Innovative ideas fuel’s reputation of Scottish kitchen firm

Attention to detail: Adam Cleghorn and Gillian McCollum aim to create a bespoke kitchen for each individual. Picture: Kevin McCollum
Attention to detail: Adam Cleghorn and Gillian McCollum aim to create a bespoke kitchen for each individual. Picture: Kevin McCollum
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In partnership with Murray & Murray

THE kitchen is the heart of every home – and Gillian McCollum isn’t happy when it’s not up to scratch. “I stayed with friends recently while working away. They had bought a house and done it up everywhere but the kitchen – and the kitchen was awful. Yet the majority of our conversations, in the morning or at night, were in the kitchen. There was nowhere to sit and we were leaning on the counters, or sitting on them, or standing around. It was the least comfortable, least visually appealing room in the house, but we were still there.

“There is some kind of gravitational pull to the kitchen; everyone ends up there.”

McCollum declares a vested interest, as head designer and director for bespoke kitchen and interiors designer and maker Murray & Murray.

“The word bespoke is over used, but our products really are. Most companies in Scotland are designers and retailers, but we are also a manufacturer.

“We design, manufacture and install and we do it all in-house; the product we manufacture is not standardised, it really is bespoke. Every job we do is unique and high quality.”

Individuality and craftsmanship are at the heart of the Murray & Murray philosophy.

The business began as a traditional furniture maker, but has carved out another niche by offering bespoke contemporary designs too.

“The company was very traditional in its aesthetic,” says McCollum.

“We still do traditional kitchens but we have entered much more into the contemporary market. Most contemporary kitchens are imported from Europe; it is very rare for a manufacturer to be making them in Scotland.

“It is hard to achieve the simplicity and clean lines in a genuinely bespoke kitchen, but we do that.”

To achieve this, Murray & Murray has brought specific skills in-house – including spray painting and hand veneering. “We found we couldn’t quite get the control we wanted with pre-veneered materials, so we bought a large press and other equipment and started doing it,” says McCollum.

“Our workshop manager is really passionate and wants to bring new skills into the firm and pass them on; he lives and breathes it.”

The craft of furniture-making is central to the Murray & Murray ethos, McCollum explains: “We have some very highly-skilled people, but we don’t have formal training courses; the skills evolve naturally and are passed on.”

Bringing spray-painting in-house has delivered obvious advantages: “If you buy a standard door from a normal supplier, it will be either matt or gloss and in maybe five colours. Now we can do whatever colour you want in a choice of sheen levels.”

Much of the business’s success hinges on its ability to fuse traditional craftsmanship and contemporary design, well-illustrated when McCollum opens a drawer using a tiny electrical sensor to reveal a beautiful wooden cutlery box with dovetail joints.

“It’s difficult to find people with the traditional, high-quality skills to make the bespoke furniture we want to create; they are not easily available. One way we address this is bringing in apprentices and nurturing them through the experienced guys.”

When it comes to installing the kitchens it creates, Murray & Murray doesn’t sub-contract, but uses its own people to ensure the bespoke designs are fitted perfectly.

“Our installation team have spent time on the bench in the workshop learning the skills; they have to be able to do very specialist things on site and show real attention to detail to the very end. Our clients expect that.”

Realising client expectations is central to the Murray & Murray story. When customers spend in tens of thousands of pounds on a new kitchen, those expectations are high.

That’s why the company invites clients to visit the workshop in Glenrothes, Fife, to watch their furniture being made.

“They can see our designs coming to life, or just come in at an early stage before they have committed,” says McCollum.

“I’m a bit nervous sometimes; our showrooms and final products are so pristine that I worry about bringing clients into a dusty, noisy environment, but they absolutely love it.

“They ask the guys what they are doing and why, and it gives them a story to tell about their furniture.”

This is part of the end-to-end customer journey, says McCollum; the firm doesn’t employ sales people and its five designers build a relationship with the client from the first contact through to project end.

