Friday, March 8, 2019

Fife Arms Scotland’s Most Elaborate Hotel

If you’re not yet convinced that maximalism is back, Iwan and Manuela Wirth are about to change your mind. Switzerland’s art-dealing power duo is giving the white-walled minimalist look of their Hauser & Wirth galleries a break and pivoting hard into the delightful world of color—and clutter—with their Scottish Highlands hotel, Fife Arms (

 The Wirths first made their talent for eccentric country estates known a few years ago when they opened their six-room Durslade Farmhouse on the edge of the sleepy English village of Bruton. Their latest foray into hospitality  lies within the heavy stone walls of the old Duke of Fife’s coaching inn, in the small Cairngorms town of Braemar. It’s an evolution of the couple’s penchant for the peculiar, where empty walls are anathema and every nook and cranny is crammed with eye candy: here, a stuffed stag perched atop a plinth; there, one of Picasso’s Musketeer paintings; overhead, an 1874 watercolor by Queen Victoria depicting the head of a deer shot by her Scottish attendant John Brown.
Of course, the Wirths have no shortage of connections to help them fill their new space, and works by everyone from Richard Jackson (whose massive chandelier of glass antlers hangs in the lobby) to Mark Bradford (whose bleach-splashed Steinway grand piano sits nearby) were brought in. But this repository of intrigue goes well beyond art: Walls are covered with custom tartan and tweed patterns by Scottish fabric maven Araminta Campbell; “curiosity cabinets” are filled with dinosaur vertebrae, mammoth tusks, and taxidermy animals; and, near that aforementioned Steinway, an elaborately carved fireplace depicts scenes from the poetry of Robert Burns. It’s as if the Wirths have arranged an extraordinary series of exhibitions, with each space an elaborate narrative unfolding one after the other.

And yet, somewhere amid all of the visual fireworks is an actual hotel, with 46 guest rooms, a restaurant, a cocktail bar, and a pub that, like any good Scottish watering hole, pours more than 200 types of whisky. The bar and restaurant are also notable for their local produce, sourced by the Fife’s full-time forager. Of course, they all come with their own collection of Wirthian artworks and oddities. But if all that maximalism turns out to be a bit too much, not to worry—just outside, the Cairngorm Mountains offer a swift return to life’s more basic pleasures.

Photos: Courtesy of Fife Arms

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