Interior designers have to work closely with not only the client, but also contractors, subcontractors, suppliers and a whole bevy of minor stars. Organisation, flexibility and communication both on- and off-site are key to the whole process, as Jane Lewi

Warner Music office refurbishment by Morey Smith

Having shopfitters and contractors who understand the concept behind the visuals and can empathise with what the designer is trying to achieve are essential for Linda Morey Smith, who heads design and architecture group Morey Smith. The ongoing revamp of Warner Music’s Baker Street offices in London’s West End has already seen the replacement of one contractor after teething problems, but Morey Smith is more than happy with the current contractor, Faithdean, which has completed the president’s suite and is working on other office areas.

“We always work very closely with subcontractors. Sometimes they know the best way of putting things together. But contractors like to do things in the most simple way, and obviously we’re pushing them to their limits,” she comments. “It has to end up as more of a team effort. Faithdean knows what we’re trying to achieve and knows what we want straight away.”

Morey Smith wasn’t as lucky with the initial contractor used for the first phase. “They had a convoluted admin system and took a long time doing it,” she says. But she admits that the project is a tricky one because all work is being carried out while the building remains occupied and fully functional. Faithdean had to be able to work well with the client on-site and carry out a lot of work out-side office hours.

“With design consultancies like Morey Smith we feel we work well because we can work up their concepts into reality,” says Faithdean director Jonathan New. “They don’t do concepts for every last aspect. It’s a dual thing. We come up with practical solutions for what they’re trying to do rather than them spending hours on the drawing board.”

But he has worked with designers in the past who have been too “rigid”, and he believes it’s essential to foster good working relationships, particularly for a job like Warner Music, where there are lots of bespoke elements. “Even though there are aspects where they listen to us, they are still very particular about the end result so it’s a case of working with them to get it right,” adds New.

Finishes in the Warner project include timber floors, handmade walnut wood desks, silk panels, glass screens and specialist plasterwork with silver leafing. Working with materials such as glass and metal means it has to be right first time, New points out.

Morey Smith tries to organise as much as possible before work starts on-site. “The more you can sort out beforehand the better. Inevitably, clients push to get the contractors on-site and it’s a complete mistake,” she says.

According to New, it’s important to know the level of detail people require and get the right specialists on board: “Simple looks can sometimes be deceptively difficult to achieve.”

Castlemayne pub by Torres Design Associates

“The worst thing in the world is when you have your first contract meeting and you get a really belligerent shopfitter or designer,” claims Torres director Eddie MacAtominey.

He points out that because leisure projects have become more complicated, with increasing numbers of people getting involved, it is even more important to ensure there aren’t any rifts in the relationships.

The Castlemayne project is a case in point. Torres had to co-ordinate a host of client representatives, suppliers and contractors for the transformation of a run down pub in the middle of an estate in Basildon into a “glitzy” venue for young locals. Tatty bars have been replaced with a new front bar area and rear music venue with a stage. “It was a rough estate pub, it’s now a young person’s venue and a trendy place to hang out,” says MacAtominey.

The 200 000 project took a fair bit of orchestration. Typical schemes for client Scottish & Newcastle entail liaising with client project managers, quantity surveyors, suppliers ranging from soft drinks reps to slot machine reps, area managers, training staff and contractors.

“The amount of co-ordination is unbelievable,” says MacAtominey. There are also building regulations, security measures and licensing requirements to contend with. All of which make it vital to be on first name terms with the shopfitters or contractors handling the job.

As a designer MacAtominey is the first to admit that “designers are not always up to speed in terms of modern manufacturing methods”. But he says it’s rare that problems become insurmountable – “no-one can afford to throw designer tantrums any more”.

Delcon, specialist in shop and bar work, won the Castlemayne scheme with a successful tender, and has worked with both Torres and S&N on other projects. Delcon director Terry Delf stresses that designers and shopfitters have to work together. “Most designers are adaptable, but I have known some in the past who’ve stuck their heels in and wanted something done in a certain way. It’s got to be a team effort – especially with fast track projects – it’s no good having an ‘us and them’ approach.”

He says a big problem on such projects is when subcontractors run over time and the main contractor gets the blame: “The direct contracts are organised by designers and architects, but they don’t always seem to have as much control over the time taken on these fast- track projects. With any number of subcontractors crammed in towards the end of a job, it’s crucial to make sure they’re aware of deadlines.” Delf also dreads clients who get involved late in the day and want last minute changes.

Concept for Envy menswear by Wingate & Moon

Wingate & Moon, the young consultancy set up by two former Din designers 18 months ago, was asked to create and implement a fresh concept for the Envy chain of menswear stores, which hadn’t been updated since the original concept was introduced eight years ago.

“The Envy project was quite complicated, though the stores look simple, so we needed a shopfitter who understood that. You have to make sure you’re with the right people. So for this project, we wouldn’t have chosen a shopfitter who’d worked onWoolworths, for example. We look for creative shopfitters and those who are flexible in their work,” says Wingate & Moon partner Kirstie Moon.

Following a tender process to select a shopfitter, RPA Storefitting Services, the contractor which worked on the chain first time round, was chosen because it worked out to be the “most cost-effective” approach.

“Both we and the client had worked with them before and it turned out fine, barring the usual hiccups at the end,” says Moon.

RPA managing director David Cumberworth is pleased with the outcome of the trial store, which opened at London’s Brent Cross shopping centre last month. He believes careful planning and proper lead times ensured a smooth-running project. “We had about eight meetings with the client and the designer. In the past I’ve had problems with other designers because they don’t see the practicalities or bow to your greater experience in the fabrication of a unit. Wingate & Moon sketched out their ideas and ran them by us,” he says.

The new image is intended to provide a neutral backdrop to highlight the brightly coloured clothes. “They wanted a more contemporary image,” says Moon. “It’s quite young fashion with lots of loud jackets and shirts.” So finishes are “simple” – oak floors, a solid fibrous plaster ceiling, pearlised lacquer details and custom-designed units.

All went according to budget and Moon’s only gripe with the fit-out was the “usual hiccup” of finishing off. “Shopfitters don’t like snagging. It’s the fiddly bit at the end when clients try to move in and shopfitters are trying to move out. If they’re not finished everybody gets irritated.”

The golden rule, she claims, is having a “good relationship” with your shopfitter, and making sure you both understand each other.

Cumberworth recalls: “We worked closely with the designer on the practicalities for about five months. The client wanted us to get it right.” Working harmoniously with designers is vital to the end result, he says, despite some designers in the past being less than willing to compromise. “Practicalities outweigh the designer’s whim. If it can’t be done it can’t be done, though often we’ll tweak it to make it work.”

Cumberworth’s advice is to “work as a team. If designers accept contractors are only doing their best there shouldn’t be a problem”.

Golden rules

Having a mutual understanding of what is expected from both sides

Appreciation of what the designer is trying to achieve

Realistic deadlines to ensure contractors have enough time to price jobs and complete them properly

Avoid pushing a “design whim” if a contractor doesn’t think it will work

Working as a team rather than as rivals

Respecting contractors’ experience and judgments

Co-ordinating subcontractors to work to the same deadlines

Adequate pre-planning before starting on-site

Ability to transform concepts into reality

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