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Town and Country: in conversation with the Paskins

Layo and Zoe Paskin discuss the launch of their own creative-collab studio and taking Gleneagles from the Perthshire countryside to Edinburgh.

15/11/2022 5 min read
This article first appeared in Mix Interiors Issue 222

Words: Harry McKinley

Zoe and Layo Paskin know hospitality. Both siblings and professional partners, they’ve developed some of London’s most fêted dining destinations. Their Israeli- centric restaurant Palomar opened in 2014, was named Restaurant of the Year by Tatler and has been drawing queues ever since. Others, such The Barbary and Evelyn’s have garnered equally high praise and accolades – the latter this year earning a Michelin star.

They’ve just launched PASKIN & Associates, a studio that will allow the duo to take their knack for creating killer concepts and work collaboratively with others – both at home in the UK and internationally. Its first project was Gleneagles Townhouse in Edinburgh, where the pair were tasked with translating the iconic brand for the city.

It’s early autumn when we meet, virtually at least. A tour of the Camden HQ has been canned, as the capital descends into train strike catastrophe. There are already reports that bars and restaurants stand to cumulatively lose millions in cancelled bookings – yet another challenge for the already challenged industry the Paskins have made their business.

Beyond their own portfolio, the Paskins list spots such as Scott’s, Barrafina, Bistrotheque and River Café as among their favourites – all classically celebrated destinations that have nailed the food and, just as importantly, the atmosphere, however different they may be. But what of design? Sure, the Paskins’ restaurants are beautiful to behold, but they don’t have the flamboyance and conspicuousness of the likes of a Big Mamma Group joint or a Sexy Fish; places engineered for the Instagram generation or those who want their pricey sushi served with a side of Damien Hirst.

“It’s about authenticity,” explains Layo. “Design is really important to us, and not thinking about anywhere in particular, but there’s a cynicism to some places, where it feels that there’s big money behind creating something to be marketed on Instagram; a feeling of image over substance.”

“When it has to start with the story and come from there,” continues Zoe. “Our ventures start with the concept and then it’s about building layers – from how it looks and feels, to the menu and the service style.”

The children of an architect, both place great emphasis on use of space. Clever design is, for them, often the stuff guests don’t notice: how a room is navigated, how interiors are oriented to make the most of light, the placement of an open kitchen or where the host greets. As they stress, these things might not feel tangible to the average diner, but when they’re off, they jar.

This nuanced understanding of what it takes to create and deliver great hospitality is perhaps what drew Ennismore to the duo, for the landmark Gleneagles Townhouse project in Edinburgh. The 33-room hotel and members’ club features a vast all-day restaurant on the ground floor and a ritzy rooftop bar. It’s a very different beast to the original rural retreat in Perthshire – one of those hotels so renowned, it has become shorthand for a certain mode of open-fired, tartan- accented Scottish luxury.

But the Townhouse has been a long time in the making. Zoe and Layo were approached years before lift-off, but it was only in a meeting between both national lockdowns that their involvement took shape.

“The timing was just right,” explains Zoe. “They were quite far into the build by this stage and had the framework, but even though we were open to it all along, we then had the headspace to really get stuck in.”

And get stuck in they did. Although it carries a level of polish and is realised in a certain traditional but playful style that regulars to Edinburgh will understand, the project is unlike anything else in the Scottish capital. It speaks to the vibrancy of the city, versus the staid grandeur of the Highlands countryside. While the bedrooms had already been designed, The Paskins helmed F&B, developing the branding, identity and concepts – each of which feel younger and more vigorous than at the first.

“On the design front, we wanted it to be a strong reaction to the building itself,” Layo says, referencing the stately former bank the hotel calls home. “It reminds me of something like The Wolseley in London and we wanted it to sit in there comfortably, and not fight with this grand setting. In some ways it’s very feminine.”

“And we also recognised that though Gleneagles is this huge, 100-year-old heritage brand,” Zoe explains, “the audience for Edinburgh was going to naturally be more youthful and diverse. So we considered how Gleneagles Townhouse could be the city dweller, as opposed to the country squire.”

Visually the spaces are a treat, all elaborate columns, jaunty colours and plush fabrics. There’s a sense of splendour but, equally, comfort and an air of accessibility. It was vital for Zoe and Layo that, while it’s clearly a luxury property, it shouldn’t feel overwhelming or – worse – off putting, to those who might want only to sip a drink at the bar or grab a morning coffee in the lobby. In concept, they looked to some of the city’s most progressive and contemporary dining destinations for cues.

“We know what people need and expect of a hotel, but we probably leaned more towards places like Timberyard as a reference,” Layo says, of the acclaimed restaurant set in a former warehouse, where hipsters, the well-heeled and the just-passing-through rub along together. “The restaurant at Gleneagles Townhouse had to be, for us, somewhere that if you were up in Edinburgh for five days, it’s one of the places that you must visit. And that’s not only the same person kind of person who otherwise is just visiting The Balmoral, for example.”

As Zoe continues, it meant looking at how the hotel worked for visitors and locals throughout an average week, as well as for special occasions; while also considering how all of the conventional hotel touchpoints, from pastries to breakfast could be modernised.

“We started by asking ourselves: what would we want of Gleneagles Townhouse? What would make us happy? In the end it has to appeal to different people at different times, whether they’re price conscious and want a mid- week burger, or it’s an important evening and they want to be taken on a journey. That’s true of the menu and how the spaces are designed and conceived; to be welcoming.”

Gleneagles Townhouse is the first project that officially falls under the banner of PASKIN & Associates, the new creative collaboration and consultancy studio launched by the pair. Having primarily captained their own projects, it’s a change of tack; one that will see them working more closely with others in developing, nurturing and realising concepts, but without the daily grind of operating them.

“Intimacy appeals to us quite a lot,” says Zoe. “We like to do new and creative things, and so collaboration gives us an enormous amount of potential to be involved in the side of the industry we enjoy. We can stretch ourselves to running restaurants and obviously we do, but if we were to continue to grow as a restaurant company it becomes only about managing people and that isn’t what motivates us.”

As Layo, concluding, echoes: “We wouldn’t have suddenly decided to open in Edinburgh ourselves, but then an opportunity arrives that challenges us to learn about the city, the culture, the people and a brand. And then the most exciting question is, what are we going to do with it?”

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