Many hectic years in London had left them despondent and determined to seek out something better.
“We had procrastinated for years, mulling over ideas,” says Martin. In 2007 they finally put the wheels in motion, and visited Perthshire to size up some options. Booked into Craigatin House, a large Victorian villa lying in secluded wooded grounds to the north of the busy Highland town, it was only ever their intention to use the B&B as a base from which to explore. But at the breakfast table the couple’s smart attire prompted the then-owner of the property to strike up a conversation concerning the purpose of their visit.
“When he discovered we were looking for a place to run as a bed and breakfast, he ushered us into a more private room and explained he was looking to retire,” says Martin; “The house wasn’t on the market, but he was willing to sell.”
This little chat took place in June and four months later the house was theirs.
In the intervening period the couple handed in their notice at their respective jobs in sales and marketing. “It was a stressful time, but we felt that we were doing the right thing,” says Martin.
The absence of any practical experience running such a business didn’t worry them too much and in fact on moving to their new home they hit the ground running, welcoming guests on their first night, as they felt it was important to sustain the property’s income. Fortunately the 17-bedroom house – which comfortably accommodates the couple’s own living space alongside 13 guest bedrooms and a few rooms for staff – had been well maintained by its previous owners. But while it provided a welcoming place to stay, the couple were keen to create an interior that would really set the house apart.
“We’d been lucky enough to stay in some really nice hotels, and were keen to bring something of that style to the bed and breakfast experience,” says Martin, who is particularly fond of the timeless, eclectic look favoured by the Hotel Du Vin group.
“At the time, there weren’t many people delivering this kind of quality in a bed and breakfast,” he says.
Tackling all the bedrooms in one fell swoop wasn’t an option, intent as the couple were on maintaining a flow of guests. Instead they lavished attention on one bedroom at a time, completing 13 over an 18-month period. It is, says Martin, a never-ending process, as the couple like to pre-empt any shabbiness by re-visiting each room’s decor on a regular basis.
“We’ve got our eyes on some particularly lovely velvet drapes for the hall and dining room,” says Martin; “They’ll look very cosy during the colder months.”
He and Andrea especially enjoyed putting room schemes together without the constraints normally associated with home decorating.
“Nobody has to live with these results 24/7, which gives us the freedom to be a little bolder with finishes such as striped carpets and patterned wallpaper,” says Martin. Zoffany supplied these papers and the paint colours are by Farrow & Ball, while Edinburgh-based interior designers Cottonwood were called upon to supply many of the lush fabrics, which had to meet safety standards for a commercial environment.
Six-foot beds feature in the deluxe double rooms, while the venue’s luxury suite has its own sitting room and technical gadgetry including an espresso machine, iPod dock and Bluray DVD.
Structurally the couple altered nothing in this grand Victorian property, with the internal layout remaining as was, although the en suites have been treated to a contemporary makeover.
Last year, however, the couple replaced a small UPVC conservatory – which they managed to sell on eBay – with a smart extension.
Aberfeldy-based architects McKenzie Strickland Associates designed this double-height, light-filled space with its cedar wood exterior finish to create a dining area and lounge, warmed in the winter months by a log-burning stove and opened via glazed doors to a large patio during the summer. The most recent addition to this space is a brand new Snuggler chair from John Lewis, as if guests needed any more incentive to linger with the books and magazines, as well as the iPod and iPad provided for their use.
Meeting guests – predominantly a homegrown crowd, often from Glasgow and Edinburgh, in the winter months, with a more international representation during summer – is a constant source of excitement for Martin and Andrea.
They relish the chance to extol the virtues of their adopted hometown, from its fantastic theatre and famous salmon ladder to countless outdoor pursuits. You can even roll down a nearby hill in a giant sphere if you really want to.
And because the town has such good restaurants Martin and Andrea decided against offering evening meals. Instead they go the extra mile with breakfast, and point guests in the right direction at night. Not being tied to the kitchen sink of an evening allows the couple (who now employ six staff) to enjoy the lifestyle they set out to create.
“If we’d known how successful our move north was going to be, we would have done it much sooner,” Martin confirms.
It’s a story guests love to digest with their apple pancakes at breakfast time, and Andrea and Martin are only too delighted if they can inspire others to take the leap.
Double rooms start from £85 per room per night, for more information, tel: 01796 472478, www.craigatinhouse.co.uk