Case study: Hive of creativity
The brief for this Belgravia townhouse was to make it as bespoke as possible. The opportunity to source nearly everything from the client’s own factory meant Verity Woolf could make this project truly one-of-a-kind
by Rebecca Hoh-Hale
What is so striking and remarkable about this 1700sq ft, three-bedroom Belgravia apartment project is the sheer amount of bespoke work it represents. Just a handful of pre-made products were specified from an external company – namely the sanitaryware fittings in the bathrooms, some Vaughan lighting, and kitchen appliances. The rest of the highly detailed and beautifully finished elements of this sophisticated rich jewel-toned project are the product of an intense collaboration between the Dubai-based client and Woolf Interior Architecture and Design.
“The client wanted to renovate the apartment, bringing a tired and dated space into the 21st century,” says Verity Woolf, founder and senior designer at the practice. “He has a very large construction company in the Middle East, and so we worked together to design the entire flat to be manufactured in Dubai and fitted out in the UK. Due to having unlimited access to the Dubai factories, we more or less had carte blanche, – which was at once very freeing, but also very challenging and required a huge amount of focus.”
For Woolf, honing in and distilling the scheme meant utilising the interior designer and architects’ go-to equation. She explained it as the sum of innate character of the building x the location x the client’s wishes. In this case, this meant art deco x the heartland of couture fashion houses x modern fusion of a high-end UAE style-savvy aesthetic with European styling and a keen interest in architecture and the potential of interior detailing. Woolf had ambitious plans, wanting to introduce air conditioning, completely re-arrange the layout to accommodate two further bathrooms, and include an open-plan arrangement for the kitchen and dining room. Not to mention the Grosvenor Estate which has incredibly thorough planning criteria. As a result, it became a fairly intense 18-month project which began with totally stripping everything out and working from scratch with a fresh footprint.
“With the first set of challenges solved, our next biggest challenge was co-ordination with the Dubai factories,” says Woolf, “given the language barrier and physical distance.”
Fortunately, commissioning work is something Woolf does extremely regularly. Her team is very used to sending samples and using the right language and level of accurate detail needed to convey something this visual.
“We quickly learnt certain words which caused moments of confusion and those which avoided it,” explains Woolf. “Of course, these guys work on huge hotel and residential projects all the time, so they were incredibly professional and provided numerous samples, models and shop drawings following our scheme level drawings, to make sure we were all on the same page.”
In terms of the scheme itself, Woolf enjoyed the completely bespoke approach it required. She found something of a starting point in an Art Deco frame with a bee motif, which she showed the client, thinking it could be used with a piece from his art collection. In the end, the frame was not selected – but the bee sparked off a subtle hive-like quality to much of the design. Not only is the bee itself recreated in the design of the metal door frame blocks, but geometric honeycomb shapes can be found with the hexagonal armchairs, upholstered in turquoise Pierre Frey fabric which itself has a honeycomb-like mesh weave. The custom-made joinery in the dining room and dressing room cabinets, just like the interiors of latter’s jewellery compartments and drawers, are also based on a honeycomb configuration. This is further emphasised by a combination of two contrast veneers – one dark walnut, the other light grey – which have been laid in contrasting directions for more shape, texture, and detail. The handles sit in a recess formed around them. All the angular shaping and inlaid metal also lends itself well to harmonise with the building’s art deco heritage, seen again in the mirrors and fireplaces. The rich marble coffee table is a great bespoke example of this, too. It also features etched stone, created with water jet cutters.
“The etched stonework was actually inspired by Syrian sculptures I saw at the British Museum,” describes Woolf. “It’s an old idea, but we thought we could breathe life into it with new water jet cutting methods. Mixing traditional ideas with new technology totally gives us all a buzz. We also used this on the pure white marble bathroom units and fireplaces, as well as furniture.”
Period styling is revamped via new custom ideas, with the LED lighting track seen in the replica Art Deco cornicing designed and drawn by Woolf and created in the Dubai factories. Another modern take on the deco styling came with the commissioning of materials specialist Fameed Khalique to create the headboards in all three bedrooms.
“Fameed has an amazing archive of great textures and surfaces and also shares our passion for sourcing and experimenting with the interesting. So whenever we work with him, inspirational ideas happen,” says Woolf. “For these bedrooms, we used Nepal silk headboard panels and played around colour combinations and variations of stitching, using Pierre Frey fabrics. He was so clever. He managed to introduce very complicated raised silk work into degrade colour ways.”
It is clear Woolf was in her element with the creativity required for this project, and she loved using it as a platform to really flex her skills and talent in the bespoke process. “There is no reason to design if you are not innovating,” she asserts. “That is what makes design worthwhile: the fascination of experimenting and making something new which connects with the client and the brief, and for us as a practice. To innovate is to design.”