JIM Hamilton loves a good story – especially a funny one. But while his penchant for spinning a yarn undoubtedly makes him an entertaining dinner guest, it’s his ability to understand other people’s narrative that gives the designer his edge.
It is, he says, explaining his talent with commercial interiors, all about identifying the guests’ needs. And how do you do this? By foreseeing every facet of their stay – from how they’ll arrive (are they a couple who’ve argued on their way, or a business traveller who’s had a long flight?) to what they look for in a room (air conditioning so they don’t wake up gasping after a night on the tiles or the right in-room snacks). Then it’s a case of catering for these needs – as well as throwing in a few added extras.
“I design by scenario,” says Hamilton. “I try putting myself in the guest’s shoes, whether that be a 22-year-old woman away for a weekend with the girls or a 56-year-old businessman in town for a conference. I try to imagine them occupying the hotel at different times of the day, on different days of the week or in different months of the year.
“In my opinion, the success of a hotel weighs heavily on customer experience so you need to be able to paint the big picture as well as deal with the details. Part of that is recognising the tiny, incremental parts of the guest’s journey throughout the hotel – they should get a good feeling about the building from the moment they arrive at the front door.”
Now the man behind the iconic interiors of Tigerlily and Blythswood Square Hotel and Spa has put his stamp on The Murrayfield House. Owned by the G1 Group – who also own The Grassmarket Hotel, The Royal Mile’s Bank Hotel and The Central Hotel in Edinburgh – like the others in this hotel family, this property has its own personality.
Enjoying a prime position opposite Murrayfield Stadium, the West End property is a nine-bedroom Victorian villa which guests can book into by the room or take as an exclusive hire (it sleeps up to 22 guests). Hamilton has painted it head to toe in cocooning grey, creating a modern but warm interior that says “home from home” as well as “sophisticated party pad”. Every choice here has been made with comfort in mind, and while the look is undoubtedly cool, it’s deliberately accessible.
Furnished largely with items Hamilton sourced in France, Holland and India and finished with hi-tech twists and decorative detailing, the project kicked off by going back to basics. Having been previously sub-divided, the house’s original layout was restored as far as possible and integral features – such as architraves, mouldings and cornicing – reinstated.
“I wanted to respect and understand the building’s original architectural intent and recreate the core essence of the villa,” says Hamilton, who worked with G1’s in-house team of craftsmen to carry out the majority of the work. “It’s a beautifully proportioned old building so I didn’t want the interior to suddenly consist of a series of ‘modern for modern’s sake’ hotel rooms – so we worked with the architecture to mould a contemporary interior.”
The all-encompassing shade of Dulux grey serves two purposes here. Firstly, by not playing up the architectural detailing by painting the cornicing a different colour, Hamilton has eliminated any chance of the rooms feeling imposing. “Grand or over-elaborate detailing seldom puts you at ease,” he says. Secondly, he has created a dark and moody foil for the quirky pieces he’s chosen. “I wanted to introduce touches of cool without making it too edgy or intimidating,” he says of the iron lamps from Pols Potten and the modular “Eugine Bench” from Paris that can be both corner seat and sofa.
“You don’t want to feel like you have to take your shoes off at the front door – the intention is to be comfortable,” he says. So bespoke desks with reclaimed wood and satin-finish steel tops sit with cream linen and blond poplar wood, keeping the scheme fresh. In the bathrooms, textured tiles from Porcelanosa create a calm, tactile environment.
In the public spaces, the handmade has been favoured over the mass produced. Global references and hints of glamour abound, whether it’s the “Blue Genies” on a console table or the beaded chandeliers casting ever-moving shadows across the walls.
When it comes to the furniture, every element in the room has been carefully considered for practicality, style and scale. The bedrooms are extra-large with extra high beds which can accommodate luggage underneath, while the cavernous wardrobes (lined with funky floral and flock wallpapers) are designed to sit nicely with the high ceilings and provide ample storage space.
Technological touches are high-spec yet unobtrusive. iPod docking stations are positioned discreetly beside the beds and the obligatory flat-screen TV has been concealed behind the dressing table mirrors. Even the standard welcome pack has been re-imagined, with display boxes on the walls housing a miniature bottle of Glenkinchie whisky and fresh macaroons, while ornate glass jars contain piles of Tunnock’s goodies.
Hamilton’s sense of humour is evident throughout, from the concrete sofas in the front garden to the Jolly Roger bins found in the bathrooms. Other elements – such as “caution hot” luggage tags tied to the radiator and the slate “please do not disturb” signs with chalk for writing your wishes on – demonstrate a deft eye for detail.
“The goal was to inject some genuine, but quiet, attitude into the interior,” says Hamilton of his ability to create interiors that are populist but still pack a punch. “This one more than most has been about style fused with humour, practicality and some quirky details shaken into the mix.”
• The Murrayfield House, Edinburgh, 0131-347 1989, www.themurrayfieldhouse.co.uk, prices start from £135 per room per night or from £1,495 for the whole house.