What do you get when you ask a superstar graphic designer and an acclaimed architect to work together on an interiors project? It sounds like the beginning of a joke, but, in fact, it’s the question that Danish textile company Kvadrat posed when it appointed Peter Saville and architect David Adjaye to work together on the design of its new London showroom, which opens in Shoreditch this month.
When it comes to design it’s not always guaranteed that two minds are better than one; in fact, less is often more. Clarity of vision, focus and a unique creative perspective can be muddied if several artistic viewpoints need to be integrated. Collaborations can sometimes be less a symphony of two talents working in harmony and more a discordant clash of egos – which could have made Kvadrat nervous about its appointment of Saville and Adjaye, particularly as this seems an unusual choice of partners.
Saville disagrees. He says the collaboration is ‘only unusual if you think of Saville as a graphic designer’. ‘I haven’t thought of myself as a graphic designer for about 20 years,’ he says, pointing out that his work with Factory Records included collaborative work creating interiors for the Hacienda and stage set designs for Ultravox. Saville has been working with Kvadrat for nearly five years, principally as a communications consultant, and believes his involvement in the current project was a natural progression of that role. ‘Everything within the context of how an organisation acts is part of how it communicates. The London showroom is a significant dimension of Kvadrat’s communications and, as such, the company was interested in my contributing to the aura of the new showroom,’ he says.
He believes the success of any collaboration lies in choosing partners who work well together and suggested Adjaye as a collaborative partner to Kvadrat. ‘I find it very difficult to see 3D spaces in my mind’s eye, but architects think in 3D all the time and are very good at it. Adjaye’s practice is interesting – it’s evolving and growing, and he was interested in working with me, too. I’m lucky in that people across many disciplines experienced my work at a formative time in their lives, so look kindly upon [working with] me,’ says Saville.
Adjaye Associates project architect Alice Asafu-Adjaye says the direction of the project also lent itself to the alliance. ‘The client wanted us to approach the design of this space from the point of colour. Colour was the main inspiration, where we started from. We would normally start with spatial considerations, so it was interesting that colour was so important right at the beginning of the project,’ she says. ‘Working with Saville was very useful. The way he talks about colour was interesting – he sees colour in a more conceptual way.’
If there were any creative tantrums in the development of this project, neither side is letting on. In fact, there seems to have been a meeting of minds. Rather than being involved in a hands-on way in the spatial design of the interiors, Saville says his back catalogue of work played a part in Adjaye’s inspiration – particularly the design for New Order’s Blue Monday single, which featured a colour-coded alphabet. ‘The first scheme he presented felt like “David Adjaye does Peter Saville”. He proposed his spatial response to me, in the context of the site. He picked up on my oeuvre, and what he chose to focus on about me was colour, which harmonised with the founding values of Kvadrat – the company is all about colour,’ says Saville.
The end result reflects well on the partnership. The showroom is a cavernous 7m-high space with mezzanine offices and lower ground floor retail space. Linked by a multi-hued glass feature staircase, it is colourful, tactile and, despite its lower ground floor location, surprisingly light and airy. The vibrant staircase, made of panels of coloured glass that traverse the full spectrum of the rainbow, is offset by an otherwise neutral palette of grey, black and white. Blond wood floors add a suitably Scandinavian touch. The space is designed to take on a social function, with a kitchen and custom-made concrete tables that can seat up to 30 people. As you’d expect, experiments with Kvadrat textiles are also part of the design, as is a large double-height white wall that will display a series of films and other projected work, to be curated by Saville.
Both parties are keen to stress the part that a strong client plays in a successful collaboration, and Kvadrat deserves recognition for ensuring that the space did not descend into design by committee. ‘We feel it is more important to show how different designers and architects express themselves rather than having uniform showrooms,’ says Kvadrat chief executive Anders Byriel. ‘A Kvadrat showroom is like a public institution where artworks are presented and discussed.’ Discussions that would seem, on the strength of this collaboration, to be surprisingly amicable.