After 10 years in London we found ourselves split across three sites and short on space. And so began our search for a space that would mark our coming of age in Europe, and accommodate our plans for further growth. Fast forward through many viewings and some false starts, and we fell in love with the possibilities offered by Elsley House, an Art Deco building in London’s central Fitzrovia district.
Fitzrovia felt right to us, because it is a long-time home of artists, designers, makers and creative businesses. The building and its rich history spoke to us. We resolved to make this a place where creative people could come together, and where our teams and our collaborators could happen upon the moments of inspiration that make good ideas into outstanding ideas.
Great Titchfield Street was developed by the Dukes of Portland in the 18th and 19th centuries. At the southern end were warehouses built for the garment industry, and the area was colonised by creative and manufacturing industries. These included:
- The Scheemakers family of sculptors
- George Richardson, the Adam brothers’ draughtsman and publisher of ceiling designs
- Notable framers, carvers and gilders Joseph Crouzet and Benjamin Charpentier
- The painter John Varley, whose friend William Blake produced his ‘Visionary Heads’ drawings here
- Brushmakers Titterton & Howard
The largest business the street belonged to was Thomas Elsley. Elsley employed 60 people making fireplaces and other art metalwork for leading architects, as well as structural and security metalwork.
The business did not long survive Elsley’s death, but buildings on the site bear his name to this day. Elsley House and its neighbour Elsley Court were designed by Waite & Waite architects in 1936–7 for the site of Elsley’s original ironmongers, and the spaces within were let to small garment businesses.
We very much felt that we were continuing the legacy of the area’s long line of craftspeople and makers, and were keen to make stimulating creative energy core to our design.
As we were taking two floors, including the lower ground, we worked with the landlords to align their stripout works with our design which included opening up a structural bay in the centre of the plan and revising the staircase design to a single flight. To maximise natural light, we introduced roof-lights above the lower ground workstations directing natural light deep within the floorplate, connecting the studio spaces around a central double-height presentation/display space.
We wanted to feature some of the historical fabric of the building. As the building was stripped back to reveal its original character, a simple palette of black, white and natural brick evolved. The space was to be a blank canvas for the working process. Strip-out work uncovered some interesting original materials, so the design was adapted to make a feature of the heritage brickwork. Riveted steel columns were uncovered and restored, paying homage to the building’s industrial heritage, with all metal finished in matt black. We restored the original Crittall glazed windows in the main studio.
The main studio spaces feature solid Douglas Fir timber flooring sourced from Denmark. The use of timber gives a natural, biophilic aspect. Care was taken to apply subtle surface treatment allowing the natural grain of the timber to show through, achieving a studio feel. Other floor areas are finished in polished concrete, a finish far more common in studios and galleries than in office space.
Because we believe that good design and great ideas don’t always happen at desks, we wanted a flexible space that encouraged cross-pollination of ideas and where spontaneous huddles are the norm. And herein lies the difference: we were no longer inhabiting clusters of desks in a space lined with meeting rooms. Our space would have a studio feel, and be set up to enable informal breakout space, deskside conferences, reviews and charrettes on every available vertical space, retreat space for private calls, social space, and room for the whole practice to gather.
But above all, we wanted to celebrate creativity in all its forms. So, we included space to showcase the work of artists, photographers, designers, thinkers, and makers. Space to run everything from workshops for children, to conferences for professionals. Space to host meetings of minds and spark serendipitous collaborations, in the design community, the built environment community, and the local community.
Expansive shop windows give us a real opportunity to offer a glimpse of what lies within, and celebrate the work of people and organisations that ignite creativity, inspire admiration, practice design excellence, and provoke debate.
But we were clear from the start that this wouldn’t be a space to simply display image upon image of our own projects, which would be akin to sitting in your own living room and shouting about how marvellous you are. We wanted to be a living room and gallery for creative minds across our community, a learning space, a collaborative space, a design thinking space… a space to find creative nourishment and hold critical debate.
So far, we have mounted an exhibition of the history of the area and the building; a final exhibition for international baccalaureate students; a brainstorm for an architecture charity; a show for an emerging artists’ collective, and an interactive workshop to explore the resilient organisation. Coming up is an exhibition exploring the use of pink and blue in painting and other media, as well as events to tie in with London’s busy design fixture schedule, including London Design Festival and Open House London.
We have now settled into our new studio, but still pinch ourselves when we walk into the office in the morning. We’re proud to show clients and visitors around, and know that our peers are just that little bit envious at our good fortune in working in such a great space.
It’s not just our space… it’s your space too, so come and talk about how you can collaborate.