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In our Ask a Shopkeeper series, we tap the coolest store owners we know for a tour of their space and to ask them what items are trending right now—and beyond. For this installment, husbands Hugo Macdonald and James Stevens—shopkeepers of the newly opened Bard in Edinburgh, Scotland—take us inside their shop, where they celebrate Scottish artisans.

Bard is a celebration of Scotland—why is the country’s craft important to the design world?
As the negative effects of globalization, capitalism, and rampant consumerism are felt in ever greater ways, the value of localism—in social structures, supply chains, governing bodies, food, tourism—is suddenly more relevant than ever. Craft is an important part of this reevaluation.

Scottish creations are of no lesser or greater importance to the design world than any other country or culture, but the fact that it’s of a specific place and people with a specific set of social, material, environmental, historic, and contemporary experiences is what makes it appealing. 

Bard is situated in the Port District of Leith, Edinburgh—where “the world met Scotland and Scotland met the world,” as Macdonald says.

What was the genesis behind Bard?
Bard is an old Celtic word for “storyteller.” We wanted to build a home that showcases contemporary and historic furniture, textiles, and objects made in Scotland. We wanted to go further than simply showing them; we wanted to tell the stories of the people who make them: Where they come from, how they are made, and what compels people to make in this way. Bard is a lovely word—it looks good and, crucially, it is easy to pronounce!

Describe the design of the store.
Our overarching ambition is to be playful. There are, or should be, no rules when it comes to living with the things you love. Our hope is that we can impart confidence to people to build relationships with these items, not just to “get the look” from an interior.

The ground floor at Bard.

It was a very raw space that we inherited from the previous occupants. Cabling was exposed, the walls were rough, and the stairs were bright yellow—perfect for an outerwear fashion store, not so much a domestic atmosphere for displaying how these pieces are exciting to live with.

We plastered the entire interior using raw earth pigments to bring out a natural tactility. The burnt sienna downstairs echoes the wood-paneled feeling of baronial houses in Scotland. We matched this with a large Victorian oak bookcase and oversize table, and have brought in clashes of color, material, and texture to keep it from feeling too tasteful. We imagined a young creative who inherited an old-fashioned property from his grandparents and is bringing his more punk aesthetic into the mix. 

Bard’s second floor.

Upstairs, we wanted to evoke that of a young couple who split their time between their refined Edinburgh home and a back-to-nature bothy [hut] up on Orkney. We sanded the pine floors and left them raw, and the furniture is a mix of vernacular blackhouse (a traditional Scottish architecture style) and woven willow pieces. All of this contrasts with the Victorian five-seater sofa and the wood ladder shelving system designed by James. 

What kind of home goods do you carry, and how do you find what you stock?
There are simple archetypal items for everyday use, such as tableware, glassware, blankets, bags, and belts, as well as more special items, from serveware, vases, and candlesticks to furniture, artwork, and photography. We are purposefully broad in our selection to do justice to the breadth of extraordinary things being made across the country and the islands. What unites them is a commitment to quality and a quest to explore Scottishness—past, present, and future. 

Totem Candlestick by Alistair Byars.
Gem Carafes, Tumblers, and Cups by Lindean Mill Glass.

How do you hope the design of the space impacts shoppers?
From the start, we knew we didn’t want this beautiful building to feel commercial in any way. We designed it to feel like the home of someone eccentric and cultured. It feels warmly familiar and intriguing, which has the effect of slowing people down. People come in and say they don’t want to leave. They ask questions, and we have long conversations about the work we have on display.

As well as showing and selling, we want to help visitors understand the value of craft, on a personal and societal level. Giving people permission to sit, touch, smell, and engage with everything in a holistic, sensorial manner is a key part of this.

An Orkney chair sits near a window overlooking the water, and glazed vases are in the foreground.

What have shoppers been drawn to?
We are amazed at how different character types are drawn to different pieces. Progressive types go straight to Wobbly Digital’s 3D-printed sculptures and mirrors. Quieter, earnest folk are drawn to Ingot Objects’s beautifully refined ash-glazed ceramics. Earthy people gravitate toward the woven willow and more rustic studio pottery. Elegant characters find the textiles compelling. Everyone finds the vernacular furniture pieces like the Creepies and Orkney chairs fascinating.

What people are drawn to gives us social cues about their personalities and values. We are careful never to be coercive, but it helps us to choose which stories to tell which people, based on their instinctive pull toward certain materials and techniques. 

Creepies are a product of Orcadian and Shetland culture and used for any task that requires getting low. Photo by Hal Haines
Willow Platters made on the Isle of Eigg are functional and decorative. Photo by Hal Haines
Lambswool Blankets make beds comfy, serve as a place to picnic, and offer extra softness on a sofa. Photo by Hal Haines
Ceramic Platters reflect the color palette of Scottish landscapes. Photo by Hal Haines

What are some traditional Scottish techniques people might see in the products?
From personal experience growing up in Scotland (on the Isle of Skye), I’ve always been drawn to the more robust tradition, characterized by the resourcefulness of material and a very simple premise of design for need and longevity. This results in using materials locally available: rugged wood furniture, woolen sweaters, hearty earthenware ceramics, and charismatic willow weaving. There is charm in details, but the tradition is one of pleasing chunkiness—these are pieces to survive harsh environments, strong weather, and repeated use. They are intended to be used over lifetimes and become part of one’s family.

What’s your favorite area of the shop?
Apart from the high-definition fire playing on a screen in the fireplace? (We aren’t allowed to unblock the chimney, so it’s the next best thing to a real flame.) Our favorite nook is the antique woven-backed Orkney chair in the corner upstairs. It is festooned with a gloriously shaggy brown sheepskin from Skye and often has two floor-standing Arts and Crafts candlesticks next to it. Above it, on the wall, is ceramic artist James Rigler’s Verdigris shelf, which holds a stone doorstop, wrapped in ghost fishing rope from Orkney’s beaches by Mark Cook. The vignette is finished with a chunk of Skye marble—a powerful, geological talisman that radiates deep time. 

Tucked away on the left, Macdonald and Stevens’s favorite nook at Bard.

Shop Talk

Music that’s always playing in the store: Bad-taste pop tunes. The incongruity of “Roar“ by Katy Perry playing while people stroke beautiful sheepskins brings us no end of delight.

House drink: Whisky Macs (short for Macdonald), made with hot water, Mortlach whisky, ginger wine, honey, and a spritz of lemon. 

Dream shopper to walk into Bard: Tilda Swinton, naturally—the ultimate eccentric Scot.

Must-visit local store that isn’t our own: Dicks up in Stockbridge is a clothing store that stocks some of our favorite smaller brands from around the globe.

Where we grab dinner after a day at the shop: Chums, around the corner, serves delicious macaroni pies—a local delicacy—with baked beans and sriracha.

Favorite piece in stock right now: It changes with the light and our mood. Right now we’re obsessed with Juli Bolaños-Durman’s recycled glass assemblages. We get lost in their glorious magnificence.