Barbican Estate, City of London
A modern interior redesign of this Shakespeare Tower flat on the Barbican Estate in the City of London.
A carefully considered design for an iconic location
Throughout the redesign of this interior, we strived to preserve the spirit of the original interiors of the Barbican, while at the same time incorporating new elements and contemporary pieces in such a way that respected the spirit and feel of the original. We updated the apartment with a design palette driven by simplicity and continuity. While all of the spaces have their own feel and treatment, there is a consistency to the approach which brings a sense of unity to the whole. The result is a contemporary apartment which feels just right in its unique and iconic surroundings.
Custom fitted cabinetry
We designed custom cabinetry to make the most of the space in the flat. This also allowed us to create designs which would be sympathetic to the original architecture, use a consistent colour palette, and also to choose materials in keeping with the original fittings of the flat.
This storage cabinet beneath the window combines sleek spray-painted doors with teak to match the frames. It extends beneath the window to offer generous storage space in an area which would otherwise be wasted.
Striking, modern bathroom designs
We redesigned the principal bathroom with a more spacious layout including a large walk-in shower and extensive storage.
In keeping with the design language of the original Barbican bathrooms we used a regular tile pattern across the walls. The back wall of the shower features a subtle yet captivating design of part-glazed tiles in a random arrangement.
This project entailed the redesign and refurbishment of a flat on the Barbican Estate in the City of London – a fabulous location in the centre of the capital. Located in Shakespeare Tower, the flat had been refurbished before in the 1990s, when some of the original architectural details had been removed. Untouched for the subsequent 30 years, this apartment was ready for a new lease of life.
The context and wider environment around any property is so important, and always informs our interior designs. In a location as iconic (and in its time, controversial) as the Grade II-listed Barbican Estate, this wider context is a key design consideration. The reinstatement of the original details as part of the redesign was crucial to carrying out a refurbishment that was not only contemporary in look and feel, but also sympathetic to the original design and construction of the overall estate.
Traditional wall panelling and cabinetry had also been fitted by previous owners, and although part of our design brief was to return the feel of the apartment to the clean lines and striking appearance of the original, that wasn’t to mean a recreation of the 1970s original.
I wrote about these original interiors following the Barbican Centre’s Designing for a Living City exhibition. In this design we have captured a sense of that look and feel while introducing contemporary finishes and the mod-cons you want in a contemporary central London apartment.
Because of its unique history, design and listed status, gaining the right permissions in a timely fashion is essential in a project like this. We handled all permissions on behalf of our clients – successfully gaining both Listed Building Consent from the City of London as well as Estate permission for the works. This covered the reinstatement works as well as discreet layout changes to suit the needs of the owners.
The context and nature of the Barbican Estate are very important to this property, and it was important for these to influence the redesign of the interior, but not to limit the use of anything contemporary. The selected colours and interior finishes bring the flat right up-to-date, while being sympathetic to the unique aesthetic of this location. By using a limited palette of colours and materials, we sought to create an interior with individual spaces that still form a consistent whole.
In the entrance to the flat, a dark warm grey is punctuated with a bright teal, giving a bold appearance and providing a recessive backdrop which puts the clients’ artworks in the limelight. Flexible track lighting ensures the pictures are perfectly lit against this deep, neutral background. This lighting design also allows the lights to be reconfigured as required when artworks are changed or rehung.
The carpet is a specially-engineered fibre carpet from Germany, specified to cater for and cope with the Barbican’s underfloor heating system.
In the sitting room and dining room, we removed the tired joinery and again reinstated the architectural details of the original flat. We designed new fitted storage cabinetry in keeping with the modern style of the Barbican estate, including referencing the original materials so that the new designs would feel appropriate and as if they had always been there.
New AV and display cabinetry in the sitting room houses the television and other equipment. Carefully designed assorted shelving above provides varied spaces in which the clients can display their eclectic collection of objets. A subtle colour palette with varying tones of the same muted green decorates the insides of the display recesses, generating visual interest across the unit. The thicknesses of every shelf and surround match the exact same dimensions and spacings as original features such as door linings. It’s this attention to detail which results in everything feeling just right in every single room.
In the dining room, a further storage unit is designed specifically for under the window, with a varying depth inside which maximises the use of the unusually shaped space available, while presenting a unified appearance to the front of the cabinet. The unit carcase is made from solid teak, matching the window above and blending with the original materials of the flat. This teak top also provides a display shelf for pictures above. The unit was elevated off the floor so that it doesn’t look bulky, allowing the teak timber to wrap around the edges of the doors, and the original skirting detail to be reinstated beneath.
On the wall behind the dining table, a triptych of floating panels provides an ingenious solution to a number of design challenges: to provide a backdrop to the dining area to give this space its own identity; to display further artworks in a different way; and to improve the appearance of the fire escape from the flat.
