I’ve previously written a blog post about the desire to establish a proper studio in Cheltenham – back in 2012/13 – and some of the logic behind the design of the space. This studio space has served us well, but a few niggles started to creep in, namely a) meeting space limitations b) clients getting lost in the rabbit warren of corridors and c) bigger project requirements.
The studio is located within a much larger red brick, old factory building, which had been sliced up by previous property developers with no respect to the building itself. Lots of studwall partitions, carpet tiles, plastic conduit, “that’ll do” artwork and cheap wall radiators. We removed as much of this as we could in the space we were allocated, but we were always situated within a maze of more stud wall partitions, fire doors and access corridors with no real apparent logic in their creation. We have referred to it as ‘charm’ when talking about our studio to clients, but the reality is that it was a bit of a pain, and we found ourselves making excuses for it when they came to visit. The building itself is amazing, and has – anecdotally – been home to Morgan Sports Cars (bodyshop), Piano builders (Liberace’s first piano was built here apparently), Furniture warehousemen (Barnby Bendall used this as their main repository in times gone by) and it was a Workhouse many, many years ago. Ever since we moved in, it felt like the building was crying out to be taken back to it’s origins…at least in terms of the shell of the building.
Anyway, after 18 months I decided to have look around for anything else that might serve us better. We needed more space to spread out and manage larger projects, we needed a dedicated meeting room which could cope with more than 4 people at a time, and we wanted our own front door…or at least an entrance that made sense!
However, although Cheltenham is a lovely town, it suffers from an excess of regency properties, which are lovely to live in, and lovely to look at, but are terrible if you want to develop an open-plan design studio. Pretty much everything I looked at was either like this or was an industrial, fabricated, out of town ‘unit’ lacking any charm whatsoever and miles away from any town centre amenities. Back to the drawing board…
At about this time, a couple of tenants that occupied smaller office units like ours, decided to move out which left the floor below ours effectively empty…awaiting new tenants. We managed to get hold of the floorplan drawings for the building and noticed that behind these recently vacated offices, there was a large windowless room being used by a solicitors firm to store and archive legal files. A quick scribble with a pencil and ruler on the aforementioned plans revealed the opportunity for a rather impressive open plan space which not only provided a magnificent front door and entrance, but it pushed the extremities of the space back to the outer walls of the original building. To top it all off, the space subdivided naturally into a large space and a smaller (but still decent sized) ‘meeting room’ space with natural light. Bingo!
A glass of wine or two later and a slightly better version of the floorpan amendment crafted, I emailed the landlord of the building and asked if he would entertain the idea of us bulldozing these sub-rooms into one large studio space….and if he wouldn’t mind could we also rip off the plaster from all of the external walls….please. To be honest I fully expected a polite but curt reply telling me to “mind my own business”, but surprisingly, he replied back saying that he thought it had potential and we should meet to discuss it.
Fast forward a few months and several meetings to discuss tenancy terms and contract details, and the builders arrive to ‘start work’. It turns out that the landlord himself had been keen to bring the building back to life, and our suggestion sat well with his own thoughts and was the reason he needed to justify doing something. Indeed, following the renovation of this space, he has since started renovating the other floors in the building and it is starting to look mighty impressive. Stripping the building back to it’s bare bones and letting it do the talking. No need to disguise it with so-called ‘office décor’ or executive finishes. Bare, solid brickwork, exposed steel beams, robust, sanded wooden floorboards and original architectural detailing with history and character. I can’t tell you how heartwarming it is to see something be reinvigorated so simply and straightforwardly. And to top it all off, we’ve been privelidged enough to be invited by the landlord to help specify and provide design input to the new office and communal spaces.
The work is still very much ongoing in this vast building, but the wheels are in motion and I for one, am relishing being a part of it. I can’t tell you how much I would have kicked myself if I’d left to find something different, only to have this happen for someone else. We are well and truly staying put and we are enjoying helping it become more of a community of like-minded businesses, rather than a building housing a load of businesses operating in isolation (we’ve always cited ‘The Paintworks’ in Bristol as our inspiration). I applaud the landlord for having the tenacity and passion to do this, when he could so easily have left it as it was. It is an incredible building and is becoming ever more so as the detritus of recent ‘developments’ are finally stripped away.
Anyway, enough gushing….I thought it would be nice for you all to see some of the photos taken throughout the renovation process. I will no doubt publish a blog post when the studio is fully decorated and kitted out, but for the time being, I’ll leave you with the building itself.
i. The various spaces being emptied
ii. Carpet up and walls starting to be removed
iii. First sense of overall space and wall ‘exploration’
iv. Complete shell and rubbish to get rid of
v. Brickwork fully exposed in main space and meeting room
vi. Brickwork being given a new lease of life and power trunking going in
vii. Trunking complete, end wall painted and floors being sanded
viii. The completed empty space (photos courtesy of MS Creative)
ix. An external view showing our old office (above) and new (below…lit) on completion