Insight

You do not expect the interior of a converted windmill to resemble a Vermeer-esque Dutch interior or a converted barn to be peopled by country bumpkins.

Insight
The Deptford Project, London, UK
By Dominic Lutyens

You do not expect the interior of a converted windmill to resemble a Vermeer-esque Dutch interior or a converted barn to be peopled by country bumpkins. Yet the idea of converting a train carriage into a restaurant conjures horrible images of themed Orient Express-style interiors or staff in stationmaster uniforms. Indeed, one such establishment on LA’s Sunset Strip riffs on that very locomotive theme.

Having once seen, and been appalled by, the aforementioned café, designer Morag Myerscough has avoided theming the interior of her latest project – a converted train carriage housing a new café in Deptford, south London.

In gleaming white and smothered in red, emerald green and magenta supergraphics (Myerscough is a fan of 1970s supergraphics), only its shape betrays the fact it was once a train carriage. While a stencilled logo spelling out its name – The Deptford Project – is reminiscent of the cargo-box script so popular in the 1970s, the symbols refer obliquely to local history.

Rope motifs invoke Deptford’s marine rope-making industry, and images of animals nod to the fact that the 19m-long, 1960s carriage once transported livestock to Smithfield Market. The site is appropriate: commissioned by property developer Cathedral Group, the café stands in a disused, 19th-century railway yard.

Heritage aside, Myerscough has put the emphasis on contemporary colour and verve: ‘Deptford could do with some colour,’ she says, despite the fact that the area is supposed to be undergoing a renaissance. And the café will be used as a space to put on art and design shows.

Its old interior, which now contains a 5m-long kitchen, was gutted. ‘I wanted the inside to look very clean. It was partly inspired by Jean Prouvé’s Maison Tropicale,’ says Myerscough. ‘As a venue for art shows, it needed to be a blank canvas. Because the space is narrow, a single table runs right down the middle of the café.’ The table’s top in Rubik’s Cube colours – by now you’ll have noticed the project plunders the palette of 1980s Postmodernism – is made of old laboratory tables. The slogan-emblazoned café stools were co-designed by Myerscough and artist Luke Morgan. The decking outside, meanwhile, is made of reclaimed wood (from London-based architectural salvage company Retrouvius).

There’s a landed-from-out-of-space quality to this unapologetically funky project. So were there planning problems? ‘Lewisham Council told us we didn’t need planning consent because it was a temporary structure,’ says Martyn Evans, Cathedral’s creative director. ‘But as the design changed because of tricky issues such as getting the train on site, we now need this consent. We are preparing for a retrospective application, but I don’t foresee any problems.’

And it wasn’t easy to provide wheelchair access because the carriage’s front door is 1.2m off the ground. But a long ramp has solved this. ‘We had to install new air-conditioning, too, because the old system was designed to work as the train moved,’ adds Evans.

The Deptford Project is certainly a new departure – more chichi choo-choo train than decrepit train carriage with fetid upholstery.

The Deptford Project, 121-123 Deptford High Street, London SE8

Art meets science It’s always encouraging when art and architecture come together in a building, but it’s even better when they meet science and academia half way too – as with Hawkins/Brown’s distinctive new research building for Oxford University’s department of biochemistry. Salt Bridges is a four-year art and architecture programme for the new building and has been implemented in the development project. By appointing artists at the embryonic stages of the design the project aims to deliver work that embraces experimentation and interdisciplinary discourse. Lead consultant Nicky Hirst has been collaborating with Hawkins/Brown to produce a screen-printed design – inspired by Rorschach’s Inkblot Test – for the entrance elevation. Other artists involved include photographer Peter Fraser, who is working with Professor of genetics Jonathan Hodgkin to document the environmental and cultural changes taking place during the building work.

Down home Dubai

Several new outlets in Dubai in the Middle East reference Europe’s more down-to-earth hospitality traditions. Exotic for some

1. Alpha Club

Part of a larger hotel complex en route to Dubai’s busy international airport, Alpha leans distinctly towards the Romanesque, with (seemingly) marble pillars and Italian sculptures prancing behind the bar. The high ceilings over the raised DJ booth allow space for a gigantic projector screen from which to bounce animations – a fairly new clubbing trend in Dubai. Although the design is high end, Alpha’s mission is to supply Dubai’s clubbers and music fans with the kind of ‘underground, edgy’ vibe that used to be seen in arts hub iBO, a converted warehouse, before it closed last May.

2. Belgian Beer Café

Most of Dubai’s bars and restaurants are either very high-end, cocktail or wine bars located in five-star hotels, or very low-end, bars with bad carpets situated again in hotel lobbies, so it’s interesting that the Belgian Beer Café – designed by Creneau International – has become the city’s number one beer-drinking destination. The bar is filled with odd trinkets, ornaments and old black-and-white photographs.

3. The Fish and Chip Room

With its 1970s kitsch kitchenette-style deco – think lino floors and lemon plastic chairs – The Fish and Chip Room may not sound very design forward to Brits, but nestled in the heart of Dubai’s most up-and-coming residential area – Jumeirah Beach Residence – it is causing a real stir. The owner also owns a curryhouse nearby, and is attracting a considerable fanclub among British and Dubai residents alike with his simple, English-seaside interiors evoking mushy peas like nothing but Formica really can.

INSIGHT
Morgans hotel, New York, US
By Caroline Roux

Twenty-five years ago, Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell, the then new owners of Morgans Hotel on New York’s Madison Avenue, approached Paris-based designer Andrée Putman. They had heard that you could design a hotel bathroom without using marble. What did she think?

