Not only has Scotland a wealth of creativity, it is offering students unique opportunities to learn how to create objects and spaces that tap into our design aspiration

How you furnish your home says volumes about you. The seaside dreamer or elegant historian are easily identified by the contents of their living space. And if, for instance, you want to underscore your green outlook on life, one way to do it is to use locally-sourced, artisan-made products. 

In Scotland, we are incredibly lucky to have a wealth of talented people making beautiful products right on our doorstep, from furniture made from sustainable wood – storm damaged or grown responsibly – to luxurious textiles created in the Borders and the Hebrides and turned into bespoke furnishings.

As the shift of focus on to green credentials continues, the idea of buying furniture from independent makers grows in importance. Not only does it support small businesses in these challenging times, it is more sustainable and longer lasting.

Some of those creating bespoke pieces of furniture will have graduated from the Chippendale International School of Furniture. Nestled in the East Lothian countryside it trains students in furniture design and making and restoration skills. Established in 1985 by Aslem Fraser, the school’s nine-month professional course has attracted more than 540 students from across the world. 

“Sustainability remains key for consumers – people want to know the eco-credentials of what they are buying,” says Tom Fraser, Chippendale principal and son of the founder. 

“Increasingly switched-on consumers can spot greenwashing from a mile away, so make sure any sustainability claims are the real deal.

“Sustainability is a core value of the Chippendale School, and is something we ingrain into our students – from sourcing wood sustainably to restoring furniture.”

Another trend Fraser notes is the interest in multifunctional furniture. Driven by working from home and people staying put in houses for longer, flexible design becomes key. 

“So, while spaces may stay the same size or get smaller, furniture needs to be as flexible as possible to accommodate the changing needs of the household – whether that’s a growing family or working from home,” he says.

Another by-product of spending more time at home – and not moving to a new house – is the attention being given to soft furnishings. 

Scottish fabrics have long been interior favourites and alongside tweed and tartan, there are plenty of strong Scottish designs to be inspired by. 

Many of the textile designers will have passed through the doors of the School of Textiles and Design (SoTD) at Galashiels. Alongside those fashion and textile students are the people learning to create the spaces we live and work in. The SoTD, which is part of Heriot-Watt University, has offered degrees in interior design since 2010, with approximately 20 students graduating each year.

Lee Miles, director of learning and teaching at the SoTD, says that those interior design students cannot fail to be influenced by Scottish fabrics, as the school is based at a former textile mill. “It’s part of their heritage and there are fashion and textile students alongside them working with fabrics.”

And there have been projects where students have tried to connect fabrics into the interior space. “In one particular example it was about dementia and working with 

textile design students to look at how textiles function in an interior space with the aim of trying to make spaces more inclusive to people that have dementia. 

“We don’t specifically teach them how to use fabrics, but the interior design students often consider it a lot as part of their own work,” says Miles who also teaches on the interior design degree courses.

He adds: “For the undergraduate in interior design, the focus would be upon the vocational skills required to function as an interior designer in the global industries. Beyond that, the focus is on the impact the graduate has in terms of making a meaningful difference by interior design to the world around them. So for the undergraduate, the focus is on them having their own agenda and agency and trying to influence and improve the world through interior design.”

Miles notes that students are 

currently reflecting on the way we live and how it has changed. “The students come to us with their ideas. And what we are seeing is that there’s a number of themes that seem to almost be a reflection of the times they’re in.”

He says: “There’s a focus on biophilic design – the idea of design with nature in mind. They are trying to look at nature and trying to bring the outside to the inside. 

“But also alongside that, the decor and the styling seems much softer and more gentle now than in previous years. I think because of the pandemic they consider mental health more and, I guess, many students now would tend of choose much more of a muted, natural palette of colours and materials. 

“Definitely there’s this interest in quite simple – maybe not minimal – authentic colours and materials in their choices. They are interested in what’s local around them: colours, tones, textures and materials that reflect that.”

Students are also reflecting the cost of living crisis. “They are being much more economical in terms of what they spec or select or choose in their own work. I think many students in the final year form their own design brief as a way to prepare themselves for working in the industry. 

“There’s been this kind of, I wouldn’t say ‘upcycling’, but it’s been looking at quite simple, functional products that last a long time and trying to be conscious of the budget and the value of items and objects.”