Q&A WITH RUSTIC SIMPLICITY – MADE IN SCOTLAND SERIES
Posted by James King on Oct 16, 2016 – See original article
Rustic Simplicity are husband and wife team James and Anita Peggie who create beautifully-crafted furniture, artwork and more ranging from Highland Coos to cupboards and the occasional campervan, all made out of old whisky barrels!
We first heard about Rustic Simplicity through our Q&A with Kirstin and Janette of Allium Queensferry. We were so impressed with the originality of James and Anita’s designs, not to mention the obvious skill and dedication evident in their work, that we simply had to include them in our Made in Scotland series! Jewellery of Scotland
Read on to learn about how this inspiring couple followed their creative passions to start their own business, how they combine their design work with their other great passion: exploring beautiful Scotland and….get introduced to the whisky truck!
You mention on your website that you have both previously worked in a range of jobs including window cleaning, chefing and feeding Britain’s festivals. Please can you tell us about your journey and how it led to you starting Rustic Simplicity?
It’s true, for many years we cleaned people’s dirty windows for a living! Always striving to keep things simple, we’d work until around 2 pm then hang out at home – maybe working in our organic kitchen garden, or in the workshop which was just a hobby in those early days.
We loved campervans and had a couple of VWs in our time – we used to fantasise about making a huge pot of curry and chapattis and selling it to our fellow campers! That was how the festival catering idea came about. We did that for a few years until the recession closed us down.
A few months on the dole followed by a short spell in dead end jobs made us really unhappy.
One day we took delivery of some old whisky barrel wood for burning on our wood burning stove. James was intrigued by fact that it was oak. He sanded a bit down and was amazed to see the gorgeous wood underneath. The first cupboard was born!
It took about a year until James was able to give up his job at Dobbies and establish Rustic Simplicity, and another three years before I could finally give up chefing and nannying and join him.
What is a typical day like for you?
We are up and about by 6.30, always keen to get started on whatever project we’re working on I could be painting, working on the driftwood roofs or putting the coos together. James will be making cupboards, some other rustic stuff, or maybe working on a campervan (which we convert to sell).
Sometimes we are strolling along the beach – collecting driftwood – it always amazes me that we can be doing this and call it work!
What makes working with recycled materials special and where do you get them from?
We only work with reclaimed whisky barrel oak. It is probably hundreds of years since that first acorn was planted. We love giving it a new lease of life, making stuff that is either useful or decorative – our customers really appreciate the rustic simplicity of the designs, and the imperfections of the wood only serves to enhance its natural beauty. We travel up to Speyside to the cooperages over there a few times a year to load up with our raw materials.
Which of your designs are you most proud of and why?
The classic curvy cupboards are the mainstay of the business, but more recently the crofts, cottages and coos have begun to do really well. Also the large chests are amazing – in that they too are made entirely from the barrel wood – James has a lot of work to do laminating all the planks together, but the results are really worth it – these chests will last forever and make great family heirlooms!
How do you recharge away from your creative work?
We like nothing better than getting away in our campervan. We are hoping to build these as commissions for customers – they are really comfy inside, and rustic! We treated ourselves to electric bikes last year, and they are brilliant for exploring the Scottish countryside which is really hilly so a bit of a task on regular bikes.
Where are you based and what do you love most about the area?
James is a Scot born and bred – Scotland is my adopted country (I’m a sassanach)! We love everything about our country – the rugged countryside, the gorgeous beaches in the west, and the fishing villages along the east coast.
In Scotland you get four seasons in one day – We love it all – log burners in the winter, amazing sunsets and sunrises, and even the occasional days when the sun shows up! We’ve also met a lot of interesting and creative people through doing craft fairs and stuff.
Apart from your local surroundings, what inspires you to create?
The wood itself is really the true inspiration. The cupboards James makes are really unique. The curves in the barrel wood are crying out to be made into lovely hobbity things – once they are created, people can’t resist running their hands up and down the smooth surfaces.
They really are a treat for the senses – visually pleasing, the touch and not to forget the aroma! James doesn’t hide the fact that they are made from whisky barrel wood – wherever he can he retains the original features – it’s really special if any of the branding, lettering or bung holes can be left to show up in the finished pieces.
Please can you tell us the story behind the adorable Highland Coos?
One of our stockists asked us if we’d ever thought about Highland Coos? It was a strange question! After all, I considered myself to be a croft builder! But we put our heads together and came up with a design.
Later that day we made a prototype, then our first little herd. By the end of that weekend we had made and sold six sets of Coos with their babies! We realised we were onto something. I got really excited when I discovered Julie from YARNYARN and began to use reclaimed sari silk and banana yarn to create fusion coos – a fusion of India and Scotland.
All the coos have names and they can be personalised. We have even made custom coos – changing the hairy dossan to represent different football teams.
What parts of the creative process do you enjoy the most and which (if any) do you dislike?
At the moment I am really loving creating the backgrounds for the cottages It is extreme finger painting! I apply splodges of acrylics, rubbing it in with my hands – once it is dry I sand it off, allowing the wood to dance around on the end of the sander until I get the result I’m after.
I usually make a great variety of different backgrounds at the same time, and I love the end results. I also love creating the hairy dossans on the coos – mixing all of the textures and colours. I am amazed that I can earn my living this way!
The part I least enjoy is when I get a large order of one thing. I recently did a batch of a hundred coos – it went on and on and became a bit like working on a production line – from now on I am going to do them in small batches – it’s much more personal that way!
Please can you tell us about some of the creative people in Scotland you admire and why?
The Scots are a very creative but also modest bunch. We have met wonderful people at craft events who make all sorts of brilliant stuff.
An unexpected pleasure has been dealing with the shop and gallery owners who are usually artists themselves. Davie and Amanda from Rannoch Studio by Pitlochry, Alan from The Quay gallery in Aberdour, Kristin and Jannete of Allium in South Queensferry, Mairi and James from 1896 Gallery in Boat of Garton and Sarah and Karen from Salka in the Isle of Lewis, to name just a few.
There are so many more who have supported and helped us, and who showcase our work in their shops. The people who run these shops and galleries are doing a brilliant job to keep these places going in this age of internet shopping.
What are the biggest challenges that you face?
To be honest, like many creative businesses, it’s getting the word out there about our stuff. I am struggling with getting to grips with internet selling and am grateful to all of our stockists who are supporting us so our business can survive!
Off topic question: what is your favourite Scottish dish and why?!
An omelette Arnold Bennet made with Scottish smoked haddock.
What other parts of Scotland do you love (and can you also tell us more about the Whisky Truck?)?
Our favourite place has to be the west coast – especially Arisaig. Where we have spent lots of holidays camping right on the beach. Loch Tummel as well, over the years, where we love to camp on the little site that you can see from the Queens view.
The whisky truck was a lovely project. It was built mainly from reclaimed whisky barrel wood, and was a lovely van to camp in. We decorated it with eagles and bears, and we loved it! It was never ours though, as we knew from the beginning we would be selling it.
A lovely lady bought it, with connections to Morgan’s Spiced rum, so it was a happy outcome. The new campervan (as yet unnamed) is hopefully a keeper, and once again we are putting our own art in there. It has a fantastic big comfy couch and we will be using it to travel around next year, delivering stuff and fitting lots of little cheeky breaks in all in the name of work!
We are looking right now for someone who wants to commission a truck – we’ll soon be finished with this one and James won’t know what to do with himself if he doesn’t have a campervan on the go!