here. It may have been renowned the world over for its whiskies, but it didn’t look the part. I didn’t want people to be disappointed any more. I decided on a traditional look, but with a bit of design flair, I definitely couldn’t make it too contemporary.” The main whisky bar in the hotel used to have a large dark gantry which now has a new home at The Ballygrant – another award winning whisky bar; now the back bar in The Lochside is crafted from oak, and shelving has been added to display the whiskies, although Ranald admits more may need to be added.
The new bar now has a granite top which is creamy/brown, and in the middle where the till is, there will be a block of peat encased in stainless steel mesh (but it is not there yet). Says Ranald, “I knocked a hole through from the reception and put in a spyhole window, now you can see who is in the bar from reception area.
This bar, which has been painted a light sage green, takes you through to the dining area and the conservatory– and the view from here is amazing, right out over the bay. There is a subtle change of colour in the floor moving from the designated bar area to the dining area, whereas in the bar it is a rich oak, in the dining area the floor is darker, and more the colour of burned oak like a whisky barrel. This area has been painted a light grey. Along the left hand side of the dining area there is some fixed seating, with the back cushions hanging from a galvanised steel road. The fixed seating is a leather-like material, while the backs are in tweed. A mural is still to be completed on the wall. Says Ranald, “It will feature a flock of birds in silhouette. It will be very subtle.”
There is, what looks like a large butt in the middle of the dining area just before you step into the conservatory, It is in fact barrel staves, which have been staggered so it looks like a giant woven basket. The staves were burned until they were black and then scrapped back. It ties in with the whisky credentials of the bar but is also a piece of art in itself. All the table in the dining area are washed oak, and the seats also have a plaid back.
Duffies Bar, which lies immediately adjacent to the main whisky bar, is for the locals. Says Ranald, “One of comments when we started was, I hope you are not going to spoil this bar, but I think everyone is happy with it. I need to make it quirky.”
He continues, “We have put in a wooden bar and elevated it with wee metal columns, and a sheet of rusted metal has been used as a bar top, and sealed. The front of the bar has been made to look like driftwood. Throughout the bar the ply panelling has all been removed, and the original stone work has been revealed, repointed and repaired. The timber floor has been sanded down, and a couple of steel girders have been left exposed. There is also some stained glass to come.”
The bedrooms have all being totally renovated with new en-suites, and a completely fresh look. There are three different colour ways – purple, bracken brown and green, and the tweed curtains and bespoke headboards tie in, as do the other soft furnishings. The walls and ceilings have all been painted the same colour, and the carpets are all stone coloured with a brown fleck. Says Ranald, “Everything has been colour co-ordinated.”
As for the 7-week deadline, Ranald is first to admit there is still more than a little bit of snagging, but take it from me the opening weekend was a blast, and the hotel looked ready for the influx of customers that I am sure it is going to get.