Project: Creative collaboration

By Matt Balmer
January 28, 2019

Maria Speake of Retrouvius worked with fashion designer Bella Freud to create a penthouse apartment with a distinct identity in Helios, a circular Modernist building at the heart of the newly transformed Television Centre

AFTER A THREE-YEAR transformation, the former BBC headquarters in White City has reopened as a mixed-use development. At the Television Centre’s heart is Helios, a 1960 circular Grade II-listed Modernist building now home to apartments. Maria Speake from Retrouvius and British fashion designer Bella Freud were invited to furnish Helios 710, a penthouse by architects Piercy&Company.

“There were four different architect teams working on the apartments,” Speake says. “But I immediately zoomed in on Piercy as they had used some rather beautiful fluted marble splashbacks. We used terrazzo columns in Bella’s shop, so this created a link to her, and I think they are fabulous salvage pieces for the future. We like to think our designs are here forever – but in 15, 20, maybe 50 years they will be changed and good pieces will be reused. I respected that.” Speake also appreciated that Piercy&Company have their own workshop, which suggested a connection to the reality of the materials they were using. This sits well with the Retrouvius policy of rescuing and reinterpreting unwanted materials.

The apartment stretches over two floors, offering a dual aspect to the east and west and views of the London skyline beyond the refurbished Helios statue in the Television Centre courtyard. It went on the market last month for £3,925,000, fully furnished.

Without a specific brief from the client, Speake and Freud planned to create a lived-in interior for a specific but fictional character. “Everything we came up with was too pretentious – so after a while I just said ‘let’s do it as if it’s yours’, which immediately made it more fun,” Speake says.

The strength of colours and graphics of Freud’s work translate well into interiors – and after collaborating on five different projects together, the pair now have a comfortable working relationship. “I love getting under the skin of people, to tease out what they really want. This comes from building trust, which allows them to have the courage that they didn’t know they had. What I really like is watching how people change and grow in their confidence,” says Speake. “Like a lot of people, Bella struggles to visualise the graphical drawing side of portraying spaces – but she is immediately responsive to actual things. We like to have a lot of full-size pieces in the studio, for people to see and touch, and that has helped us develop an easy way of working together.”

Piercy&Company divided the space so the bedrooms on the lower level are of a smaller, more gentle scale. Then, you are drawn up the stairs to a light and generous living space. “I liked that there is also a snug tucked away. In our other projects, Bella has always had a similar space, somewhere to retreat,” Speake says. “A completely open plan scheme can be overwhelming. A snug is a precious place  –  somewhere you can have various conversations at various points in your life and they will have meaning.”

However, the duo did not stick religiously to the fl oor plan. What had been created as the master suite was rejected as being too close to the front door. Speake explains: “Bella has an 18-year-old son and this is far more suited to him, allowing him to creep in and out. A woman in her 50s wants to retreat to her bedroom, make it a sanctuary further back in the apartment.”

Vibrant block colours, including angelica green, lipstick red and marigold, have been teamed with vintage pieces. Special edition rugs from The Rug Company, inspired by the text on Freud’s signature sweaters, have been used on the floor and as wall hangings. Artworks include photographs from Lorena Lohr, colourful and subversive plates by Eliza Hopewell and op-art prints by Jacob Wolff.

“Sometimes it is the non-furniture I love,” Speake says. “We created cupboards in the living space – somewhere practical to store your monopoly game or your dreadful collection of drinks left over from foreign holidays. The doors are wrapped in suede, making them acoustically beautiful and tactile. They are the kind of thing you don’t necessarily notice every day, but make you happy.”

And how does she feel about the finished project? “Because I have visualised it for so long, it is not a surprise to me when it is actually there. So, annoyingly, I go straight into snagging mode,” Speake says. “It was refreshing to be with Bella, as she was literally aglow with excitement and delighted with the result. It was really nice we had a small drinks gathering to launch the apartment – these rooms create back drops for people, they come alive in a different way once people are draped in a chair or sitting on the floor.”