McCollum herself heads the design team and still has her own portfolio of work: “How could I lead a team of designers if I didn’t do the job myself? And it’s what I love.”

She continues: “We choose our designers very carefully. They must have a feel for scale, proportion and detail to deliver the kind of product our clients want.

“It starts with their home and their priorities; what’s on their wish-list? Some are more interested in the aesthetic, others focus on functionality.

“We marry everything together to find a bespoke solution. We share an initial set of designs and review them with the client and discuss a budget. We start from £30,000 up but a typical spend is £40,000 upwards.

“We are design-led, not sales-led. We need sales because we are a business, but we are driven by high-quality design and excellence in everything we do.

“That’s why we are there at the end, to make sure the stone work surfaces and appliances we have chosen to complement our designs all work as the project comes to life.”

Murray & Murray currently employs 30 staff, but is recruiting as the latest phase of its business growth plan takes shape, with the Glenrothes workshop being extended into the showroom and offices to meet growing demand.

After spending 25 years in Fife, Murray & Murray expanded into Edinburgh in 2014. “It was a no-brainer as 60 per cent of our orders were from Edinburgh,” explains McCollum.

“We looked at premises for six months as lots of Edinburgh units are narrow and deep and we wanted a wide shopfront to showcase what we do.”

Finally, the firm moved into the old Nippers clothing store in Bruntsfield, where two full-time designers and a part-time showroom assistant now work.

Stained glass windows and cornicing were retained from the original fittings but the artificial additions were pared back to allow Murray & Murray to showcase its wares realistically.

“We don’t just have several display kitchens,” says McCollum. “Although they are our bread and butter, we do other furnishings too – and we want to show the kitchen in the context of a home, so clients can imagine it.

“We furnish our showrooms like model homes to a really high standard, with quality fittings our clients might buy for their home, down to the cutlery.”

The company’s showroom in Banchory, Aberdeenshire, opened in March 2016.

“It was a little riskier than Edinburgh because of the downturn in oil and gas, but we were not as affected as maybe some people thought because we work with senior managers with established homes in the area, not contractors.

“It’s been buoyant for us and we have done our biggest project yet, working on 13 rooms for a wealthy client in Bieldside.”

With Edinburgh and Banchory both working well, pressure increased on the manufacturing base. “We needed more space to make our furniture and the showroom in Glenrothes had become a little bit of a poor relation, so it seemed right to extend the manufacturing side and move the showroom elsewhere.”

The “elsewhere” is Forteviot, Perthshire, in the Old Sawmill and is due to open in early 2017.

The move highlights the company’s desire to keep moving forward by innovating and problem-solving:

“We create bespoke designs, so we have to push the boundaries to find solutions. If architects and designers have a slightly different idea, they know they can come to us; we are probably the only firm who can execute it.

“We are often the ones trying new; sometimes we have to compromise but we do not change path.”

So what makes Murray & Murray tick? McCollum pauses, then replies: “It’s knowing we are at the peak of our industry. We have to work really hard to stay there but it is so rewarding. I’m not being high-minded, but it is great to see how you can make a difference to people’s lives.

“I’m interested in Danish design, which is very big on how good design can uplift people and transform their well-being.

“I had my own kitchen re-designed this year and it brings a lot of joy to me. If we can do the same thing for our clients, that’s fantastic.”

WHEN it moves to Forteviot in Perthshire, Murray & Murray will occupy a renovated building next to the base of Strathearn Stone & Timber. The move illustrates the importance of quality partnerships to the firm.

“Strathearn also operates at the top end of the market and we use its flooring in both of our showrooms,” says Gillian McCollum.

Murray & Murray also works closely with other high-end firms, including paint and wallpaper specialist Farrow & Ball, Aga cookers and Miele, the German manufacturer of high-end domestic appliances.

“These firms all have very high levels of product and service and attitudes aligned with ours. They are very complementary to us in terms of business ethos,” says McCollum.

• This article appears in the Autumn 2016 edition of Vision Scotland. An online version can be read here. Further information about Vision Scotland here.