In conversation with: Squire & Partners Interior Design Director Maria Cheung

In conversation with: Squire & Partners Interior Design Director Maria Cheung

Following a high profile move from King’s Cross to Brixton, Squire & Partners director Maria Cheung talks community, creativity and the changing face of the workplace.

Squire & Partners are one of the world’s leading design and architecture practices and in 2017 the rapidly growing team of creatives made London’s first ever purpose-built department store their new home. Interior design director Maria Cheung shares her thoughts on the design industry today and the power of renovation.

Architecturally, The Department Store has a great history as London’s first purpose-built department store, but can you tell us a little more about the story of Squire & Partners and why the need for a new home arose?

Our last move, to King’s Cross in 2001, was led by a desire to demonstrate to clients that we were a serious corporate contender in the architectural field. By 2014, our growth to 200+ staff meant we were spilling out into satellite offices nearby which forced us to search for new accommodation where we could all operate under one roof. We chose to see this relocation as an opportunity for change and to express the evolving philosophy of the firm to create a crafted architecture, which is unique to place.

Working spaces are changing at some speed. Co-working spaces are popping up in every major city and versatile, multi-purpose spaces are what everyone is looking for. How are are the workplace needs of your teams changing and how has this been address in The Department Store?

We decided to prioritise personal expression, social interaction and wellbeing in this new workplace. Staff facilities include 76 secure cycle spaces with high quality showers, drying and changing areas. In our 3000sqft downstairs event space we host twice-weekly yoga classes, and office-wide presentations as well as outside events. A new fourth floor provides 5000sqft of social space with a large outside terrace. Freshly cooked lunch is served daily, subsidised by the practice, and a bar operates into the evening.

We also wanted to encourage better communication by creating break-out areas where ad-hoc meetings and conversations could take place, either socially or professionally. Another investment was into our greatly expanded modelshop and workshop, which allow us to be more explorative in our designs, testing materials and projects at a 1:1 scale.

Brixton has rich, diverse cultural history. How did that influence your vision for The Department Store and where is best seen within the finished space?

Moving to Brixton was very exciting for us as it has a flourishing creative scene and a strong sense of community. We have been part of Brixton Design Trail – a District of the London Design Festival – for over three years, and take an active role in design projects locally. Reviving a substantial derelict building in central Brixton was a huge responsibility, and one we wanted to get right not only for us but for the wider community.

Approaching the design of The Department Store, Squire & Partners allowed the history of the existing Edwardian building to guide the process. Stripping the building back to its raw state revealed an extraordinary commitment to craft and detail by the original artisans of the day, which we preserved and highlighted whenever possible. We then sought to work with local artists and makers when designing the interior spaces, collaborating with emerging as well as established Brixton designers including Eley Kishimoto on a variety of patterns inspired by the original building which are found on everything from flooring to stationary; local fashion graduate Isabel Fletcher for bespoke rugs, curtains and cushions; and pajaki-maker Karolina Merska on a bespoke brass chandelier in the reception area. Working with local artists was an important part in bringing this piece of Brixton back to life and of continuing the story of the craftsmanship of the building.

What are the biggest changes in design and architecture workspace trends you expect to see in the next five years?

We are seeing more attention paid to the well-being of employees and acknowledgement that that health plays a huge role in staff productivity and happiness. We are designing extensive cycle, shower and changing facilities as the norm on projects now, in addition to dedicated spaces for dining, exercising and socialising.

There is a Minotti Freeman Sofa in the room pictured, can you tell us more about this room and why this type of sofa was a match?

The Minotti Freeman sofa was chosen for its timeless design, versatility and comfort. The upstairs restaurant and bar is a multifunctional space which required a seating area to work during the day for staff lunches and ad-hoc meetings, as well as in the evening for socialising and relaxing, when the space functions as a bar and restaurant. The Freeman sofa allows for all of these functions with multi-cluster seating options, hard-wearing durability and a classic design.

What can we expect to see from Squire & Partners in 2018?

Two things we are excited about in 2018 are developing and delivering designs for co-working spaces in London for a range of clients, and the expansion of our portfolio internationally to countries we haven’t previously worked in, including Hungary, the Bahamas and Cairo.

Explore the Minotti Freeman Seating System here.