An Interview with Xanthe Weir

I got a call from the CEO of Miller Harris, Sarah Rotheram.  Could I find a find a photographer and a space in Edinburgh that fitted the new on-going aesthetic of the brand? Any suggestions as to brief? The vibe that I brought to my own perfumed, floral and chroma infused insta grid. Yes.

There was a hint of urgency. The candle images needed to be showcased in the run up to the important festive retail season and I wanted to create images that the Miller Harris guys could use as much as possible.

First up I found a brilliant art photographer called Laura Meek, courtesy of a friend; I loved her portraiture and quirky analogue work.  She had the blurred sophistication I wanted. Then the trickier proposition of the space…

A fortuitous recommendation from another friend (and a bit of research) got us to an interior designer and object curator called Xanthe Weir, originally from Glasgow who after a long spell in London, including five years of marketing with a top fashion designer had decided to return to Edinburgh with husband Euan and her three children. Xanthe is working out of her beautiful Royal Terrace house in Edinburgh, using the William Playfair built house to showcase her evolving collection of Italian and French mid-century collectibles. All curated impeccably against the high ceilings and decorative cornices lit by the trademark glow of Edinburgh light from huge bay windows.

This was exactly what I was looking for.  Xanthe was kind enough to let Laura and I shoot how we liked, uninterrupted.  There was so much we could use, to create moods, angles, colours etc. It was a dream.  Getting to know Xanthe has been a pleasure (not forgetting Romeo the Jack Russell...) we thought it would be interesting to spend some more time with her and ask some questions.

Xanthe Weir: Interview Questions & Answers

Q: Why did you move back to Scotland?

A: I’m originally from Glasgow and my husband Euan is from Edinburgh. I studied here but we both moved away to work in London. Then after about sixteen years in total in London, plus me working in Hong Kong for over eight years, the time felt right to return. I had been working in marketing for a London designer and Euan was spending more and more of his time up here with his business and it was the right time for the kid’s exams.

Q: What was it about this particular house that made you think… yes! ?

A: I wanted a house in the city. City living, not out in the burbs. I loved this house as soon as I walked in. It also had a great history, the first house built by William Playfair on this terrace. It was built for a whisky merchant who liked to watch the ships carrying his barrels dock into Leith and you can just see it from the house. I had a family as well and I think part of me knew the collecting was growing. The large communal gardens, which, we have, direct access onto at the back of the house played a huge part as well. It’s fourteen acres and was planted by the same person who designed the Botanic Gardens. Parts of it seem quite feral and other bits are manicured. I love the fact I can see the Forth Road Bridge, Fife and Arthurs Seat. Previous owners had left their mark. I do feel like I’m only half way there really and still have lots I want to do in terms of buying and filling the gaps I have.

Q: You have a background in fashion. How did the interest in collectibles, art and interior design come about?

A: During my time in London I had worked with someone who designed and curated the brand shops, picking key pieces for each and ensuring the visual merchandising team created shop environments appropriate to their areas. He taught me a lot; he had the most amazing eye for objects and beautiful taste. So I collected pieces and people liked things, asked me where I bought them. I learned what worked in my house and I thought maybe I can do this. Soon I had more pieces than space and the idea of Lair and the pop ups started.

Q: Tell us a little bit about the things you buy and curate?

A: My personal taste is what you see, mid-century modern, usually French and Italian style. I like to things mix though.  Quite early on my rule of thumb quickly became, if I wouldn’t have it in my house, I wouldn’t sell it. I’ve been burned a few times, so I try to be true to myself in that respect.  A lot of legwork is involved. I go to markets, in France and Italy. And Spain, there are some great markets in Spain at the moment. After putting in a lot of effort over the years, I now have dealers who buy for me. I do a little online sourcing and I do use auction houses too. I do like to touch and feel what I’m buying. But sometimes that’s not always possible. I have an auction house contact in London who is able to supply me with detailed condition reports.  I’m not necessarily buying things to make a profit; I bring in the pieces for specific clients or to fit my aesthetic, knowing they will sit well in my house.   

Q: Why did you decide to use your home as a curated space?

A: When we moved into Royal Terrace after living in a flat in London, I was slightly daunted by the size of the rooms, the height of the ceilings. All the rooms have an echo and the light is huge. It floods these rooms. I needed to furnish the house and started putting together a collection of pieces that reflected my aesthetical mid-century taste.  After having a couple of pop-ups and running Lair for a year I realised I couldn’t really afford to do it that way. So now I have established partnerships with some exclusive galleries and art societies to host occasional events and I bring in pieces for clients and showcase them here perpetuating the aesthetic that I’ve stayed true to.  In the beginning I think people didn’t really get what I was doing, like it was ‘second hand’ stuff or something, scratched etc and tried to knock the price down. But I’ve stuck with it.

Q: When we came to shoot in the space and do our pre-shoot visit I was struck by how beautiful all the rooms and spaces in the house smelled. Do you think scent and odour have a role in interior design?

A: Absolutely! It’s vital. Scent is one of our key senses. I always have candles burning, they make people feel comfortable, seduced into the ambiance of the room. I like high impact candles, large sizes, well made with a good strong scent. I’m burning the Miller Harris ones today in your honour… they smell wonderful. These rooms are big. It’s important to me they look good too.

Q: Is scent something you think about in your work?

A: Yes it is.  When I was in Paris years ago I visited Hotel Costes and I was very struck by the scent of the hotel. Even now, talking about it, I can smell it in my head, spicy and warm. I bought the candles and I never forgot the impact that scent had on me.  I have a second business called DecorAir, focussed on interior design for the “Buy To Let” market, more specifically the more high-end part of the Air BNB market. When we have discussions with clients we always talk about the importance of scenting the space when they rent out to more exclusive clients. 

Q: What kinds of scents do you like in a room?

A: That depends. It’s a mood or seasonal thing really isn’t it? If I’m having friends round or it’s Christmas. I choose candles to suit the month or occasion. I like the idea of your house having a signature scent, something you become known for.

Q: What about you personally?

A: Hmm. I don’t like the kind of bright strip lighting duty free fragrance shopping. I like wearing things that are unusual, that other people haven’t heard off, or are hard to get hold of. It’s very important to me how it is retailed, for that reason I like Liberty’s for fragrance shopping.  I do have a couple of favourites, I like the Margiela Untitled; I don’t normally go for designer perfumes but I like that one and the Alaïa in the black bottle, I think you can wear that day into night. It’s beautiful.

Q: Are there things you find hard to part with once you have bought them?

A: Oh yes. And things I regret selling as soon as they have gone too. I can think of a particular lamp and a gorgeous pink marble table straight away. I even called up the person I sold it to and said… if.. you ever think about selling it, can I please have first dibs.

Q: Do you have a favourite object or piece of furniture?

A: I think that would have to be the huge Italian glass table in the room upstairs. It is so beautiful and versatile. I can display books and objects underneath it and it looks so good in the bright city light. 

Thank you so much Xanthe for taking the time to talk to me today.