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One to Watch: The Vawdrey House


Words by Emily Martin


Interior architect Jennifer Hamilton worked at MoreySmith for ’10 happy years’ before moving from London to the South Coast and establishing The Vawdrey House in 2012.

Two years later, former MoreySmith colleagues Graeme Montague and Ian Chapman joined Hamilton as directors, together managing a range of design projects. ‘We see The Vawdrey House as a design collective, producing good design in whatever field is called for,’ says Hamilton, completing projects including bespoke joinery, wallpaper design, signage and graphics.

MSL Group office, London
MSL Group office, London.
Photo: Siobhan Doran. Completed February 2014. A 1,672 sq m creative agency workspace spread over three floors. Its features include a ‘hub’ with large tables on wheels that can be pushed together for a pitch or presentation. Hamilton says: ‘We approached the building as an exhibition space, dropping in meeting and team-working areas, and using galvanised Kee Klamp frames to form rooms within the vast spaces.’

‘We would love to get involved with furniture, products and lighting design if the opportunity arose. We are also considering curating our own in-house vintage design collection.’

‘Having started a family and moved from London, I knew my previous working schedule would be hard to maintain,’ says Hamilton, who sought work to suit her family schedule.

Cullenders, Reigate, Surrey
Felicity J Lord, London. Photo: Felicity J Lord. Completed July 2013. Tasked with the master design scheme of new interiors for the estate agent for rolling out around its branches, The Vawdrey House fitted out two flagship offices in Chiswick and Islington. Instead of a traditional office feel, the design features a relaxed, café-style environment with interiors reflecting their location.

While working on the refurbishment of a house in west London, private work started to come in, revealing her ‘path’ in the process. Fellow director Montague left MoreySmith in 2014 and joined forces with Hamilton while working on projects in his hometown of Tunbridge Wells.

Chapman, who had been working with Hamilton on an ‘ad-hoc basis’ for several years, joined as the third partner after relocating to West Sussex in 2014. ‘We will be a RIBA Chartered Practice by the end of this year, so our work is going from strength to strength,’ says Hamilton.

The trio are currently embarking on their first new-build project in Kent.

Cullenders, Reigate, Surrey
Cullenders, Reigate, Surrey. Photo: Siobhan Doran. Completed September 2014. This delicatessen and kitchen, featuring a wine bar, deli counter and shop, was designed with a ‘homely feel’ but with a ‘contemporary edge’.


Seeking a Sound Solution

Words from Ecophon

As anyone who has worked in them can testify, noisy office buildings can result in annoyance, heightened stress levels and reduced performance. There is also evidence that stress from unwanted sounds continues to affect performance for some time after exposure to the noise.


Noise is very much a business issue. A recent analysis of 21 published studies into the impact on productivity from environmental conditions, including acoustics, found that – after accounting for other factors in the studies to do with the buildings and work activities – removing unwanted and distracting sounds can increase productivity by almost 2 per cent. That might seem like a relatively trivial level, but some experts suggest that a 1 per cent improvement in productivity may represent a saving of as much as £50 per square metre per year.


Traditional efforts to control noise in buildings have centred on physical solutions such as acoustic ceilings and vertical barriers. But the demands of 21st-century workplaces – particularly given the prevalence of open-plan offices – call for a more rounded approach, encompassing psychological, physiological and physical solutions.



According to research by office design specialist Oktra, 27% of UK staff are frustrated by a lack of privacy. Not only this, but 77% find the acoustics of their workplace unpleasant and blame noise open plan environments.

One solution is to add sound masking, which raises the background noise level in such a way that it makes specific conversations difficult to hear from more than 4.5 metres away. But Oktra suggests that there are many other considerations to take into account, such as ensuring collaboration spaces are away from work areas, reducing staff density in a space, and educating staff to avoid speaking loudly or use annoying ring tones for example.


The best office acoustic solution is ultimately about worker health, wellbeing and productivity. It requires consideration of people, the activities taking place and the physical space itself. Improvements in technology and changes to organisational cultures mean workers have more trust and freedom to work from wherever they like. The challenge is to create offices people would choose to work in and good office acoustics play a big role in this.


To ascertain how much we really know about how people are affected by office noise, Paige Hodsman, office concept developer for Ecophon and Dr Nigel Oseland, workplace specialist from WorkPlace Unlimited, reviewed over 100 research papers on the topic. The study found that along with the sounds of other people talking, things like personality, attitude, type of task and work activity have much to do with how well individuals perform in different acoustic settings.


From the literature review, several hypotheses were determined linking personality and acoustic preferences to performance. This was the first step in the research process, which has been followed by an online survey to find out more about the associations between personality types and office acoustic settings. The hope is that the results of the survey will make it possible to establish whether some of the hypotheses are viable, paving the way for further study to start in 2016.


Paige Hodsman, concept developer at acoustic solutions specialist Ecophon, said: ‘We’ve found that the acoustic issue is something that is generally not talked about, and if there isn’t the knowledge there, it becomes almost impossible to get right early.’

She adds that much is known by the experts about the physical measurements of sound and what might happen when soundwaves hit a particular wall or piece of material. But it is less clear what happens once those sounds reach the brain and the impact it subsequently has on individual behaviour – something Ecophon refers to as ‘Psychoacoustics’.


