Greystones: Oban’s Hidden Gem
They call it “a hidden gem in the heart of Oban,” and, indeed, this describes Greystones Bed & Breakfast perfectly. For the lucky guest who stays here, tranquillity, exquisite décor and the warm hospitality of Suzanne and Mark Phillips await - not to mention one of the best views in Oban!
Suzanne and Mark are both commercial architects, having met while they were working in Hong Kong. Together, they moved to Edinburgh. “We used to come to Oban for the weekends, and each time, we didn't want to go back,’ Suzanne said. “Then a fabulous house in Benderloch came up for sale. It was a private house and we fell in love with it. We couldn't afford it as architects, so we decided to turn it into a B&B. We were there for eight years, then we were ready for a change, so we moved to Malta for a year.”
As it turned out, Malta wasn’t really for them, so they came back to the UK and started looking for a new opportunity. “Everywhere we looked, we kept benchmarking it against Oban. Then, in 2012, this place came up for sale.
We seem to be stuck on old houses that no one else can work out what to do with,” Suzanne laughed.
When they bought it, the property was operating as the Kimberly Hotel, but before that, it served as Oban’s maternity hospital. It was originally built as a private home in 1885 by bachelor diamond mine magnate Hugh Cowan, and he named it after the Kimberly diamond mine in South Africa that made him a fortune.
A Category B listed property, it is one of Oban’s finest Victorian villas. Built of stone under a hipped slate roof with conical turret, the exterior features crow-stepped gables, a corner turret and an impressive entrance portico with crenellations. With its prominent views over Oban Bay, and location on a quiet street right off the hustle and bustle of Oban’s tourist district, it’s one of the finest locations in the area.
In its incarnation as The Kimberly, the building was divided into 18 small, oddly shaped, guest rooms, with a conservatory that served as the dining area. The first thing that the Phillips wanted to do is open up the house to create five bigger guest suites. “We demolished the conservatory and opened up the front room as a reception area, and moved the dining into the turret room,” Suzanne shared. “We weren't looking for anything as big, but this gave us the space to be generous. If you have a big bedroom, you want to have a really luxurious bathroom as well. Since we didn't need to have so many bedrooms, we could be generous and put in big bathrooms as well.”
Being a listed building, all renovations had to be approved. “The planners were really supportive of what we were doing because we were restoring it back to its original form, and the building really shines again.” Suzanne said.
One of the challenges was, as it is with any project like this, was the money. “We were taking down so many walls, and inevitably you rip a wall out and the floor is rotten underneath. It's just things you encounter when you demolish, and the cost goes up and up. It was pretty nerve-wracking!”
Another big challenge? “Inserting something modern into something that was quite old. There's this contemporary juxtaposition with something very old, but it works,” Mark explained. “You appreciate the modern and the original, and by juxtaposing two styles, it compliments and amplifies the beauty of each.”
Almost all of the rooms boast breath-taking views of Oban Bay, and the décor is minimalist, but elegant and chic. There is work by local artists, such as their neighbour Alice Strange, as well as items the couple collected from living around the world. “It is really just our style,’ said Suzanne. “We paint everything white, and by doing that the original features shine through. It's a fairly classic style, it's not fashionable.”
Suzanne’s favourite room is the dining room. “It is a fabulous room. The cornicing has a circular pattern over the turret, and it's just amazing that they would do that in those days, the level of craftsmanship. It's a really beautiful room. And everyone loves the turret bedroom, it's our most popular room. It's quite unique.”
As the former maternity hospital, Greystones can offer guests an experience that may be unparalleled - the chance for a daughter to stay with her mother in the very room in which she was born. Many brides choose to do this on the night before their weddings.
Greystones may be one of the most stunning B&Bs in the area, but it is the personalised service that Mark and Suzanne provide that makes it truly special. They are happy to organise trips and cater for their guests, creating an atmosphere of peace and tranquillity. For this very reason, they don’t host children or pets. All the guest rooms are luxuriously appointed with free Wi-Fi. Breakfast is always a special occasion, with treats such as kedgeree, frittatas and local smoked fish, in addition to a traditional cooked breakfast.
Greystones has garnered several accolades, including the Scottish Hotel Awards Rising Stars for 2013, the Style Award for 2014, as well as the Renovation Award from Argyll and Bute Council Sustainable Design Awards.
Visit http://www.greystonesoban.co.uk or call 01631 358653.