The Dunstane Houses - Owner's Story

Owner's Stories

The story of The Dunstane Houses begins in 1988, when an ambitious young couple, Shirley and Derek Mowat, left their home in the Orkney Islands and set out for London – chasing the thrills that only a bustling metropolis can deliver. However, like many of the best-laid plans, things quickly went awry, after they decided to spend a short weekend with friends in Edinburgh. The weekend was only ever supposed to be a staging point on their journey – a stop off before bigger and better things, but it sparked a love affair with Scotland’s capital that has continued to the present day. They fell in love with Edinburgh’s vibrant cultural scene, its gothic architecture and its rich history. Like many before and after them - Shirley and Derek had discovered that Edinburgh can be hard to leave. They quickly settled into the rhythm of Edinburgh life and gained a broad range of work experience – Shirley worked in hospitality and gained a diploma in hotel management, while Derek worked with cars.

By the time they had reached their mid-twenties, they decided that they wanted to try something new and on a whim, purchased a guesthouse, called ‘39 steps’. Neither had any experience of owning their own business, but they were both eager to learn. Their guesthouse went from strength to strength and within three years of owning 39 steps, they had elevated it from two to three stars. This early success did not quench the couple’s entrepreneurial spirit and they also purchased two holiday cottages, which they transformed into four-star holiday homes. Soon, they were totally committed to hospitality – it had begun as a try-it-and-see experiment, become a vocation and was now a way of life. However, the pair were not satisfied by running a good hotel – they wanted to do something special and let visitors see the magic of Edinburgh through their eyes. Thus, when a charming Victorian building on West Coates came onto the market in 1998, they seized their opportunity and started the next chapter in their lives. Dunstane House was originally a merchant townhouse that had been operating as a two-star hotel for a number of years. Yet, it had the potential to be much, much more and the Mowats were determined to help it be realised. They spent the next decade transforming Dunstane House into one of the most beloved boutique hotels in Edinburgh, taking the principles that they had learned on their previous endeavours and applying them on a grander scale. Like all great hotels, service was at the heart of this mission and the Mowats worked hard to give guests an authentic taste of all the wonders that Edinburgh has to offer – creating a homely, yet luxurious environment that epitomises exceptional Caledonian hospitality. By 2007, Dunstane House was so successful that the couple felt ready to expand, thus they purchased an equally beautiful Victorian house just over the road. They treated the new property, Thistle Court (now Hampton House), with exactly the same love and care that they had Dunstane House and it also went from strength to strength. However, the Mowats’ entrepreneurial spirit remained undiminished – they passionately believed that Dunstane House could be one of the best hotels in the world, in one of the best cities in the world. Thus, in 2016, they embarked upon a massive refurbishment project – creating a stunning building that is the perfect blend of modernity and history. It reopened in 2017 offering a unique and distinctly Scottish experience – from the neoclassical rooms to the incredible all-day restaurant that celebrates the best of Scottish cuisine, everything is designed to give guests an authentic taste of Scottish culture. The Dustane Houses is very much an Edinburgh hotel and it reflects Derek and Shirley’s desire to show everyone else the city that they fell in love with. However, an Orcadian soul still bubbles beneath the surface and the culture of the Orkneys is proudly displayed on the walls for everyone to see. It’s the culmination of the Mowat’s thirty-year journey – that they thought would be one thing and ended up being something entirely different. Like all the best journeys, it is filled with the unexpected.

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