Customer Series

Gunnar Groves-Raines

We caught up with our friend, partner, and collaborator Gunnar Groves-Raines from Gras Architects to chat about his Award winning practise, his opinion on modern Scottish design, and whether or not clothes can affect your mindset. 

What originally attracted you to working as an architect?

Both of my parents are architects, so I suppose perhaps it was inevitable, but the reality is that spending my childhood in architects’ offices and on building sites initially pushed me away from that path. It was clear to me that I wanted to work in design though, and as I got closer to university, I realised in fact that Architecture offered a breadth of possibilities doing work that could be exciting, impactful and lasting.

What’s your favourite part of the process?

We’re fortunate that every day is different, with a new set of opportunities, challenges or problems to be solved. We have a great team with a broad set of skills and perspectives, and I really enjoy being in the studio, exploring ideas and working things out with them. I work on projects from end to end and enjoy all aspects of the creative process, from the big ideas to the tiniest details. The greatest reward comes in seeing people experience and enjoy our projects, when it’s clear that the painstaking work was worthwhile.

What are the brand values of your style of designing?

We deliberately don’t have a definitive studio style, because we believe that our response on each project should be unique to that project. We do however have a consistent approach to our projects where we allow ourselves to be led by the exploration of histories, ideas, materials, techniques and technologies, to conserve and create extraordinary spaces places and objects. This approach allows the best solutions to be discovered through the process rather than being the result of applying predetermined formulae.

What’s your seminal piece of work/the piece that’s challenged you the most?

Kyle House, a small, remote Wildland project on the north coast of Scotland encapsulates many aspects of our work, from faithful conservation of built heritage to contemporary adaptive reuse and carefully considered detailing. This creative tension between heritage and design is something that we are constantly exploring across many of our projects, especially as we invest more of our time understanding and limiting the environmental impact of our work. At Kyle, we had a very close and collaborative working relationship with the team at Wildland, constantly challenging reviewing and refining details to meet exacting standards. Their vision, experience and commitment to excellence resulted in something very special and quite unique.

Kyle House, Scotland 

What are your ambitions for your practice?

We want to be doing the best, most progressive work we can, with the most significant and positive impacts possible for our building owners, users and the environment. We try not to be too specific about the type, scale or location of work we take on, instead simply focusing on work which is important and exciting and where we feel we can really make a positive difference to the outcome. To help support this goal, we are continuing to build our team to work across disciplines from conservation, architectural design, interior design, fabrication, product design, visual communication and building science.

Tell us about Custom Lane and what your vision is?

Custom Lane is a creative hub designed to identify, support and champion progressive Scottish design. Since 2017 we have built a diverse multi-disciplinary community of designers, makers and producers working across dozens of different creative disciplines. The project seeks to support all stages of design from inception of an idea through development to end-user experience. A programme of cultural activity including exhibitions, workshops, talks and events provides a constant stream of knowledge and inspiration for our residents and the broader creative community. Ultimately, it is an enriching and exciting place to work.

What is your relationship with Kestin and the brand?

 I have been a long-time admirer of their work, but got to know Kestin, Gemma and the team better through a shared interest in supporting and encouraging creative activity within Scotland. This ultimately led to us establishing Custom Lane, with Kestin being a key partner from the outset. Since then we have collaborated on a number of projects both operating beyond our own respective disciplines. Being able to bounce ideas of one another, while observing the meticulous attention to detail in their garments has been really valuable in my own professional growth. In addition, more days than not I’ll be wearing at least one KESTIN garment…

Do you wear suiting, if so what type of suiting do you like wearing and when do you wear it?

Sometimes I feel like I would happily wear a suit in the studio every day. When I imagine my perfect creative environment, clothing is always an important part of the vision in my head. I certainly feel that wearing simple, comfortable, elegant and well-made clothing helps me find a good frame of mind to do my best work. It goes together with being in the right physical space, with the right people or listening to the right music.

What do you think modern Scottish design looks like?

Scottish design is going through something of a renaissance, and it feels very outward looking, fresh and international, but often with roots in traditional Scottish methods, materials or values. There are so many young designers and brands who are operating at a world-class level in design within Scotland, which is incredible to see. There has also been a significant, positive impact from others who have come from outside of Scotland, but who have decided to make Scotland their home and from those who have left Scotland to work internationally. I’m sure that this has acted as a foil to inspire and bring out the best in our emerging home-grown talent. It’s always exciting to see each new generation of graduates finding their way and making their mark, guided by the more established figures. In that context, I’m hugely optimistic about the potential for Scottish designers to help solve local and global problems creatively and beautifully.