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Elle Decor Italia

The new life of London’s first department store

London architects Squire&Partners convert former Edwardian building into a brand-new business and creativity hub, maintaining its original historical details

© James Jones

The renovation of London’s first historical department store by studio Squire&Partners 

Architecture studio Squire&Partners has recently inaugurated a new office in Brixton, London. The term “office”, though, is a mere understatement, at least by judging from the following pictures: four floors of decadent beauty set within a former Edwardian department store, namely The Department Store, that recently underwent a major renovation. After all, what could be more inspiring for an architect than a place where each beam, window and step has a tale to recount?

Photo credits © James Jones

Built in 1906 as London’s first department store, the building, chosen by Squire&Partners as their new headquarters, was in a dreadful state until two years ago. The proof of the place’s state of disrepair is still impressed upon its walls, which still display traces of graffiti and peeling plaster as many mementos to cherish and preserve. Restoration works have been carried out in keeping with the idea to enhance the identity and history of the place in all its different layers, to strip the edifice to its bones, in order to display its unvarnished, raw, timeworn poetry.

Photo credits © James Jones

That is how, freed at last from unconsidered extensions and useless encumbrances, this more than 6000sqm big edifice has finally disclosed its hidden treasures: teak floorings, Crittall windows, marbles and terracotta. In order to restore them to their former splendor, it has been necessary to exert a great artisanal effort, the same that managed to save the grand central tiled staircase from utter neglect, as well as a series of precious cast iron radiators. The hardest challenge, though, was the roof. Here a series of oak framed pavilions topped with copper shingle was mounted, while a new crafted glass dome has replaced the former dilapidated glass cupola. 

Testo: Photo credits © James Jones

If pre-existing architectural elements have been largely maintained and highlighted, Squire&Partners’ main departure from the original building regards the arrangement of volumes. Ample voids have carved out between levels in order to add dramatic depth to the space, connecting the different areas. Behind the choice to maintain the old name – The Department Store – for the new headquarters, there is the idea that the building should combine a set of different souls and activities.

Photo credits © James Jones

The ground floor includes a modelshop and a cafeteria, while intermediate levels offer a succession of meeting areas and drawing workstations. A spectacular restaurant is hosted on the rooftop floor, crowned by the glass dome and enhanced by a panoramic view on the vibrant Brixton neighborhood. A quiet inner courtyard, besides adding a touch of greenery to the structure, offers an ideal nook for relaxation and social activities. Even toilettes are actual architectural jewels, with their restored multilayer tiles and brass details, recently saved from neglect. 

Photo credits © James Jones

In such a monumental, lived-in location, design interventions are essential, in keeping with functionality and the raw-style spirit of the place. Rugs – designed by Eley Kishimoto - deserve a special mention, handmade and inspired by the building itself. Prototypes, models, sketches recalling and recounting the architect’s work are treated as real furnishing objects here, scattered as they are from floor to floor, marking their territory. 

Photo credits © James Jones

The building’s exterior has managed to recreate a lively connection with the busy street life, thanks to its ample shop windows inviting passers-by to enter and enjoy a hot coffee, or have a look at the models. The aim of the newly reborn The Department Store is to become a real cultural hub, a landmark for the entire community. It is no coincidence that a nearby vinyl shop, which had been in business for years, has immediately moved into the newly restored department store. Drawing from history and its very surroundings, architecture has found a new life. Going to the office on a grey London morning could definitely become a pleasure. 


Photo credits © James Jones


by Elisa Zagaria / 19 October 2017


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