In the Northern Quarter of Manchester, U.K., the creative studio The Neighborhood adds color and character to the historic 19th-century building that it calls home. We spoke to co-founder Ben Davies about how this collaborative workspace has created a unique design statement — and thriving creative community.
How would you define The Neighbourhood’s aesthetic? Simply put, “eclectic,” with antique furniture from different eras, mixing up with contemporary design, custom-built pieces, and inevitably, a few finds from big-box stores. We wanted to create a studio rather than workplace, a home rather than an office. That’s why, for example, you’ll find all our childhood photos on the wall.
It’s an open-plan space, with no hierarchy in layout. (You won’t find the bosses hiding away in glass boxes.) By working in this way, we believe that this facilitates a better team-working environment, with collaborations happening more naturally and instinctively across disciplines and projects, and everyone sees what is going on.
What inspired the design of the interior? Phil Horton (one of our architectural team, recently emigrated to Australia) and myself spent time developing mood boards and references and exploring these through digital modelling. We spent a couple of days browsing various Manchester antique suppliers and flea markets. We had a small budget, so we needed to haggle, and sourced bit by bit, one item, one chair, one sideboard at a time.
Despite so much of our work being digital, we have a love of books, so built our own reception table out of a box of hardback books we found at a flea market for a fiver.
Our main meeting room was conceived as a dining room, but one where it’s encouraged to watch TV at the dinner table!
We’ve only one rule in the studio — that you can’t eat your lunch at your desk — so we built a table big enough to accommodate everyone for breakfast and lunch. So we commissioned a very simple but beautifully crafted plywood picnic bench.
With our budget, we could only stretch to a simple low-cost kitchen, but to complement the old tongue-and-groove timber paneling at the back of the studio, we created a tongue-and-groove zinc “overcoat” to clad the kitchen.
We spy several Aeron chairs at your desks. Why did you select them? As a creative team and studio, we spend so a lot of our lives at our desks, so even from the start we knew how important it was to invest in the most ergonomic seating. Aerons are a design classic. You feel like you’re floating when you sit in them, and with so many configurable settings they fit you individually like a tailored suit, no matter what size or shape you are.
You share your space with other start-up companies, students, and freelancers. What are the benefits? By mixing things up, we promote what we call “happy accidents” — those collaborations and skill-swaps that happen when a diverse set of creative minds share the same home. We feel there is much more to be gained by working in a creative community such as this.
See more of The Neighborhood — including the space before it was refurbished — in tomorrow’s Part Two.
Photos: Courtesy of The Neighbourhood