Boast­ing in­tri­cate crafts­man­ship us­ing the finest lo­cal ma­te­ri­als. The Fife Arms brings un­der­stated grandeur to Scot­land’s ho­tel scene. By Victoria Lim

Epicure - - CONTENTS -

The Fife Arms

For many years, The Fife Arms was a down-at-heel Vic­to­rian coach­ing ho­tel in Brae­mar ca­ter­ing to bud­get-con­scious trav­ellers. Al­though the prop­erty has a rich his­tory, it is named af­ter the Duke of Fife, who mar­ried the grand­daugh­ter of Queen Victoria - it was large, draughty and for­get­table.

Still, Brae­mar has played host for the past 186 years to the Brae­mar Gath­er­ing, a High­land Games spec­tac­u­lar that the Queen at­tends from her nearby perch at Bal­moral. Its his­tory was pre­cisely what drew Iwan and Manuela Wirth, the Swiss power cou­ple be­hind renowned gallery Hauser & Wirth, to this hum­ble inn. The duo bought the prop­erty in De­cem­ber 2014, closed it for four years of ren­o­va­tion, and fi­nally re­opened it in Jan­uary.

From the out­side, The Fife Arms still looks like some­thing out of a Wes An­der­son movie with its white and red gabled roof and gilded sig­nage. In­side, it couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent and shows off the cre­ative vi­sion of in­te­rior de­signer Rus­sell Sage. Ninety rooms have been re­duced to 46. A spa has been added along­side a li­brary, play­room, gar­den and vil­lage bar, but that’s only part of the story.

Artists’ im­pres­sions

Art is very much part of the ho­tel’s DNA; more than 14,000 works of art, an­tiques, and ob­jects have been in­te­grated into the rooms, cor­ri­dors and corners. You can spot a Louise Bour­geois spi­der in the ho­tel court­yard and Vic­to­rian taxi­dermy exhibits, orig­i­nal draw­ings and in­stal­la­tions on the walls by artists-in-res­i­dence Gideon Sum­mer­field and Alec Fin­lay. There is also an orig­i­nal Pi­casso and a Lu­cian Freud on the walls, plus a psy­che­delic hand­painted ceil­ing by Zhang Enli in the ho­tel’s draw­ing room, which is in­spired by to­po­graphic maps and the mar­bling pat­terns found within lo­cal quartz spec­i­mens.

“We in­vited sev­eral artists for res­i­dences in Brae­mar and each re­sponded with very dif­fer­ent works. Alec Fin­lay cre­ated ‘gath­er­ing’ which tells the story of place names, some of which had been long for­got­ten. James Prosek cre­ated The Fife Arms’ own coat of arms, which in­cludes the Fly­ing Stag, the ho­tel’s pub­lic bar. Within the bar, Char­ac­ters of Brae­mar hang - a se­ries of por­traits of some of the vil­lage’s res­i­dents who were drawn by Gideon Sum­mer­field, a grad­u­ate of the Royal Draw­ing School,” shares Iwan.

Hard to get pieces are also on dis­play. The Front Hall has a por­trait by Freud, a chan­de­lier com­mis­sioned by Richard Jack­son, a pi­ano that was a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Mark Brad­ford and Steinway, and a spec­tac­u­lar 19th cen­tury fire­place that is hand­carved with scenes from Rob­bie Burns’ works. A wa­ter­colour paint­ing hangs in­side the ho­tel’s en­trance - a stag’s head painted by Her Majesty Queen Victoria of a stag that was shot by her High­lands Ser­vant, John Brown. “It’s one of the few works by Queen Victoria out­side the royal col­lec­tion,” says Manuela. One was fash­ioned in long­stand­ing Scot­tish tra­di­tion from hun­dreds of antlers eth­i­cally sourced by Gareth Guy of The Horn Shop in Brae­mar. An­other was cre­ated by Los An­ge­les-based Amer­i­can artist Richard Jack­son, who in­ter­preted this Scot­tish dec­o­ra­tive clas­sic by us­ing cast glass antlers lit from within. Both are dis­played at The Fly­ing Stag.

Sto­ries abound

Each of the 46 rooms and suites is ded­i­cated to Brae­mar’s vis­i­tors, in­clud­ing mon­archs and writ­ers (Lord By­ron, Robert Louis Stevenson). Fly­ing Stag, a jewel-box cock­tail bar, is named af­ter cou­turier Elsa Schi­a­par­elli.

“All sto­ries have been metic­u­lously re­searched with the help of lo­cal his­to­ri­ans and they are then re­told us­ing dif­fer­ent de­sign

el­e­ments. For ex­am­ple, Robert Louis Stevenson, who be­gan to write Trea­sure Is­land while on hol­i­day in Brae­mar, stayed in a house a stone’s throw from the ho­tel; poet Lord By­ron (1788-1824), who as a child lived for a while at a farm just east of Bal­later with his Scot­tish mother, Catherine Gor­don of Gight. The stay had a pro­found ef­fect and lo­cal land­marks fea­ture in his works, such as Dark Lochna­gar writ­ten in 1807; and Frances Far­quhar­son, (19031991), the edi­tor of Amer­i­can Vogue. And even the small­est touches have a story. The room keys are at­tached to a brass cast of a na­tive

fresh­wa­ter mussel. These mus­sels are en­dan­gered in Scot­land and we sup­port a char­ity, Pearls in Peril, who are work­ing to rein­tro­duce them,” says Iwan.

The suites, in par­tic­u­lar, per­fectly show­case The Fife Arms’ rich his­tory and cul­ture, The opulent In­dian Suite, which is in­spired by Ab­dul Karim, the con­fi­dant of Queen Victoria, is fit­ted with lo­cal tim­ber and con­structed us­ing tra­di­tional join­ery meth­ods. The ta­ble was hewn from a sin­gle piece of oak by a hand blade, which took seven weeks to make. The Queen’s Suite is em­bel­lished with stuc­cowork and the bath­room is sur­rounded with blue and white Azulejo-tiled mu­rals from 1901; the King’s Suite has a spec­tac­u­lar wooden cof­fered ceil­ing; and the Arch Suite still re­tains an 18th cen­tury fire­place.

“The Fife Arms com­bines our love for Scot­land and the coun­try’s tra­di­tional crafts with our years of work­ing with some of the world’s lead­ing con­tem­po­rary artists. With Brae­mar be­ing very much our happy place, we hope that peo­ple will share in the magic of this his­toric vil­lage,” shares Manuela.

A psychedlic hand­painted ceil­ing by renowned artist, Zhang Enli

The In­dian Suite fea­tures in­ter­est­ing de­tails like a mini gong and In­dian minia­tures.

The Prince Al­bert Suite in­cludes Scot­tish touches like a tartan linen, and fig­urines that once be­longed to Prince Al­bert of Sax­e­coburg and Gotha.

The Fly­ing Stag, a pub­lic bar in The Fife Arms, is dec­o­rated with a se­ries of por­traits called the Char­ac­ters of Brae­mar.

A haunt­ingly beau­ti­ful oil piece by Lu­cian Freud

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