Bard has opened its doors at Custom Lane, adding a new retail destination in the heart of Leith that celebrates Scottish craft and design. Launched by husbands Hugo Macdonald and James Stevens, following a three-month tour of Scotland’s craft community, the shop offers an eclectic range of items for the home sourced directly from the makers.
Hugo (a design writer, curator and heir to the high chiefship of the Macdonald clan) and James (an architect who worked at Retrouvius in London) believe passionately in the value of craft in daily life and have created a space styled as “the home of a collector” in Scotland’s oldest custom house. Here they describe the journey that brought them to Scotland and how Bard will help Scottish makers reach a new audience.
The port area of Leith is historically where Edinburgh met the world and the world met Edinburgh. We like to think we will continue that tradition with Bard, showcasing the finest ideas, objects and stories from Scotland to people around the world.
Why did you decide to open Bard?
Hugo: We had been living happily in London and then Hastings but I really wanted to come back to Scotland and build a relationship with Scottish design and craft. We felt there was a need for somewhere that could present craft to people in a more accessible way. It’s a commercial venture but it’s also a cultural venture that aims to ask questions about Scottish cultural identity, past and future, through made objects, makers and manufacturers.
James: Once we had decided to move to Edinburgh we thought we might take a few years to make our dream of opening a store become a reality. But when this space at Custom Lane suddenly became available we fast-tracked our plans. What we thought might take three years had to be squeezed into three months. It was challenging but worth it to have this amazing space in this wonderful creative community.
What attracted you to Custom Lane as a location for Bard?
James: Leith is well established as a place of making as well as commerce and the fact that we’re in a customs building is almost too good to be true! It feels appropriate to be in a part of the city that is still about trade but is also about change and optimism.
Hugo: The port area of Leith is historically where Edinburgh met the world and the world met Edinburgh. We like to think we will continue that tradition with Bard, showcasing the finest ideas, objects and stories from Scotland to people from all around the world.
Tell us about the tour of Scotland you undertook to source pieces for the shop.
James: We had always planned to tour Scotland to meet makers, manufacturers, designers and architects and get that firsthand understanding of what’s being made in Scotland. We wanted to learn about what they make but also why they make it and what it means to be a modern maker in Scotland.
Hugo: Over three months we visited around 60 different makers and designers. We introduced ourselves and our ideas to them and had an overwhelmingly positive response. People seemed genuinely excited about the possibility of having somewhere to showcase their work. Many of them have a strong following but no direct route to market. They’re makers and they don’t really want to be shopkeepers as well. That’s where we hope we can help, supporting them in a way that will always make sense for them.
What criteria did you use to select the pieces you are showcasing at Bard?
James: The products we’ve chosen to stock are very broad but the overarching theme is that everything should make sense in a domestic space. They’re things to be lived with and used or cherished every day. There is everything from one-off artworks to doormats made from salvaged rope. We wanted to try to capture the weirdness of Scotland in the breadth of products on display.
Hugo: I love that we have fantastic sculptural pieces by Costa Rican glass artist and Custom Lane resident Juli Bolaños-Durman alongside functional and beautiful mouth-blown glassware from Lindean Mill. There are things that cost £15 and things that cost £15,000. We’re buying everything from our makers at the prices they asked for because we know how they’re made and we’re not trying to squeeze anyone’s margins.
The overarching theme is that everything should make sense in a domestic space. They’re things to be lived with and used or cherished every day.
Where did the name come from?
Hugo: The shop is called Bard because it’s the Celtic world for a storyteller and we’re really interested in communicating the storytelling at the heart of all of these people and things. It’s our way of showing that all of these objects have a purpose, they’re grounded in communities where skills and knowledge of how to make things are passed down through generations.
What was the idea behind the design of the shop’s interior? What sort of look and feel did you set out to achieve?
James: We wanted to show the pieces in an environment that felt like the home of someone who is an avid collector of the best of Scottish craft. We also wanted the spaces to feel multi-layered, so downstairs has a really historical feel whereas upstairs is lighter, brighter and more contemporary.
Hugo: The space is designed to feel rich and domestic and to bring together historic and contemporary pieces in interesting ways.
What are the main things you want to achieve with Bard? What makes it unique and different to other stores?
Hugo: We really want to challenge the understanding of Scottish-ness and try to move it away from typical associations with tartan tat and ginger wigs, made nowhere near Scotland. We visited people who make one thing in one place for one reason, which makes those items unique and therefore gives them far greater depth.
James: Craft is quite an interesting field for examining what Scottish-ness means because it’s far closer to people’s lived experience. It’s not about lifestyle, it’s about necessity, skill, community and shared knowledge. Not only are those brilliant stories, they create things that couldn’t exist otherwise and are wonderful to use in your daily life.