Discover the enchanting story behind 100 Princes Street, in an exclusive interview with Toni Tollman. Drawing from Scottish explorers, the building's rich past and crafting a unique guest experience was at the heart of Toni’s design concept. With meticulous attention to detail, each element reflects Scotland's heritage, from bespoke designs by local artisans to themed rooms honouring famous adventurers. Join us as we delve into the captivating design journey of this iconic Edinburgh landmark.

What was the original brief behind 100 Princes Street? 

My late father was a visionary, always thinking beyond the obvious, challenging the knowns, and seeing opportunities others overlooked. In 2019, he was presented with an opportunity to purchase the Royal Overseas League Member's Club in Edinburgh. Despite being a landmark building, it had fallen on hard times. However, its location was magnificent—right in the heart of the city, with soul-stirring, unparalleled views of the remarkable Edinburgh Castle Mound and Princes Street Gardens.

The brief was to transform this dilapidated building into a luxurious boutique hotel with an exclusive member's club feel built on Red Carnation's exceptional service.

My approach to projects like this, similar to our other properties in the Okavango Delta, Botswana – Xigera Safari Lodge, County Mayo, Ireland, Ashford Castle, and in the Cederberg Mountains of South Africa, Bushmans Kloof, is to create a guest connection to the surrounding environment, the local culture, and heritage. I always begin with thorough research to ensure that the richness of the place is integrated into the property itself. With this foundation, I overlay distinguishing designs and unique concepts, frequently turning to local artisans, creators, and suppliers to ensure the suitable fabric is woven into the hotel.

100 Princes Street's only discernible remaining interior feature was a beautiful staircase, and my other favourite were two rooftop eves with original porthole windows. My brief and goal were simple: to honour the building, the people, and the place by integrating their remarkable past into an exciting new future, reflected in the hotel's design and operations.

What was the inspiration for the design of the hotel? 

As always, I draw inspiration and creativity from diverse sources. For 100 Princes Street, the foundation of the hotel's evolution were two interconnected inspirations: the building's history and its correlation to 19th—and 20th-century Scottish explorers.

The building itself is a landmark, perfectly scaled to construct a boutique hotel of 30- rooms with the ambience of an intimate private club. This architectural significance provided a solid basis for our design.

Equally significant is the historical context of the property. It was a haven and base for numerous Scottish explorers and travellers, who, upon their return, would share details of their expeditions, rejuvenate, enjoy a meal, and rest. This rich history forms a crucial part of our design concept.

As I delved into this aspect, I was stirred by the tenacious spirit of many Scottish explorers, particularly the botanists. My passion for exotic plants and flowers drew me to figures like Isobel Wylie Hutchison, one of the few female explorers in the early 1900s. Known for her extensive travels in the Arctic regions, she made several notable, often solo, journeys to Greenland, Iceland, Alaska, and the Arctic Circle. Her contributions to the knowledge of Arctic flora were significant, and her legacy continues to inspire female explorers and scientists today. I named one of the hotel's significant suites after her to honour her achievements.

The five-story staircase, a central feature of the hotel, is a unique design element that allows guests to immerse themselves in the world of Scottish explorers. Each floor represents a different continent and journey of exploration. We collaborated with two talented friends, Tom and Mathew from Croxford & Saunders, to create a five-story mural that vividly captures these historical events and stories. Guests are welcomed on a journey of discovery, like passing through pages of a beautifully illustrated storybook, ending at the top of the staircase with an aeronaut's hot air balloon-shaped chandelier.

The explorers' inspiration is also reflected in the public areas' ceilings, which feature hand-drawn and painted compass and map designs. Throughout the hotel, guests will find numerous artefacts and objects collected over the five years of this project, all related to the theme of exotic exploration and discovery.

What are the things that most excited you about this project? 

We have successfully created an era-transcending Scottish experience that seamlessly merges the past with the present. It is welcoming, enlightening, immersive, pleasurable, and gratifying.

A stay at 100 Princes Street is about being transported to another era while enjoying a luxurious, cosy, contemporary Scottish escape that pays homage to the country's legacy, history, talent, food, whiskies, and people. The list of Celtic features is endless.

As you step into 100 Princes Street, you are greeted by the meticulously restored original facade and doors, a testament to our dedication to preserving the property's historical splendour from its opening in 1879. The entrance, adorned with antique wood panelling and period-style oils of Scottish ancestry, is a gateway to a unique and historically rich experience.

Throughout the property, you will find exclusive tartan fabrics lovingly designed and woven by Araminta Campbell, a true Scottish artisan and genius.

Our team, dressed in uniforms inspired by the late legendary Scottish fashion designer Alexander McQueen, is a testament to our commitment to luxury and exclusivity. These uniforms, made from tartan, velvet, and lace and adorned with silver buttons, are a nod to one of his early 1990s collections. We are proud to have collaborated with the renowned designer Nicholas Oakwell and his company, No Uniform, who designed and worked hard to bring these unique uniforms to life.

The room I love most in the hotel is The Wallace Bar. Its antiqued leather walls and marble fireplaces provide a spellbinding view of the castle mound. It is the heart of the hotel, the meeting place, and the place to be seen. It's about being in a warm environment, surrounded by extraordinary beauty, listening to wonderful music, and savouring true comfort food, many recipes coming from my mother, Beatrice, Red Carnation's founder. I believe our Aberdeen Angus burger is undoubtedly the best in the world.

The Ghillie's Pantry was designed to showcase our extensive Scottish whisky collection, which includes over 100 unique and rare bottles. The room is also perfect for exclusive private dinners and events.

Each guest room and suite is a treasure trove of bespoke designs by local artisans, original works of art, carefully sourced artefacts, antiques, appropriate books, sumptuous fabrics, and exceptional amenities. Every detail of the design was carefully considered and chosen, and each piece was collated over the five years of this project. These seamlessly blend with sophisticated yet simple-to-use electronic equipment.

What do you hope guests will take away from their experience at 100 Princes Street?

I hope guests will appreciate that creating 100 Princes Street was a joyful journey of discovery, an ode to the great Scottish adventurers who walked its corridors before us. Although the spirit of adventure once again runs through the veins of the building, the hotel's core focus is always on providing the ultimate guest experience.

I hope they will love the hotel's magical atmosphere. Steeped in history, it is splendidly luxurious, wonderfully cosy, and endlessly welcoming. The hotel offers a perfect blend of tradition and modern comfort, sustained by Red Carnation's unrivalled, renowned guest service.

I want guests to appreciate the meticulous attention to detail in every facet of the hotel. Every element has been thoughtfully designed, created, and chosen to ensure a seamless and luxurious stay.

Ultimately, I hope guests leave with a sense of having been part of something special. In this place, history and contemporary luxury coexist harmoniously, providing an unforgettable Red Carnation experience, one that highlights and celebrates Scotland's rich heritage and warm hospitality.