I wrote this feature for Scotland On Sunday‘s At Home mag (27.4.12)
In Anton Chekhov’s play of the same name, we meet Three Sisters who are dissatisfied with their existence in turn-of-the-century Russia. Quite the opposite of 21st century Scottish sisters Gillian (32), Nichola (30) and Linsey (27) Reith, who have turned their collective dream of creating a food haven into a reality.
Last October, the trio of self-confessed food fanatics opened Three Sisters Bake, a 50-seater cafe-restaurant in rural Renfrewshire in Quarriers Village which has quickly established itself as a standout destination for quality, fresh homemade food.
All three are currently spinning plenty of tea plates, but for eldest sister Gillian who is about to give birth to her first child, life is serving up several significant milestones.
“My partner Douglas Blair opens his diamond design workshop Blair & Sheridan the week before the baby’s due, and we’re putting the finishing touches to the nursery after a major renovation to our flat,” explains Gillian during a rare moment of relaxation in her home on Glasgow’s south side.
“The flat is on the third floor of a traditional Victorian tenement but we are determined to stay on and enjoy it for a few years as we put so much blood, sweat and tears into making it exactly right for us.
“It was originally Douglas’s student pad, but he had to move out when the entire building was undergoing structural renovation. We got together round about then, and that and the building work gave us the impetus to take the flat back to a shell.
“Douglas carried out most of the work himself, while his father project managed, and all our friends rallied round. We installed a new kitchen and bathroom, restored the wooden floorboards and skirting boards, and re-decorated in a style that combines our respective tastes.”
As Douglas shares Gillian’s outsize appetite for bright bold colours, the generously proportioned two-bedroom flat comes with a fresh irreverent approach seasoned with a 1970’s retro feel.
The walls in the runway sized hall are painted in Dulux 1977, a groovy turquoise shade. This is a space which comfortably absorbs the couple’s most recent vintage find, an over-sized the G-plan sideboard, while the peeled back layers of the original floorboards inject soulful honesty.
Gillian and Douglas are inveterate lily gilders who enjoy reinventing pieces inherited from friends and family, or furniture found in architectural salvage yards and charity shops.
“Things have come full circle in the dining area of our living room as when Douglas was a student, my parents gave him our old dining room table,” points out Gillian, who has known Douglas since she was14-years old.
Living in neighbouring Renfrewshire villages, the couple shared the same network of friends, and when Douglas went on to study silver smithing and jewellery at the Glasgow School of Art, and Gillian took off on her travels after graduating in English from the University of Strathclyde, the two stayed in touch.
“We were always great friends and I often used this flat as a crash pad in between my travels to Europe and Australia,” recalls Gillian. “It was only when I returned to Scotland full-time that we started going out together. Now I’m back at my family dining table.”
Now that the refurbishment is finished, Douglas is devoting his attention to launching Blair & Sheridan, which specialises in bespoke jewellery, engagement rings and wedding bands.
Given his arts background, it’s not surprising that Douglas has turned the base metal of the flat into gold. He has even re-covered the dining room chairs in a retro turquoise colour, as well as the wooden rocking chair made by his maternal grand-father.
Jewel like shades of turquoise and lime green define the dining zone, with the sock-it-to-me colours of the Sanderson wallpaper, Brighton Houses, echoed in the living area.
“Our 1970’s style three-seater sofa was a half-price bargain from Fraser’s as no one wanted lime green but it was exactly what we were looking for,” says Gillian. “We’ve jazzed it up with a lambswool rug from avoca handweavers (www.avoca.ie). When I lived in Dublin, I fell in love with these rugs; the way they use colour is amazing.
“I’m particularly proud of my vintage flying ducks, much to the amazement of my grand-mother, but our most recent purchase is a Timerous Beasties cushion from their thistle collection; it’s the ultimate pre-baby treat.”
With red lacquered cabinetry, purple Amtico floor tiles and lime green splashback, the kitchen is the tiniest room in the flat, and Gillian accurately describes it as a ‘Mary Poppins’ handbag of a room’, with creative storage solutions.
As well as being chief barista, and ensuring that visitors enjoy the Three Sisters Bake experience, Gillian is also the main buyer for the cafe’s craft boutique and admits that some of her favourite home accessories often find their way back to her kitchen.
“We stock Gillian Kyle mugs, tea towels, aprons and baby clothes and I absolutely love all of it. Her new range has a nostalgic feel to it and is inspired by trips to the Scottish seaside. I love her Cremola Foam tea towels which I bought before they made it to the shop’s shelves.
“Creating a cafe and craft boutique has been our dream since we used to help our Gran make tablet for her sweetie shop in Kirriemuir, and as our mum was a home economics teacher, cooking and baking is in our blood.”
Working in a variety of eateries, yachts and ski-chalets, the Reith sisters have spent years cooking and tasting their way around the world, as well as working in some of Glasgow’s most notable eateries.
After experiencing the café culture and relaxed neighbourhood eateries in Australia, they were inspired to open Three Sisters Bake in their old stomping ground of Renfrewshire, where they are forging links with like-minded businesses.
“Wilson Davis Art Gallery & Framer is a neighbouring business which sells lots of work by local artists, including some gorgeous paintings by the gallery’s co-owner, Emma Davis,” says Gillian.
“She uses lovely pastel colours in lots of her paintings which we thought would perfectly in our nursery. I’m sure the baby won’t appreciate the gesture for another 18 years or so but we love it.
“In contrast the rest of the flat, our bedroom is fairly muted and calm. We both love photography and found a fantastic print by a local photographer, Stuart Brown, of the Beresford building on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow. Stuart exhibits at the Merchant Square craft fair ever week.”(www.folksy.com/shops/butso69)
If Gillian could bottle the magic ingredients which make up Three Sisters Bake it would be a heady mix of passion, colour and fun, just like her home. Oh and just in case you are wondering if the strong female line is set to continue, Gillian is expecting a baby girl.
Three Sisters Bake, Sommerville Weir Hall, Quarriers Village, Renfrewshire 01505 228087 www.threesistersbake.co.uk.
Blair & Sheridan 417 Great Western Road – opens 25th May www.blairandsheridan.co.uk