The three panels appear to float off the wall, and are covered in a herringbone linen wallcovering from the Netherlands. A beautiful texture in a muted grey colour, this is a visually interesting finish as a backdrop to the dining table, and the use of linen also has an acoustic benefit alongside the dining area. One of these panels is hinged on concealed fittings, with the unsightly fire escape easily and quickly accessible behind it, the other two panels being fixed. For the artworks, a varied arrangement of lipped picture shelves enables an interesting and quickly editable selection of pictures to be displayed. Again, these are in teak in order to keep to a limited palette of finishes, with their arrangement carefully designed to accommodate and even encourage the display of pieces of different sizes. Some of the shelves also span across the panels to combine vertical and horizontal elements in this installation.
The client’s existing mid-century dining furniture is combined with a stylish and atmospheric Scandinavian smoked-glass pendant arrangement. Their original Parker Knoll armchair is complemented perfectly by the new cabinetry.
The window treatments in this room are designed to offer a flexible combination of light control and privacy. Voile roller blinds are fitted to control light and provide privacy during the day. The sleek curtains are made with a wave heading and track for a minimal appearance, and the geometric fabric design by Jonathan Adler is a cheeky play on the geometry of the Barbican estate.
The clients are keen on cooking and entertaining, so the kitchen was enlarged to create a more spacious and comfortable area, with a pair of sliding pocket doors at the end so it can be opened to or closed from the main living area as required. In keeping with the modernity of the original kitchen, the new kitchen is a minimal German kitchen system. It is designed and finished to be as sleek and clean as possible. The precision in its planning results in a simple appearance with efficient storage and working spaces.
The cabinetry is a matt-finished soft grey and blue, complementing the overall colour palette of the apartment. It is combined with a white quartz composite worktop. Splashbacks are in backpainted glass, including a spectacular single piece over three metres long above the main worktop. On the opposite side a pair of solid teak shelves provide shelf space for the clients’ collection of cookery books. Recessed LED lighting is used to discreetly provide direct task lighting to the worktops, and this is neatly fitted under the shelves as well as the wall cabinets. The quest for clean lines and minimal detail continues to the flooring, with single tiles spanning the full width of the space.
The utility room is refitted with laundry appliances neatly concealed within custom-made cabinetry to maximise the use of the space, along with further storage and larder cabinetry.
A relaxed and inviting feel was sought for the principal bedroom. We used a deep, muted blue wall colour to create atmosphere and a sense of luxury. In our designs, nothing is left to chance, everything is chosen and positioned for a reason – aesthetic or functional – or ideally both. This is why additional fitted shelving was neatly integrated into the room, again using details to match the original flat. Bookshelves opposite the bed are built in to appear part of the fabric of the room design. A further slender bookcase alongside the bed provides a secluded storage space, and enabled a more accessible position for the lightswitch, and all of the original wardrobes were all refurbished. On top of modern bedside tables sit concrete-based lamps, a compliment to the primary building material used in the creation of the Barbican.
The original bathroom designs of the Barbican – with their uniform, white, square tiles – might appear rather institutional now, but there’s a language in their modernity that we wanted to subtly reference. So we used small, square ceramic tiles in keeping with this original design style, but now in contemporary colours. A special version of these Dutch tiles was used behind the shower as a backdrop to the room, with these part-glazed square tiles arranged randomly to create a stunning visual effect. A specially-coloured taupe German shower tray was used in the large and open walk-in shower area. This off-white colouring made the shower area look warmer and more inviting, toning down what would have been a stark contrast if a white tray had been used. Extraneous detail is again minimised, with a completely frameless full-height bespoke glass screen to keep the water inside the shower area.
The brassware fittings are a simple and elegant design by Antonio Citterio, and extensive storage is provided with timber cabinetry under and opposite the basin. The illuminated vanity mirror is a minimal design which offers excellent lighting. Overall the room has a calm and relaxing atmosphere – an ideal place to start and end the day.
In the second bedroom, the original fitted wardrobes were again refurbished, and additional shelved storage was added. With a deep grey colour to the walls, the room has a beautiful feeling of sanctuary from which to enjoy the view over the City of London. Additional storage for the client’s books was designed across the whole of the far wall of the room. The joinery details are consistent with the other pieces in the apartment, reworked slightly for the different purpose of this piece. The decoration of the shelves in the same dark colour as the room integrates it into the overall space so that it doesn’t dominate the room.
The second bathroom is a compact shower room, refitted to create a comfortable guest bathroom. Despite the limited space, the careful choice of fittings and layout allows for a generous shower, with another version of the Dutch tiles in subtly contrasting colours as a backdrop. The basin vanity unit offers excellent storage, and a slim cabinet version of the illuminated mirror provides further storage space above.
The final result then is an apartment which both celebrates its past and is now fit for the future. It’s a space where every detail has been carefully considered and planned – to the point where, wander through it, and you don’t notice one feature over another, because everything looks and feels just right.