Design Focus: Hawksmoor, Edinburgh

August 14th, 2018 | Posted in: Design

I thought Hawksmoor sounded like the name of a mythical bird of prey until I Googled it and discovered that it’s actually the surname of acclaimed English Architect Nicholas Hawksmoor. He designed Oxford University, and when weighing up the architectural importance and majesty of the recently opened Hawksmoor restaurant and cocktail bar on Edinburgh’s West Register Street, in the former Bank of Scotland headquarters, this place is equally as grand a design as those dreaming spires.

The property was acquired in 2014 by the Chris Stewart Group, who own the freehold, and the refurbishment has been on-going since then. It was a collaborative venture between the group’s in-house team and interior designers, Macaulay Sinclair. Two key components of the design brief called for an ethical and sustainable approach to providing the highest quality interiors in the setting of one of the UK’s most beautiful cities. And it follows seven successful openings across the rest of the country.

Said Hawksmoor co-owner Huw Gott, “The restaurant is in the main hall of a beautiful old Art Deco bank, a Grade 1 listed ‘building of national importance’. We love doing restaurants in historic buildings and it’s a real honour to be able to do one in such a special building.”

He added, “Edinburgh is a great city, somewhere we’ve enjoyed spending time over the years and we’d like to spend more time here. Scotland is blessed with amazing natural produce.”

The 185-cover restaurant has been refurbished in sympathy with the building in order to retain and showcase the original features of the grand space. And I have to say there is nothing out of place about this design considering that many of the materials were reclaimed, but then, they had a fantastic canvas to work with.
Nina Tigonen, an interior designer at Macaulay Sinclair, said, “The site was already architecturally stunning before we even touched it. With that in mind, and the usual approach of making Hawksmoor venues look completely at home in their space, it was important to us to incorporate as much of the original building into our design as possible, whilst maintaining our high standards. And this is what Hawksmoor is all about – marrying its heritage with the building
and location.”

I can only echo what Nina said because this is something that has been done exceptionally well. The contrast of the grand limestone pillars and oak panelling with the flooring that is made completely from sustainable wood with mismatching floorboards, some fading and covered with scratches, is wonderful.

But as well as the aesthetic, according to Huw Gott, comfort was also a major consideration. He said, “We want the restaurant to have a comfortable, lived-in feel. The most important thing is that people who come will relax and really enjoy themselves while they’re with us, and I think it can be difficult to relax in a shiny brand-new feeling space. Using reclaimed materials from the era the building was built adds warmth and character and helps to tie everything together.”

In the centre of the space is what I can only describe as a house within a house (a large wooden structure that looks heavy enough to be oak) that serves several purposes. For example, the bar runs along the length of the face of it, there is a wine storage cupboard inside it and there is seating attached to the back. It also acts as a room divider, shielding the restaurant area and partially exposed kitchen from view as you walk in. This wooden structure was upcycled from a school and has lots of character in the form of dents and scratches, which contrasts with the brand-new upholstered bar stools that almost resemble barbershop chairs, and the bar is complete with a marble bar top.

Other original features that have been restored are the etched windows. Designed by Sadie McLellan, each represents a different industry area that the bank supported at the time. To celebrate this Scottish artist, Hawksmoor has named its private dining room after Sadie McLellan. This small corner of the restaurant has a large round table with large square window overhead that stands proudly above the rooftop. There are two more of these tables with overhead windows in the front left corner of the restaurant.

Around the other side of the bar is what feels more like the designated restaurant area. Incorporated into the wooden panelling along the back wall are three kitchen passes (aka serving hatches) that resemble old wooden train ticket offices. On the back of the bar structure, there are booth tables and there is fixed seating running along the walls as well as a mixture of round and rectangular tables in the middle of the space. The upholstery is a mixture of dark red, brown and black and is a mixture of leather and velour. The tables are upcycled wood, but some are finished with a golden table top.

Finally, Huw Gott added, “We wanted to create a restaurant that really looked and felt like it belonged in the building – like it has always been there. And for it to have a similar warmth and character to our other restaurants – a challenge in such a grand space. We have added new elements made from reclaimed materials of the same era. I love the fact that after decades of being closed off from view people are now able to come in and enjoy this special building again.”
As if the journey up North wasn’t far enough for Hawksmoor, the team is now working towards the next opening, scheduled for New York!

Jocelyn O’Keefe

Images courtesy of John Carey Photography


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