The Art of Travel

In a forest workshop outside Edinburgh, Timothy Barber discovers an extraordinary revival in the art of bespoke trunkmaking

By Timothy Barber

July 25 2019

There is something inescapably romantic about the idea of an old-fashioned travel trunk. They conjure an EM Forster-ish world of porters hauling them up gangplanks, and absurdly overloaded and top-heavy old motorcars rattling through the dust in far-flung colonial outposts. Or indeed, for some of us, a remembrance of boarding-school days, wherein beaten-up trunks and tuck-boxes, often handed on from previous generations, found inevitable other uses as bedsit coffee tables and seating. They are no longer required kit, I’m told, and that means, in the most part, that the trunk has passed well and truly into the world of the antique. Indeed, in the Bentley’s antiques shop on Pimlico Road – a stone’s throw from Boisdale of Belgravia – you’ll find beautifully-made vintage examples from the likes of Louis Vuitton, Goyard and Moynat, luxury marques that were first established as the most celebrated makers of bespoke trunks.

Unlikely as it may seem, however, there’s a new name to add to that tradition, based not in the ateliers of Paris, but in a forest a few miles outside Edinburgh. Method Studio, founded by master cabinetmaker Callum Robinson and his wife Marisa Giannasi, a designer and former architect, occupies a picturesque former sawmill in the Bathgate Hills. Here, surrounded by citrus spruce forests planted a century ago, the couple and their small team have spent the past few years producing all manner of elegant, minutely handmade artefacts: furniture, cabinets, drinks cases, watch boxes and other objets, most of it bespoke, and mostly using local, storm-blown timber. As well as private projects, these have included commissions for the likes of Burberry, Jaguar, Bentley and Vacheron Constantin, much of it inspired by the style and feel of old-fashioned, portable cabinets and trunks.

The Grand Tourer trunk open, with drawers, cases and hangers
The Grand Tourer trunk open, with drawers, cases and hangers

The couple has now founded a studio within a studio, Method Trunk Works, dedicated to producing ten fully bespoke, hand-made trunks per year. And these are not the kinds of luggage pieces set to end up as shabby-chic coffee tables any time soon: Involving an estimated 300 hours of handwork to produce a single piece, they’re scaled to fit in the luggage bay of a private jet or be hauled up the jetty to a superyacht. Prices start at £26,500, while the flagship trunk, the Grand Tourer, comes in at £38,000. Rippling with gleaming Scottish leather and oiled oak, it’s loaded with drop-down drawers, removable accessories cases, and a hanging rail with hand-shaped oak hangers for suits.

As the ultimate accessory to travel, for those for whom baggage carousels and the boot space of an airport Addison Lee are not a going concern, it takes some beating. “It quivers with the amount of effort and care that goes into it,” says Robinson, the son of a master woodcarver, with whom he learned his craft before establishing his business. “Other trunks are just frames and leather, but with our cabinetmaking background we can incorporate that fine artisanal work and sense of detail, which add so much that’s truly special.”

Included in the production of Method Studio’s bespoke trunks is the opportunity to travel to the rural workshop to see how they are made – as Robinson points out, at this level, the journey is as much a part of the experience as the finished product.

For those fired up by such artistry but on smaller budgets, I’d recommend a stop-off at the charming little Method Studio shop, M74, in the nearby historic village of Linlithgow. Here, furniture and artefacts as exquisitely made as they’re ingeniously conceived are on show in elegant surrounds.

Callum Robinson and Marisa Gianasi
Callum Robinson and Marisa Gianasi

“We’re trying to be as sustainable, responsible and as local as we can be,” Robinson says. “That’s important if you’re also producing things that are as luxurious, ostentatious and as privileged as some of the things we’re making. We have to be humble about it.”

As rooted in home and the Scottish landscape as their work is, it’s travel that remains the principle inspiration for a couple who are as fanatical about their own luggage when on tour.

“It’s usually considerably more expensive than what’s in it – we’re obsessive about it,” Robinson says. On which note, he has a tip for the truly dedicated traveller. “What you’re really looking for is for the guys at security to compliment your luggage. They see so much of it, if they think it’s cool, you know you’re doing something right.”

A £26,000 trunk ought to do that.