Scottish referendum meets furniture in cabinet of ideas

It was described as “an iconic piece of furniture of both national and international importance,” by Professor Richard Demarco, one of Europe’s leading advocates of contemporary art, at its unveiling at an Edinburgh art gallery this week.

Richard Demarco presenting the Referendum Cabinet

The intricately-inlaid cabinet tells an interwoven story of Scotland’s heritage and history, and of its place in the Union ahead of the independence referendum.

The non-political cabinet is the work of Anselm Fraser, the School’s principal and his team of teaching specialists and students, and underlines the School’s reputation for skilled craftsmanship and teaching excellence.


It will be on display at George Pirie Antiques, 22 Howe Street, Edinburgh EH3 6TG from Monday 8th September to Friday 19th and visitors are most welcome. The shop is open Monday to Saturday: 10am to 6pm, and on Sundays: 12pm to 5pm or by appointment.

The cabinet features Eilean Donan Castle and the Forth Rail Bridge on its outer doors, and a composite image of the London skyline on its central drawer, all employing traditional marquetry enhanced by computer aided design (CAD) and computer numerically controlled (CNC) technologies.

Forth Rail Bridge detail on the Referendum Cabinet

The wood veneers used included stained harewoods for the skies and water, zebrano, lacewood, macassar ebony, mahogany, burr oak, burr and crown walnut, magnolia, maple, vavona and eucalyptus.

Eilean Donan Castle detail on the Referendum Cabinet

While the cabinet required intricate craftsmanship, it also used cutting-edge computer technologies. For example, some of the finest detail on the cabinet – in particular the struts on the Forth Bridge – were given additional precision using CNC line technology, a process of burning fine detail into the marquetry, carried out by Heritage Inlay Design of Brighton.

Heritage Inlay has some 30 years of inlay experience, with commissions including the Burj Al Arab Hotel, Dubai, the Scottish parliament, the Irish parliament, and Harrods Egyptian Room – working on both historic restoration and contemporary design. Heritage Inlay Design was an integral partner for the detailed marquetry.

“The inspiration behind the cabinet is that we wanted to design and make a piece of furniture to commemorate one of the most important days in Scotland’s history,” said Anselm Fraser.

London skyline detail drawer of the Referendum Cabinet

“We also wanted the design to be as challenging as possible, both to stretch the learning experience for our students, and to create a nationally-significant piece of new furniture ahead of the referendum,” he said.


Images on the central drawer include historic buildings such as the Houses of Parliament and Tower Bridge – interspersed with newer additions to London’s cityscape, including the Shard, Europe’s tallest building.

The Scottish images celebrate Scotland’s engineering heritage and iconic history and scenery. London, on the Thames, looks out to continental Europe; Eilean Donan Castle, on Scotland’s west coast, looks to the New World. Helping to join the two countries is the Forth Rail Bridge, opened in 1890, and an enduring symbol of engineering excellence.

“By combining computer-aided design technologies with traditional craftsmanship, we have created a piece of furniture that also tells a more modern story; a story of both heritage and innovation – and that, whatever the referendum result, we should celebrate the past as well as the future,” said Anselm Fraser.

“In that sense, it is a cabinet of ideas, inviting people to think about Scotland and the UK: to consider our differences and shared values – the very heart of the referendum debate,” he said.

There are still places remaining for this year’s 30-week intensive course which begins in October, with bursaries and student loans available, and with graduating students able to take incubation space at the school to establish new businesses.

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