Here's the latest from Edinburgh, Scotland, where I'm having a grand time seeing the design sights. It's my last full day in town before I head out to Glasgow tomorrow morning, but I saw plenty that I want to report back on.
First, let me start by mentioning dinner last night. No haggis this time, but I did have a delicious bit of salmon, prawns, fennel, and eggplant at a very charming spot on King George IV Bridge. The place is called the Outsider, and after several bellies full of pub food over the last couple days, the vegetables tasted amazing. The decor had a very appealing modern farmhouse vibe with simple wooden chairs, low light, and abstract paintings on the walls. And all with a stunning view of the Edinburgh Castle.
On to this morning, when I sprang out of bed after a fitful night of sleep and an impromptu rewatch of the Hangover. Not the soporific dram I'd hoped a second viewing would be.
I raced out of the city center in a taxi toward the firth-side neighborhood of Portobello to have a look at the home and office of Kieran Gaffney of the local architecture firm Konishi Gaffney. It was a very charming place indeed, a neighborhood-appropriate construction that bears all the marks of the time Gaffney and his wife and partner, Makiko Konishi, spent living in Japan. Gaffney was an early employee of Thomas Heatherwick's London studio, so his pedigree in modern UK design is strong.
After a visit with Kieran I was off to the Grassmarket, a shopping district just down from my hotel. There I popped in on Fleur Mackintosh, who runs the vintage clothing shop Godiva. After that it was a quick look (no pics I fear) at the Malcolm Fraser-designed Dance Base, a dance studio, and then on to the design book and object shop Analogue.
Gaffney and Mackintosh had both sung the praises of proprietor Russell Ferguson. We had a nice chat and I quickly fell for his store. He said that "Edinburgh already had a fine art bookshop as well as a photography bookshop, so we hope to be more of a design and graphic design resource."
A resource indeed. Ferguson also gave me a couple books by Edinburgh illustrator Nigel Peake which I devoured alongside my delicious beef and carrots at the bistro Spoon. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
After Analogue I popped back into the Hotel Missoni for a proper tour around and did my best to play along with Spot the Design Chair. Fun stuff.
Then I raced down the Royal Mile to the foot of the tony boulevard to have a tour of the very strange, very controversial Scottish Parliament building. It was designed by the late Catalan architect Eric Miralles and is a busy thatch of organic forms and insectlike filigree. And I'm being nice to it.
Edinburghers love their Georgian town, so modern design often gets a bad rap here. Add to that a building that came in late and over budget with an architect who died along the way (confrontational design often needs its architects as public champions), and a situation opposite queen's Hollyrood Place and just at the foot of the iconic Arthur's Seat crag, and you've got a tough sell.
I told one of my guides that I'd heard the building came in ten times over budget and a year late. "Four times over budget and two years late!" he responded. One wonders if that isn't another way of saying the same thing.
As I toured the building however, I grew more fond of it, and actually think that the interior is far more appealing than the exterior. Sadly I couldn't really take any photos inside as the MPs were all at work. Nonetheless, I did warm a bit to the building and am now something of a supporter. Better ballsy than bland, though. I'll take a spirited, if excessive, design over milquetoast any day.
One detail I did like though, is that each MP's office has a little window seat which is legible from the exterior of the building. What do they call them up here? Thinkpods.
Ravenous by this point, I hustled back up the Royal Mile making sure to stop off to have a look at three buildings by local design star Malcolm Fraser. I only caught the exteriors of the Scottish Storytelling Centre and the Infirmary Street Baths, though I did get inside my favorite of the lot: The Scottish Poetry Library.
It's a small alley called Crichton Close and is a humble little modern building of wood and glass. Inside it's rather homey, and tucked away as it is it had the feeling of a hidden gem. I wandered around a bit, brushed up on my Burns and hoofed onward to lunch.
I got to Spoon at the corner of South Bridge and Drummond Street in a fit of hunger, but was immediately calmed by the student vibe, funky/designy interior and the palliative balm of Kate Bush on the stereo. Anything for Kate! I sat down at one of the mismatched tables, spotted a half dozen female Scottish students in charity shop sweaters and attractive haircuts poring over their books and realized that had I been 17 I'd have proposed to each of them.
I put away my lunch and was off again, this time to set the design aside for what the Scottish might call "a wee whisky tasting." Stick to the Islays my friends. Peaty, smoky, and damn if they're not delicious.
From there I met up with an old chum and her daughter for a stroll past the castle, down through Ramsay Gardens (like a fairy tale!) and over Princes Street to a cafe with a stunning view of the castle.
Just back to the room now, off to dinner in 15 minutes and then who knows! Ah Scotland, and not a bit of rain yet either!