‘We’re exploring the heart of how noise and sounds affect the health and performance of individuals. The better we can understand the individual, the better the working environment we can create, ensuring it really is fit for purpose.’ She adds: ‘By doing that, we can then show the implications on the bottom line for an organisation.’

Read more:

The world’s best public toilets for 2015

Psychology of a happy office

Well-being in the workspace

Design Central


Words by Francis Pearce

By-words of Milanese architect Marco Piva are ‘exciting, fluid and functional’. At the newly refurbished Hotel Excelsior Gallia in Milan they characterise a use of space that has transformed an already well-loved building. The city has a special place in the world of design and the pride in its inventiveness and style has been marked in many ways, holding the 2015 Expo and the annual Design Week among them. Piva chose to celebrate Milan’s heritage in the recent redesign of the 1932 hotel by theming five of its 53 suites (including the country’s largest) after Milan design heroes: Vico Magistretti, Achille Castiglioni, Giò Ponti, Luigi Caccia Dominioni and Franco Albini, one on each floor. And that is where the gesture might have stopped with a lesser project but for an ambitious desire to fuse styles from art deco to industrial, and to use materials from Murano glass to metal to reconcile contemporary style and that of the Belle Epoque.

The Excelsior Hotel Gallia building covers an entire block, on the city’s Piazza Duca D’Aosta, which is also home to the Pirelli Tower and the grand Milano Centrale railway station.

Its scale is enough to accommodate a variety of interior spaces and environments now linked via a system of portals, characterised by black glass, metal and light and incorporating a 100m-long internal promenade.

The promenade is lined with small ’boutique windows’ displaying luxury goods, and connects the historical wing’s common spaces with the new building’s Grand Hall, used for meetings and congresses.

The cupola is now a huge crystal room featuring 586 prisms
The cupola is now a huge crystal room featuring 586 prisms

A monumental entrance hall at the heart of the historical building links to the wine cellar (in the basement), lounge, library, cigar room, bar, restaurant and La Scala, a historical venue used for banquets.

Piva studied the original materials and surfaces, referencing Thirties’ Milan architecture, the La Scala Theatre, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, villa Necchi Campiglio and Milanese courtyards in particular, and using often highly reflective materials, such as brown antique marble as well as glass and ethereal, luminous steel.

Intimate venues, such as the cigar room and library, were designed as private clubs, with silk-screened glass and memories of the Milanese Liberty (art nouveau) and art deco periods, and using material such as thick, chamfered, reflecting and silk-screen printed glass; traditional parquet and a soft flooring with modern, metal inserts.

The restaurant and breakfast room (Sala Gallia) floor is made from an external marble frame with an interior surface from parallel, wooden staves. The restaurant’s decor is mainly black, while the predominant colour in the bar area is white. Although there is contrast, there is also synergy. Angular wainscotting in the restaurant continues on to the curved wall of the bar in Reflex painted glass, and the back of the bar counter is all in leather. Elsewhere, the material used includes traditional Italian and Middle Eastern marbles in Classic Rosewood, Afyon White and Black Portoro Buono.

A detail from an ‘art suite’, on the second floor
A detail from an ‘art suite’, on the second floor

The eight-storey central staircase has been preserved and renovated to include a 30m-high Murano glass chandelier comprising a cascade of 180 light cylinders. Hotel and external guests can take super-fast, back-illuminated quartz lifts to the spa and swimming pool on the sixth and seventh floors. The seventh is also home to the Terrace Bar and a multifunction room under the historical building’s Central Cupola, now a huge crystal room coated with 586 prisms of mirror-finished Alucobond. The space beneath the Central Cupola is equipped with audio-visual tech and rollaway seats for private banquets and parties, and links to the Royal Suite.

The new accommodation comprises 235 guest rooms and 51 suites, plus a Presidential and a Royal Suite. Eight of the suites are designed to reflect Milan’s status as a capital of fashion and design and five furnished with examples of design classics created in the city. A further 17 atelier suites in the historical building reference, through furnishings and atmosphere, writers and poets who have stayed in Milan.

The central staircase features a 30m-deep chandelier of Murano glass
The central staircase features a 30m-deep chandelier of Murano glass

Ten Signature Suites overlook an inner courtyard. These are intended to evoke art galleries and feature art and special lighting, while another six at the corner of the modern facade have full-height, sliding panels echoing art photography of the historical facade and giving space flexibility.

In addition to the architecture and interior design, Studio Marco Piva put together a collection of more than 500 artworks including sculptures, paintings and photographs, located in strategic hotel areas, in common spaces, rooms and exclusive areas. Meanwhile, the executive suites have more of the feel of Milan lofts. The fitfh floor 160 sq m Presidential Suite in the historical building has its own balcony overlooking Piazza Duca d’Aosta with the 1,000 sq m Royal Suite on the seventh and top floors.

The Piazza Duca D’Aosta with its mix of starkly elegant, high-rise modern architecture in the Pirelli Tower, and cakey indulgence expressed in the Grand Milano and Gallia’s own facades, show how it is possible to mix styles and periods and get away with it. Piva’s refurbishment accomplishes the same within the Gallia and links its style with that of the Piazza and the city as a whole.