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Once dubbed the “Athens of the North,” Edinburgh was at the heart of Scotland’s enlightenment in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when an outpouring of intellectual and scientific thinking drove the belief that humanist and rational ideas could change society for the better. Scots such as David Hume, Adam Smith and Robert Burns rapidly advanced the fields of philosophy, political economics and literature, among many others. The vibrant culture of the city hasn’t changed – cafes and bars that once played host to intellectual discussion are now the birthplace of novels by authors such as Ian Rankin, Alexander McCall Smith and J K Rowling; the university has produced 20 Nobel laureates and counts Charles Darwin, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Prince William among its alumni; and every year the largest arts festival in the world welcomes opera, music, theatre, dance and comedy performers from every corner of the globe.

With such a rich history and creative contemporary culture to draw on, interior designers Matthews Mee were spoilt for inspiration. “We spent over a week in Edinburgh researching, photographing and interviewing locals,” says design director Robert Matthews. “Our inspiration came from total immersion and a real understanding of the neighbourhood. It was about finding the seeds of our design idea in the most unlikely of local places – a colour in a tile, a texture on a pavement, an object in museum or gallery. Then we applied our experience to make it work practically and coherently.”

The result is a boutique hotel that could only be exactly where it is. Hotel Indigo Edinburgh (Princes St.) sits right on the border between Edinburgh’s mediaeval old town and its Georgian ‘new’ town. Its Georgian frontage gives way to an interior every bit as vibrant as the city that surrounds it. Tweed, leather, cashmere and paper surface treatments combine mediaeval and Georgian influences. Oak bookcases stacked with leather-bound books, bedside lamps up-cycled from vintage typewriters, and books beside every door, all nod to the area’s rich literary history. Wall panels in stone grey reflect the local architecture and geometric rug designs reference nearby tiled shop fronts. Haggis-flavoured crisps, Edinburgh shortbread and Tunnocks teacakes are provided in every room. “We wanted to reflect the local neighbourhood and create a connection between the hotel and its guests rather than just designing a characterless branded hotel,” says Robert. “We really enjoyed the challenge of finding the quirky and unusual – every room is a unique shape and size, unlike a new-build hotel where the design for each room can be a repetition of the last. We loved this because it meant we could approach each room individually, so it was more like a personal domestic design project.”

Domestic personal touches extend from room numbers embossed and engraved in genuine leather to Harris Tweed furniture and clean-lined contemporary bathrooms with marble counter tops and slate flooring laid in traditional Georgian bond and herringbone designs. “I hope the hotel’s design makes visitors feel a connection with the city and the local neighbourhood in particular – and that it encourages them to seek out the quirky and unusual in Edinburgh,” says Robert. “And the one thing they must seek out is the hotel’s secret gin bar – if they can find it!”

Photography by IHG

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