Victorian warehouseShowroom London
Brunner UK’s new showroom & headquarters, completed in September 2013, emphasizes how the UK subsidiary has set its sights on continued growth. London’s Clerkenwell / Exmouth market district on the fringe of the ‘City’ (financial district) has developed into a design mecca. Here, Brunner breathed new life into a very tired Victorian warehouse that was built in 1895: the Brunner philosophy of customer orientation and perfection has been skilfully captured in this stunning conversion.
Converting the building followed the twofold goal of preserving its industrial character while also providing a contemporary, gallery style environment containing all amenities - so the old and the new could be juxtaposed, thereby creating exciting contrasts: sand-blasted surfaces now form the backdrop for the steel fixtures waxed in black. Parallel to the facade, large voids puncture the floors - through which floats a monolithic steel staircase linking 3 floors of showroom space with ancillary work space, meeting rooms and a lower ground floor area for entertaining. Thanks to its reduction, the design exudes great power, with no ornaments detracting the view from the furniture that is impressively arranged in the huge windows, raised podiums, display plinths and on large rugs. The flood lit ‘hanging chairs’ form an interesting sculptural backdrop.
The main attractions are not just the character of the building and the integrity of its conversion – but also where it is. The space is arranged along a 40 metre long frontage with 8 huge windows and a giant pivoting entrance door that front onto Rosebery Avenue - a busy, tree lined thoroughfare, just a 10 minute walk from Farringdon station (now in the process of becoming the main new Cross Rail terminal). Because the footprint of the building is quite narrow, natural lighting conditions are ideal. Directly opposite the main entrance, visitors step onto a black waxed solid steel bridge that floats across the ground floor and links with its matching staircase that takes you on an ‘interesting journey’ up and down and through the spaces. The bridge, landings and stairs form a monolithic structure like a ribbon that connects the 3 levels. This structure was welded together in sections on site – 20,000Kgs of 20mm thick steel – a process that took 8 weeks. At lower ground floor level, there is a bar with draft German beer – and a ‘designer’s resource’ that houses Brunner’s comprehensive collection of surface finishes. Described by many as ‘like being in a 5-star club’, this aspect of the space serves well for day time dealer meetings, night time designer get-togethers and all manner of sales, marketing and promotional events.
Approaching the entrance and taking in the 8 huge elegant shop windows framed by the lovely, original Victorian old brickwork, one already gets a sense of something extraordinary. The giant 2.6 metre wide pivoting entrance door, made of glass and framed in a slim steel surround to match the windows opens with the slightest of touches, despite its weight. Inside, the black waxed steel staircase mirrors the steel framed windows and entrance door, and the iron lattice style windows of an earlier era have been renovated and preserved.
The solid American black walnut banisters and light-grey poured resin floors create a smooth transition to the white ceilings and the original Victorian red and yellow bricks of the building – and glazed ceramic tiles that adorn the ‘shop front’.
McDowell+Benedetti Architects had previously occupied part of the building for their own use and been involved in various design aspects for its previous owners, including design and planning permission to convert the third floor and roof space into 4 luxury duplex apartments for residential use - a scheme currently under construction and due to complete in May this year. They would indeed have an intimate relationship with the building, as well as an established reputation for a diverse range of projects - urban development, buildings for public and private awarding authorities, bridges, apartments, shops and restaurants. M+B have received numerous awards, and their work is presented internationally in magazines and book publications. McDowell+Benedetti and Brunner both take pride in appreciating great craftsmanship and a design approach giving precedence to the respective material.