She thought tiles – though the only cheap ones available at time were in black, white or tacky pastels, and the budget was limited. Thus the famous Morgans Hotel bathroom was born. A 360º chequerboard of black and white that paid homage to New York’s Art Deco past and Putman’s own monochrome ways went on to become an iconic image of the boutique hotel.

Rubell and Schrager had made their money and reputation as owners of New York’s Studio 54, to this day the world’s most famous nightclub, and understood that a fabulous lifestyle did not stop at the discotheque door. At a time when even the coolest hotel interiors were still a symphony of peach and sand and accents of gold, the pair were determined to introduce a new kind of design to the overnight stay, and excitement to the hotel foyer.

Putman, who was known for imbuing a pared-down style with a touch of Gallic luxe, was the woman for the job. The hotel, which opened in 1983, soon became famous for the disorienting Escher-style chequered carpet of its lobby, as well as the chic crowd it drew in. The bedrooms, with their trademark window seats inviting guests to gaze down over the 24-hour city, were furnished with Putman’s favourite furniture by Eileen Gray and Robert Mallet-Stevens.

Now, 25 years on, Putman has returned to breathe new life into what had become tired interiors. Her ability to make taste has not come about by chance. She is quintessentially bourgeois, born in Paris’s upper class sixth arrondisement to a successful Lyonnais banking family. Her grandmother, Rose de Montgolfier, was a descendent of the inventors of the hot air balloon. Putman’s summers were spent at the Abbaye de Fontenay, a 12th century Cistercian monastery in Burgundy that had also housed the Montgolfier family business.

Putman is now 76 and not in the best of health. When I saw her in Paris this summer, she said of Morgans, ‘I am wrong to have taken this job. I’m in bad shape.’ But she seems to have left the place in good shape nonetheless. Perhaps it is her love of the US that saw her through.

‘New York and America have such a place in my heart,’ she said. ‘It’s the brilliance and seriousness of the people. They deserve somewhere spacious and peaceful to go.’

Changes have been finely wrought, but include an attempt to bring a new kind of life to the lobby with an interactive art installation by French design collective Trafik (which also has work in Heathrow Terminal 5)

Original Robert Mapplethorpe photography now punctuates the 113-room hotel and bedroom walls have been painted in a colour described by Putman’s studio as ‘Titanium’ – a new shade for the
queen of greige. Jean-Michel Frank armchairs are scattered throughout the lobby, while pieces by the Bourrellecs and Marcel Wanders have appeared in the penthouse.

Schrager gave up ownership of the Morgan group in 2005. No doubt the new owners are hoping this $9m (£5m) renovation will bring its flagship back to life. Fans of Putman, at least,
will find everything they ever wished for within its walls.

Carpet Pride
Interior designer and queen craft pundit Danielle Proud is facing up a new campaign to redefine the art of carpeting and tempt a few people away from the now ubiquitous wooden flooring. Using traditional and contemporary carpet, the Fun on the Floor initiative sees Proud take over a five-storey house in London’s Camden and cover six contrasting themed rooms with carpet. Proud has not been limiting herself to the floors either. ‘It’s pretty nuts,’ she says. On the stairs I designed a “patchwork carpet” that looks like a huge mid-Western quilt, while in the hall there are “puzzle” moose heads covered in carpet. Then upstairs there’s a Victorian Gothic-themed room which is all deep reds, and a kids’ room that looks like an adventure playground. It was such a laugh to do.’ The official line is that ‘Many of this season’s carpet designs have a luxurious, handmade feel, which follows the fashion for individuality as the new luxury.’

Five Upcoming Shows

1. Designers Saturday, London, UK
26-27 September

Designers Saturday used to be something of an institution around London’s Great Portland Street. Now, for the first time in more than 20 years, a group of world-leading office furniture design groups – including Ahrend, Herman Miller, Knoll and Steelcase among others – will revive the concept, opening their showroom doors for a central London tour of innovation in office design, networking and nibbles. Most are now based in Clerkenwell and Farringdon – we wonder what else has changed.

2. Istanbul Design Week, Turkey
16-20 October

With a show design by Cibic & Partners, Istanbul Design Week is aiming to knock the world’s proverbial socks off again this year with bigger and more ambitious plans than ever before. Putting the emphasis very much on Turkey, though with an international twist, the focus for the Design Week and the main exhibition area is still the Old Galata Bridge, which will be covered by a tent to evoke the old market atmosphere of the souk.

3. Interieur, Kortrijk, Belgium
17-26 October

There are lots of highlights that visitors to the wonderful Interieur show in Belgium need to be aware of – not least of which is the Jaime Hayón retrospective (yes, already). One less trumpeted show, however, celebrates the anniversary of the humble beanbag. Fifty years after Zanotta launched what was apparently the world’s first beanbag, the exhibition tells the story of how the designers dropped their original idea to fill a vinyl or leather bag with liquid because of the impractical weight issue, hitting instead on the idea of using pearls of plastic – polystyrene foam. ‘Beanbagging’, as the press release terms it, was born.

4. Orgatec, Cologne, Germany
21-25 October

All eyes will be looking downward at Orgatec this year as floor coverings get a special feature. There is a lot more ground to floor covering solutions than many people would assume at first glance, apparently. Under the heading Floor is Life, the theme will be picked up in a special show where craftsmen will also demonstrate practical applications and thelatest floor-laying techniques in a series of diverse activities.

5. 100% Design Tokyo, Japan
30 October – 3 November

The popularity – perhaps helped along by the economic climate – of 100% Design Tokyo over its three years is such that a growing number of young Europeans are now bypassing the London Design Festival and showing at its international sister in Tokyo instead, celebrating the strong business relationship between the two regions. This year, a main feature will be ‘Container designing town’, where containers are transformed into exhibition spaces for a massive open-air event.

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