Shine Of The Times
No evidence of a bear market at an investment company's London office by SHH
Bethan Ryder -- Interior Design, 11/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
Few business offices boast seductively dark entrance halls with disco-fabulous lighting and arty wall projections. But the vestibule of an international investment company on Manchester Square in London seems to promise cocktails and late-night lounging rather than the caffeine-fueled nine-to-five financial analysis that's its actual stock-in-trade. Evidently the firm does not think professional expertise is signaled by a mundane work environment. In fact, it's apparent that the company encouraged its designers to indulge their wilder side.
The firm behind the renovation, SHH—named for founding directors David Spence, Graham Harris, and Neil Hogan—already had a good relationship with the client's design director, Zeljko Popovic, with whom it had previously completed a residential makeover for one of the company's directors. "We built on the existing trust to produce a high-impact contemporary solution," says 33-year-old Brendan Heath, the SHH senior interior designer who led this project. "The client was very design literate, essential on such a fast-track commission, which took just four months."
The brief dictated purely functional requirements: office space for five directors and a support staff of 20, two meeting rooms, a videoconferencing room, and a breakout area. The property—a Grade II–listed Georgian town house with former stables and a garage mews in back—presented restrictions, since its listed status limited architectural intervention. SHH's remit involved transforming the ground floor of the mews and the ground and two upper floors of the town house. "We couldn't build anything into the existing fabric," Heath explains. "The interiors had high ceilings and good natural light but were otherwise bland with few original details."
In such circumstances, decoration is all. Color, materials, and texture have been used to enrich the 3,230-square-foot interiors, with iconic contemporary design pieces and striking lighting conspiring to create a glamour that breaks the corporate mold. Grounding the 21st-century-with-a-twist theme is the white French oak flooring, laid in a herringbone pattern and stained black, that's seen almost throughout.
"Color saturation adds the necessary kick," Heath continues. The walls and ceiling in each room are painted a unique color—dove gray, dark gray, bright white—so that each space has a different personality. "Subtle lighting also establishes a warm and moody feel," says the designer.
There's certainly nothing cold or sterile about the atmospheric entrance hall, which Heath likens to a gentleman's club. The original archway and marble mosaic flooring remain, but SHH has created an edgy, unexpected mise-en-scène by emphasizing contrasts. The walls, ceiling, and doors are painted dark gray, so that Michael Anastassiades's tubular chandelier and Hugo Dalton's floral ceiling projections are the standouts. For seating, a long bench upholstered in black tufted leather with marble inserts is a hip update on the classic chesterfield.
Conversely, the adjoining reception area is bright and mostly white—walls and ceiling, desks and cabinetry—except for a feature wall painted dusty lavender. Set off against it is a witty trio of white-MDF coat stands in the form of stylized trees. The reflection of Nigel Coates's whimsical chandelier is captured in the baroque-style, acrylic-framed mirror on the mantel, which is original, dating to the early 1800's. "The room is more playful and relaxed," says the designer.
The adjoining meeting room receives even more unconventional treatment. A pair of attention-grabbing lighting groups—each comprising a cluster of 6-foot-long teardrop-shape pendants of hand-blown Murano glass—flank another original fireplace. "We've had some strange analogies drawn about those," admits Heath, an Australian and an avid skier, who cites the Eameses and Carlo Mollino as design heroes.
The second floor, which Heath describes as "quite masculine," houses two interconnecting executive offices, where the serious work gets done. In the larger room, a quartet of desks topped in black leather face off under the original molded-plaster ceiling with an angular aluminum-wire chandelier at its center. Hadi Teherani's high-back chairs round off the masters-of-the-universe vibe, while pale gray walls complement the room's palette of predominantly metallic gray and black. Masculine indeed, but reassuringly businesslike, too.
Both the third-floor conference room and the adjacent videoconferencing room have three walls entirely shrouded in creamy-white voile, a feature more usually encountered in luxury spas. In fact, the diaphanous hangings were a sybaritic solution to a technical problem. "The floors were sagging, so we built platforms to create a level surface," Heath explains. The fabric turns each dais into a room within a room. Initial reactions were mixed, especially for the conference room, which has Tord Boontje's Little Field of Flowers rug hanging at one end. "It's olive green, which has military connotations." notes Heath. "Whatever, the room has become one of the client's favorites."
Heath's preferred space is the breakout room, a handsome gentlemanly retreat for conference calls and brainstorming. Dark MDF paneling engenders a luxurious, clubby feel, as does the rich chocolate color scheme and patrician furnishings, such as a chunky tufted-leather ottoman, vintage table lamps, and a pair of Jean Prouvé's armchairs. "It's one of those spaces that really seeps into your bones," Heath says. "The longer you're there, the more relaxed you become." The only danger: You might very well forget you're at work at all.
Photography by James Silverman.