Design Focus: The Duke

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By Jason Caddy

The quality of the fit-out hits you just as soon as you reach for the big brass handle on the heavy wooden inner door of the vestibule entrance to Buzzworks Holdings’ newly refurbished and re-branded Kilmarnock cafe-bar The Duke. Etched into the glass are the words ‘First Class All Day Long,’ and they weren’t wrong. No corners have been cut in this corner unit.

It was purchased by the now Kilmarnock-based operator (it not long moved its HQ to the town) in November last year. This is when the transformation began on this beautiful sandstone building, most recently home to Lucky 7, its change of name inspired by the railway line that used Scotland’s first-ever steam locomotive from Kilmarnock to Troon Harbour.

Colin Blair, Buzzworks Holdings Chairman, said, “Once again we worked with acclaimed designer Jim Hamilton to bring our casually eclectic interior vision to life for this classic all-day café bar. The mix of solid oak and walnut tables and cosy sofas provide a welcoming atmosphere, alongside statement pieces such as the marble bar and furniture Jim has gathered from his travels across Europe.”

He continued, “This is our new cafe-bar brand and it reflects the fact that we see the market moving towards a more casual offering. Customers don’t want to be tied into ordering two courses, and we are happy to accommodate that in The Duke.”

Vanilla Joe’s supply The Duke’s ice cream, Mills Milk its dairy products. The thought that went into the design follows you around as your eyes survey all that is going on in an interior top and tailed with exposed stone and brick walls and equally as arresting wooden floors. The bar itself, complete with beautiful marble top, is the first thing that you’re confronted by once you get inside. It must have one of Scotland’s most beautiful bar-fronts to boot – a carved wood creation of patterns and shapes that look like they could have been discovered at Machu Picchu. This is perhaps my favourite bit.

Metal shelves with a gold patina house glasses above the bar and the mounted on the wall behind it is a huge matching gold-framed mirror bearing The Duke’s logo and reflecting daylight into the space, compromised slightly at the windows themselves because of the horizontal wooden blinds. To the upper left-hand side of the mirror is a set of shelves with plants cascading down from them, which you may not necessarily notice right away.

Some big old candlesticks sit on the windowsills and look to me like the tops of totem poles caked in churchy melted candle wax. Around the outer windowed walls of the bar, along its corner edge, stretches a tan leather banquette that has been paired with recycled wooden tables which have been recycled from a floor of its new of office in Kilmarnock. The overall lived-in look works and doesn’t detract from the quality of the finish.

In the middle of the space is a banquette island – upholstered in green velvet this time and at its centre, a collection of lamps, vases and plants. Next to it, two big chunky standard lamps stand, one with a rust coloured shade, the other black with a oral print. The other seating on the far side of the tables that surround it is a cocktail of wooden and wicker chairs.

Above all of this is a concrete ceiling with exposed ventilation pipes that add a further touch of the ultra-modern in what is a fairly historic building. It’s also dotted with pendant lights with shades that look like birdcages, in both black and white. The lozenge-shaped wall lights that capture a type of air-raid shelter chic – in a good way.

No corner has been left untouched at The Duke – even the windowless wall, panelled and painted mostly dove great with a little alcove of green, has a story to tell thanks to all the pictures that cover it from top to bottom. There’s everything from abstract, to trees, landscapes and faces – all providing bright shocks of contrasting colours to the rest of Jim’s palette.

On the way up the stairs to the toilets – named Dukes and Duchesses – is where even more artwork lives, in the form of children’s paintings. The toilets themselves are painted in a rich, calming green, and with that now trademark Buzzworks’ quality finish that tells me that there the word ‘afterthought’ is not in their vocabulary.

Photo by Ross Dunn

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