JAYNE HOUGHTON talks to GORDON CAMPBELL GRAY – the founder and creative force behind the Merchant House.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a pure hotelier and I have always been a hotelier. I studied hotel school and decided very early on in life that I did not want to be a corporate hotelier, working in a corporate environment. After my school and training I had my very first hotel at the age of 28. It was a small hotel in England and that was the beginning of the next part of my life. I could do what I wanted to do, without having a board of corporate directors telling me what to do. I am really anticorporate as I have always been a free spirit.
If you had to outline your ‘typical’ day, what would it look like?
Well, I wake up at a normal time, I’m definitely not the one that wakes up at 5:30 am to go to the gym. I still wake up early, but the first thing I like to do is enjoy a coffee and go through the papers. I am much more creative when working in my office at home. But most of the time I am heading to one of the hotels, as I really love the whole aspect of service, exquisiteness and detail.
The Merchant House has now reached its first anniversary. Tell us about your thought process with regards to its location and concept.
We’ve spent quite a long time looking for a property and we really looked everywhere. We even flew over in a helicopter looking at prospective sites. This building was available and we thought it was an unusual location however it was very interesting. We chose it and it was really challenging, because the building itself was very ugly, but, I think we could agree that it’s certainly not ugly now! We made something quite unique out of it and we already won awards for the best hotel lobby design.
Every aspect of this boutique hotel has been designed under your watchful eye. What inspires your creative process?
We always start with a blank canvas. We never use the same furniture or concept from a previous hotel. For this hotel our inspiration came from the fact that the building needed softening. So for example, in the library we introduced velvet and comfort. In general I love the concept of colour, vibrancy and comfort in kind of a modern looking yet minimalistic way.
You’re evidently very passionate about your work. How do you stay motivated?
When I walk into the hotel and see the staff motivated this is what excites me. The team in the end is what makes it work. What motivates me as well is my goal to make sure we’re busy and to make sure it works as a business. I feel like all components are right, since people come and love it here. What I want next is to boost the awareness of the hotel and its offerings.
What does the word luxury mean to you?
Well, first of all I hate the word luxury, because I think it’s been so exploited. You hear the word luxury everywhere and for everything and mostly, for the wrong things. Luxury to me is simplicity. I don’t need to see a luxury branded soap in a hotel bathroom, because I know in the end it’s still a chemical soap, expensive and over packaged. That’s not luxury. The word luxury really needs to be redefined. Simplicity, environmental consideration and no waste is a big luxury. In a grand hotel you get your bed sheets or towels changed every day. Who would think that was luxury?
Since you have several hotels around the world do you have a particular favourite in your group? Why?
I genuinely love the Merchant House as a lot of effort has been put into this place. I also love Scotland as it is my hometown.
Tell us why everyone should visit The Merchant House.
I think that the Merchant House is a little bit special and unusual. I don’t think it’s a typical ‘hotel’. When I walk in, I don’t feel stressed. Especially having breakfast here is very lovely, because you’re served at the table and you’re not walking around a buffet, as it is served à la carte. I have stayed in so many big five star hotels around the world and they only have these huge buffets. I rather like the idea of being looked after and I think the quality of this service at the Merchant House is rather special. The whole experience is just more like a proper hotel should be.
“We’ve spent quite a long time looking for a property and we really looked everywhere. We even flew over in a helicopter looking at prospective sites.”