When London's Hamiltons Gallery expanded from photography to painting, Reed Creative provided a three-part interior to handle the new business
Monica Geran -- Interior Design, 8/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
Right from the start, 20th-century photography has been the spécialité de la maison at Hamiltons Gallery, currently celebrating its 25th anniversary. Horst P. Horst, Irving Penn, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Helmut Newton are just a few of the famed photographers shown, accounting for the London gallery's reputation as the oldest and most prestigious source of its kind in Europe. Last year, however, owner-director Tim Jefferies decided to broaden his business by adding contemporary and modern art, mainly paintings. Anticipating an increase in attendance and sales engendered by the availability of two art mediums, a freshening-up of the 3,450-square-foot premises was in order.
To oversee Hamiltons's first refurbishment since the gallery opened in 1977, Jefferies enlisted Reed Creative. He and principal Jonathan Reed went over the varied demands and opportunities posed by the shift in programming. Spatial allotments and optimal presentation of artwork were taken equally into account.
The tripartite, shotgun structure proceeds back from the street. A 1930s building that formerly housed an oriental-carpet showroom, the front sector now follows today's contemporary-gallery paradigm. The painted timbered ceiling rises to 24 feet, and walls are stark white. The polished black concrete of the floor continues unbroken into gallery number two, which echoes the white-box theme, this time topped by a greenhouselike 1970s roof at a height of 9 feet. Despite the heavy remodeling, both areas received only minor structural renovations: Doors, spiral stairs, and other nonessentials were stripped away to gain additional hanging space.
Last in the spatial progression, though ranking first in visual interest, is the gallery director's private viewing room and work space, originally the music room of an early 20th-century residence that once stood on the site. This prime area, Reed and Jefferies had concluded, should be furnished to reflect the latter's personal taste and professional judgment—a sales tool to inspire customers to envision a displayed piece in their own domiciles. (A particular American polo-logo designer has convincingly demonstrated that goods presented in domestic surroundings invariably sell well—as Reed, who once worked as a store designer for Ralph Lauren, is certainly aware.) Thus an unmistakably residential environment, rather than a white-box gallery or a strictly business office, was specified for these final 900 square feet.
In contrast to the all-white front galleries, the director's office is rather dark but, says Reed, pleasantly so. He describes the painted ceiling, which considerably predates the founding of Hamiltons, as a somewhat arty Mission Revival style—San Simeon-esque, he calls it. (Reed Creative junior designer Rachel MacGadie prefers "pastiche"; design director Jeremy Pitts notes that the faded colors go well with the otherwise muted interior.) Woodwork is bog oak, darkened by submergence in peat. Parquet floors are blocks of end-grain oak. Further pleasing the eye are rugs by David Hicks, a pioneer in geometric-patterned carpeting; a desk adapted from a Jean-Michel Frank design; "anonymous" Scandinavian swivel chairs; artist Danny Lane's patinated-metal Tagliatelle table, so called because its base suggests a curling noodle; and custom furniture and cabinetry from proprietary sources. Separating all of this from the center gallery are steel-framed sliding partitions of honeycomb glass sandwiching aluminum.
Part of the appeal of the new Hamiltons is that, walking between Grosvenor and Berkeley Squares, one would be unlikely to suspect that any of this exists behind the low red-brick facade of 13 Carlos Place. (The figure appears on metal light shields on either side of the tall, skinny entry set in a vaulted recess beneath a neo-Egyptian colonnade.) Despite the lack of obvious signage, however, one can decrypt the anonymity code. Those in the know will point to the gallery name discreetly engraved on the top and underside of a horizontal steel handrail that spans the front door and to the door itself, which was lengthened to admit larger artwork. In two small side windows, printed notices of upcoming exhibitions hint at the building's true purpose as well. But isn't it nice that Hamiltons Gallery, unlike so many other art institutions, eschews wild graphics, sensationalist architecture, and the usual trappings of showmanship?