Are you allergic to magnolia walls?
If so, you might be a fan of Ja!Coco!’s work.
This “maximal design studio”, headed by forty-something founder, designer and creative director, Jaco Justice, is responsible for many of Edinburgh’s most striking restaurants and bars.
They’ve picked up plenty of prizes since setting up the studio in 2015. However, their most recent accolade is making it onto the five-strong shortlist for the Bar, Club & Lounge project category at the 17th annual Hospitality Design Awards, which take place in New York on September 21.
“The Awards are American-based so any nod outside the UK and Scotland has a certain glee to it”, says Edinburgh-based Jaco. “We're also up against the interior design firm who designed notable venues such as The Britely (West Hollywood), Annabel's and Sexy Fish in London’s Mayfair so it feels nice to be circling the top table somewhat”.
The project that got them through to the finals is Superico Bar & Lounge on Edinburgh’s Hanover Street.
It’s reopening at the beginning of July, with a new head chef, Scott Wyse, and a menu that’s influenced by the flavours of South America.
In common with all of Jaco’s designs, this space is a fiesta for the eyes.
It resembles a Tamara de Lempicka painting, with Art-Deco-ish shapes and jewel-like colours, including turquoise and bright yellow. There’s even a huge globe of a light feature, which is like a full moon. This is the sort of space you’d really want to drink cocktails in.
“It saw us transform a 19th-century Georgian building and former banking hall into a Chilean-inspired sun-drenched party palace”, he says. “The client's family escaped Pinochet's regime and he was brought up around Europe before settling in Scotland and working at Gleneagles for a decade. It's fitting that we made such a celebration of colour and the solar system deep within Scottish Enlightenment territory”.
Other restaurants and bars in the capital that have been sprinkled with Ja!Coco! magic include Castello Coffee, Hula Juice Bar and pizza joint, The High Dive, with its bright orange accents. There are also brand new restaurants, Bundits (now to sit in, after opening for takeaway during lockdown) and the box fresh Scran Bistro.
They also designed the three-month-old Portobello branch of Civerinos Slice, Prom Slice. In what could have looked like an awkward space, pegged at the end of Noble Amusements, it’s distinct thanks to ice-cream hues, a striped awning and monochrome tiles that spell PORTY.
Unsurprisingly, Instagram is littered with pictures of these places. They provide a perfect backdrop to selfies or food shots, and they’re perfect for passing trade, as you can’t walk by without doing a double take.
“These days folk tend to approach us knowing they want something out of the ordinary”, says Jaco, who was once the art director of the Edinburgh International Fashion Festival. “We have a dedication and respect for the locations and brands that sets us apart. Buildings can vary so much here and it's important to keep them part of the story. We're onto our sixth venue with Civerinos and multiples with other clients. We just love to help keep telling their stories!”
Perhaps the success of Ja!Coco! indicates that we’re all slightly bored of the pared back Scandi chic looks that have been fashionable for the best part of a decade. Norn has a lot to answer for. Still, as non-offensive minimalism has become so common, maybe Jaco’s designs just look loud in comparison.
“We're maximal in the sense that we love layering colours, patterns and textures but apart from a few spots like The High Dive and Superico most of our work is more 'non-minimal' than maximal per se. Check out designers Masquespacio, Luke Edward Hall, Martin Brudnizki (who is also a nominee in the Hospitality Design award) and the pages of Cabana Magazine for the real deal,” he says. “But because Scotland and the UK (except London) have a relatively slow uptake on interior trends and their potential, we feel we have to spell it out somewhat. The cynic in me says we label ourselves "maximal" to deter architects from talking to me too much about breeze block hues”.
There were definitely none of those shades in one of Ja!Coco!’s earliest interior jobs. It was the transformation of Edinburgh’s iconic Bar Kohl into Slighhouse, now closed, which had neon signs and a bar that was covered in geometric shapes. In comparison to his later designs, it looks quite simple.
While most of us tone it down as we get older, it seems that Jaco’s aesthetic is catapulting in the other direction.
“It’s getting even wilder hopefully. That said, a brief is a brief and we do 'straight up' designs if we share that vision with the client for their location”, he says. “The only rule I go by is that the next project is always better than the one before. That's not to say it will be as well received as something that precedes it but when our in-house workings, methods and design resolutions are achieved in a happy and rewarding manner that brings joy to all the parties involved (staff, client, contractors, customers) then that's the success right there”.
For now, there’s a backlog of work to get on with before the awards in September. If Covid restrictions allow it, Jaco will travel to the US in person.
“It's an opportunity for us to reach out to fellow studios, designers, suppliers and manufacturers and spend a week making good connections,” he says. “Maybe even pick up a client, who knows? Oh, and sampling the best hospitality, be it a Central Park hot dog stand, a painfully hip cocktail speakeasy or sweating it out in a street-corner Italian”.