THE PERFUME STUDIO - THEN & NOW
The building that is now known as The Perfume Studio was originally a croft house – the “end croft house” – belonging to lady crofter Annie McLennan. In the photo below Annie and her dog are sitting outside of the house, which is now the gift shop section of the Perfume Studio and can still be seen from the outside of the building.
Annie was born on 29th August 1873 to Donald and Margaret McLennan (nee Urquart - from Gairloch) and died peacefully in her home on 28th April 1950. Annie’s brother, Donald McLennan from Edinburgh, inherited the croft and rented it to Alex McLennan of 43 Mellon Charles, who worked at the Naval Base at Mellon Charles beach. At this time, the “wee” house was used as storage for hay at one end, and books at the other end! Alex liked to while away his time sitting and reading in the old house!
Annie was a spinster crofter, known to be feisty and a certain match for her fellow male crofters, especially at sheep dipping time, when she would be in the thick of it and putting all the men in their place! One particularly vocal toothless person with whom she was always falling out, she described (in Gaelic) as having a “mouth like a torn pocket”.
Annie’s niece, Isobel, and her husband Gerhardt Steinberg, inherited the croft when Isobel’s father, Donald, passed away. Gerhardt oversaw the building of the house that is now at number 52 Mellon Charles and on Isobel’s retirement from teaching in Edinburgh, she and Gerhardt took up full-time residence in Mellon Charles. Isobel then cleaned up the old croft house and, as well as teaching art at the local schools, she ran a craft shop in the old house during the summers. She was well known in the area for her beautiful painting and weaving.
In 1994 Dr George Dodd, realising a long- cherished dream of becoming a crofter, moved from the midlands and purchased the croft from the Steinbergs, who had moved to North Kessock due to ill health.
George, or “Dr Smell”, as he was affectionately known, was a world-respected scientist in the field of smell, and in 2000 George and his partner Liz Mountford opened the Perfume Studio in a couple of second-hand portacabins on the croft. The old croft house was only used for storage.
Designing his own perfumes, and with Liz manufacturing soaps, toiletries and cremes on the site, the Perfume Studio attracted locals and visitors alike. As the business grew and more and more visitors came to the area it became natural to start offering drink and light refreshments - to help customers recover from the drive down the single track road! (Initially, many people were sceptical that no-one would be bothered to drive the three miles from Aultbea, some of which was, and still is a single track road, to come to the Perfume Studio.)
After a particularly violent winter in 2004, the portacabins were badly damaged, necessitating the need for a more permanent structure. After much deliberation, the groundworks were laid for the building in its current form and local builder, Murdo Macrae, sensitively and expertly built the new Perfume Studio around Annie Mackenzie’s original croft house. If you study the building on the outside, the old and the new are obvious, and on the inside you can see the two gable ends housing the original fireplaces, the doorway and window spaces of the old house.
The Perfume Studio opened its doors in the season of 2006. This time it incorporated space for a gift shop and a cafe equipped with a small kitchen. The ‘new’ Perfume Studio and Aroma Café has been open to visitors every year since, although only on a seasonal basis (typically from Easter to the end of October).
Liz, supported by local staff, did the baking and ran the cafe and gift shop, as well as making the soaps and cremés that were sold in the shop. George, now with a large and luxurious laboratory, created new products and could work on his various outside scientific commitments from this beautiful space in the Highlands.
In 2010, George and Liz sold the premises and the business they had created to new owners Adrian and Katie Hollister. Originally from the home counties, they had moved into the area to take early retirement, and discovered to their complete surprise that their new next- door neighbour was Dr George Dodd who had been Adrian’s tutor at Warwick University back in the 1970’s! Deciding they were actually too young to retire, they then purchased the Perfume Studio from George and Liz, who had decided to retire!
Katie had always enjoyed baking, and the Aroma Café gave her the opportunity to produce and share her wonderful home-made baking. Her baking has become well known in the area, and she now also makes home-made chocolates and other sweet delights for the Café.
Adrian, utilising his first degree in Biochemistry, now makes the perfumes, cremés and soaps for the Perfume Studio and has introduced a number of new products in recent years, including a range of liquid soaps and hand lotions. He has also had the opportunity to develop his passion as a photographer. The large space that George Dodd used as laboratory has been re-designed to produce a Studio equipped with iMac’s, large format printers and scanners. In addition to running small photography workshops, he and a colleague have created an internationally renowned photography workshop business (Open Studio Workshops) that operates from the studio in the winter, when the days are shorter and there is beautiful soft low light.
The Aroma Café not only offers Katie’s baking and confectionary, but also sources as much of its food produce as possible from within the area, and is the proud holder of a Taste Our Best Accreditation. The Gift Shop and Perfumery provides a great range of fragranced products made on site, and overall the Perfume Studio is rated as a five-star Visitor Centre by Visit Scotland.
We are extremely proud of the Perfume Studio, and strive to maintain its high quality standards and its uniqueness in the Highlands. Helping us with this are our wonderful team headed up by David Olds and Anna Tutsek (since 2013) and Jasmine Connop who has worked with us since 2016.