James Rusk has enough enthusiasm to resurrect the Titanic never mind Glasgow’s Hutchesons Hall. He, and wife Louise, have succeeded in creating a new bar and restaurant that has panache and style, in a building that was built in the early 1800s, and designed by one of the great Glasgow architects, David Hamilton. Not only that, he managed to keep everyone onside during the complicated transformation and according to some, “made the whole process fun”.
The new ‘Hutchesons’ is a grand building steeped in the traditions of the past but with a distinctly contemporary feel. The Rusk’s have spent in the region of £1.5m transforming the A-listed building and to use a word that James’ is familiar with I would say it is “awesome”. Set over three floors (around 4,000 sq ft) this A-listed white building features a clock tower with an octagonal design and stained glass windows. It now boasts a Grand Hall brasserie, an exclusive private dining room, and a classic café bar at street level. It has been beautifully restored.
Says James, who also owns Glasgow’s Butchershop, “We were looking for a second venue and Louise spotted the phone number on the building almost two years ago exactly, and said why don’t you call about it. We went home and did the proposal. Obviously the owners of Hutchesons Hall, the National Trust for Scotland, wanted to see the building brought back to its former glory, and could empathise with our vision, because we secured the lease.”
Restoration was commissioned by a specialised conservation team from the National Trust for Scotland to restore the charming features from the 1876 remodelling by John Baird II, including the decorative wood panelling, mosaic floors, frieze with dancing-detailed cherubs and intricate cornicing in the café bar, through to the two majestic fireplaces, ornate wall banners, and ornamental ceilings in the Grand Hall.
Says James. “It has been a real collaboration. Over the last two years we have worked closely with the Trust and their architects Hammonds who restored the original features and our own team which included CM Design and Transition Interiors.”
James explains, “The building was in a terrible state when we took it over. It had been closed for five years after a flood. We have tried to enhance its traditional feel and add a contemporary edge, but this is as much down to the attitude that our staff have, as it is to the design.”
The downstairs cafe-bar, although it looks aged, is infact almost a new build. Says James “We had to take it back to the brick walls, although the cherub cornicing is original. The mosaic floor was already there, and we have complemented that with aged marbled flooring.”
When you come into the building from Ingram Street, you are greeted by a lovely hand-crafted 18 ft by 14 ft brass gantry and solid mahogany bar with an Arebascato marble top, finished with antique glass. It complements the newly-installed aged dark brown and white marble floor and original mosaic floors. Says James, “Inspiration for the café bar was drawn from the grand cafes of Europe, with green leather-backed booths and dark high-backed chairs complementing the original paint colours of Hutchesons’ Hall. We wanted it to look aged, but timeless.”
The bar area takes you into the downstairs cafe which has an amazing original cherub frieze, dark wooden blinds and a mix of tables – marble and wooden topped, and the banquettes are bespoke too. Says James, “We paid real attention to all the details including things like the feet on the banquettes and the tables. We also spent some time agonising over the colour of the leather, which downstairs is grey/green.”
All the furniture is bespoke and the main pieces such as the gantries and the bar have been designed by Transition. Kelvin Murray, manufacturing director and designer of Transition Interiors comments, “Every detail of Hutchesons design and build reflects James and Louise Rusk’ vision for the building. We’ve had the pleasure of bringing this to life. Working with them has been a thoroughly personal experience as both of them have a great sense of style and period detail.” He continues, “The hardest challenge for myself was ensuring the large bespoke pieces would not overpower the existing period features but also, being a restaurant, they had to play a large part in creating the atmosphere and ambience for the diners.”
There are a variety of large aged mirrors downstairs and lots of lovely details like the maitre d’ stations, but for me the piece de resistance is the Arebascato marble top on the bar.
However the best is yet to come. To the rear of the bar, there is a glass lift which can take you up to the restaurant, or you could walk up the impressive staircase. I would recommend the latter – the history of the building comes to life with the restored wood panelling and of course the Roll of Honour of past preceptors of the building. The light flows in through large windows which overlook its expansive outside area on Hutcheson Street. Gold and black large doors take you through to the Grand Brasserie, and grand it is! In this sumptuous upper hall the ceiling takes centre stage with three large chandeliers lighting up the original ceiling roses, ornamental cornicing and detailed ceiling artistry. Floor to ceiling elaborate stained glass windows allow the 90 cover brasserie to bask in natural light, while a hand crafted decorative pewter 18ft by 13ft bar with lighted panels adorns the east-facing back wall and showcases the venues varied wine and drink offering. The colours are vivid and the red on the ceiling is stunning. Says James, “In the Grand Hall brasserie, décor pays homage to the building.” It certainly does.
All the furniture in the Grand Hall is freestanding, and can be moved, and the gantry is a thing of beauty. But it has a practical function too. Says James, “There is no need to have dirty glassware on display – it is all taken to the rear. There is even a chute to put dirty linen in, and a home for the pdq on the specially created work stations.” He has thought of everything.
There is attention to detail throughout the whole building, but it is as much about the workings of the building that you can’t see. It has been completely replumbed and rewired, and the addition of modern technology did create some issues, particularly with it being a A-listed building.
CM Design were involved in the project right from the beginning and worked closely with the National Trust and their architects. Says Lesley Annisan, who is the company’s Senior Interior Designer, “We were involved with the planning of the space, and trying to get the layout right. We had James and Louise’s brief, and I think we have managed to deliver what they asked for. The biggest challenge was making everything fit – and making the space work as a bar and a restaurant, getting the right number of covers in and obviously creating the back of house space. James and Louise wanted it to feel like it had always been a restaurant, rather than a restaurant put in the building, and I think that has been achieved. James and Louise were also great to work with.”
She concludes, “It has been great to be part of a team that has revived this building. It’s great to see it back in use, and I just love the ground floor. It has been totally transformed and is both classy and contemporary.”
One of the striking features, as I have already mentioned, is the very large list of Preceptors, the people who have been in charge of the building in the past, which is displayed on a massive plaque on the staircase. It currently stops at 2008, but I am reliably told that it will be updated in due course… certainly James and Louise deserve to have their name embossed in gold… for they have done a sterling job! If you haven’t yet been there, I would definitely recommend you go. As James would say, “It’s awesome.”