Make Mothballing Work For Your Business – Advice from leading designer John Amabile

Given continued uncertainties about the Coronavirus pandemic and the economy, many independent hospitality businesses in Scotland are considering putting their properties in mothballs over the winter months – or have already done so.

This is obviously a serious decision to take, with significant negative implications. However, there is one potential silver lining: Mothballing provides a unique opportunity to re-design and refresh a property and so enhance things for 2021.

According to leading Scottish interior designer John Amabile, with good planning and a bit of inspiration, this can be done on a budget. So, even if money is really tight, you should act. Read on for his advice:


Q+A with John Amabile

Why is mothballing an opportunity?

Mothballing gives you a one-off chance to take a step back and think about your business. It also offers the time and space to do work on your property without inconveniencing or getting in the way of your guests or customers. It is an unmissable window in which you can refresh, renew and refurbish.


Is a re-fresh worth it?

Investing time in thinking about how to improve your business is always worth it. Remember, one of the biggest mistakes is not to move forward – if you don’t, then you’ll be left behind. It only takes a competitor to open up and offer something that is more stylish and fresher than your product and you’ll be in trouble.

Another vital thing to keep in mind is that doing a re-fresh or re-design gives you something positive to talk about – a Coronavirus story that isn’t all ‘doom and gloom’. I have a friend in Inverness, who does not have a booking till March; she has taken the opportunity to spring-clean and refurbish and she’s telling everyone about it.


What should the first priority be?

First, be honest with yourself! Have an warts-and-all review of what your property or premises look like. If anything looks tatty or down at heel, or if a room looks tired or outdated, rest assured that your customers will have noticed.

Next, prioritise general repairs that you’ve been putting off for too long. Have a look at what you’ve got and re-jig it to look better. Clear the clutter and spruce things up – this can often entail nothing more than a new coat of paint, or sanding down rough edges.

Then look for some easy wins – think new cushions, throws, lampshades, and art. Even if you are working to the tightest of budgets, it is amazing what you can do to re-invigorate a sofa and, in turn, a whole room. You don’t need to go ‘Christian Lacroix’, there are some amazing interior bargains out there that you can go wild with.


What other way can costs be kept low?

It is amazing what you can find on-line. Visit the obvious sites such as Gumtree and ebay, but also take a look to see if your local area has a web-based ‘for sale’ site. In the real world, use your local community resources and charity shops and see what you can re-purpose or get for free.


What should the next step be?

The next step is to think on a room-by-room basis. Choose the rooms that need most work, or the rooms that are at the heart of your business. For example, a B&B owner might want to create a better ambience in their sitting room, while a restauranteur might want to focus on their dining areas.

In everything you do, be mindful of your market and aim to be the best in that market. Have a strong understanding of who you are serving and have a good vision of what you want to supply. Ask yourself: ‘Am I creating the right look and feel for my customers?’.

You can go a long way by giving a room a theme: I have clients in hospitality who have created ‘Scottish Rooms’, or rooms based around a colour. By going down this route you will help make your property and your brand stick in people’s minds. For example, potential customers might say: ‘Do you remember that place we saw on-line with the antlers? Let’s take another look at that and book.’


What current trends are winning new customers?

I don’t really like to focus on trends as they are so influenced by location, budget and market. However, if there is one theme that seems to be big across the board right now it’s Scottish-Scandi. This is all about painted timber, muted colour palettes, greys and whites, heather, stags, plaids, tartans and tweeds. It’s a great starting point for any refresh.


Where can I go for inspiration?

If you are craving the OH WOW look then take a look at my Essentials Range of cushions and curtains. They are the perfect way to enhance and co-ordinate your rooms with textiles and colours. (NB: not all are in fire-retardant fabrics, so please keep this in mind as you browse).

For more inspiration, my YouTube ( and Facebook ( channels are full to the brim with top tips. Why not also search #amabilehomehaven on Instagram?


What about bigger changes?

If you have the time and money for a bigger project (for example, repurposing a room as a new bedroom) then, yes, go for it, especially if you can provide a bit of man-power to keep costs down. However, remember that major capital expenditure may not translate into added profit if the work generates no new long-term demand.


… and marketing?

Once you’ve put the leg-work in to spruce up your property, don’t forget to use it as an opportunity to spruce up your marketing.

Re-shoot publicity and web-site photos to show your new, refreshed look. Use a combination of images – for example, some wide shots, a couple of detail shots; photos of signage, and a close-up of your full-Scottish breakfast. In short, put together a collage of your new best bits.

Remember that people are nosey and love seeing what other people are up to in terms of interior design. This is shown by my Instagram page, which I just started recently as a side-line, but which now has over 2,300 followers.