Andy Black

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We’ve known The Interiors Group’s CEO Andy Black for more years than any of us would wish to calculate.

Over those years we’ve been both delighted and grateful to have covered a number of The Interiors Group’s most prestigious, forward thinking projects, including award-winning schemes for the likes of Forward Group, Lloyds Avenue, Warnford Court, Stone Harbor and Instinctif Partners. It was only relatively recently, however, that we realised we’d never sat Andy down and asked him about himself.

We have to be honest, it’s not been easy to get both sides sat down together due to hectic schedules and lack of diary space – not that we’d knock it!

Finally, however, Andy and ourselves have found a day when we’re all in London, and, to be honest, the timing couldn’t be more perfect as The Interiors Group has only just scooped the inaugural Mixology Reader’s Choice Award. We’d like to take credit for our immaculate timing – but that was down to you, the readers!

Just-EatAlways great company, Andy is more than happy to chat over a pleasant lunch in the West End, just a short walk from The Interiors Group’s impressive Balderton Street offices.

Andy begins by telling us a little about his background. Originally from Wales (hence his passionate rugby affiliation), Andy was adopted via Barnardo’s and brought up in Islington.

Always into ‘building stuff’, young Andy went on to seek further education opportunities in and around the construction field. Having served his apprenticeship in a variety of areas in the construction sector, he then made the move inside, into the world of interiors. ‘I thought there had to be easier ways to make a living,’ Andy grins. ‘After three years working happily in interiors I met with the guy who owned Total Office Interiors – who were a huge Steelcase dealer at the time – and we agreed to set up a fit-out company to complement his company.

‘Always up for a challenge, I decided to give it a go but in 1988 Total Office Interiors was sold – so we ended up with a fit-out company without this association. This was back in the days when Design & Build was simply known as Turnkey.

‘We then decided to set up an alternative Steelcase dealership. This was myself, the late Roger McLellar and Dave Mackie. We worked successfully for a couple of years, then in 1991 we moved on to become the first Haworth dealer in the UK.

‘By that time we had started to really focus on D&B – we now had a full team of space planners, concept designers etc as well as the full construction team.’

‘This was incredibly successful for a number of years but, in 1994, we dropped that association with Haworth and went on to essentially become a broker – if a client wanted Steelcase, Haworth or any other product we’d go out and source it…it worked well. It was quite an obvious but unique proposition at the time.

‘By that time we had started to really focus on D&B – we now had a full team of space planners, concept designers etc as well as the full construction team. Then, sadly, Roger died in 1995 – and ironically we won our largest order to date just two weeks later for Monsanto.

‘Progressively, over the years, we have grown and evolved. In 2004 we started to target both project managers and the large building consultancy firms.

‘At the time there was the equivalent of the Berlin Wall between D&B and traditional but I strongly felt that by working on D&B projects with traditionally focused consultancy teams we could complement one another and, ultimately, we could save them time. We were looking at a much quicker, much simpler, cost effective and hopefully, between us as a team, a more rounded scenario for some great clients, typically working to a fixed price form of contract.

‘It worked. We started working with CBRE, Savills, DTZ, Knight Frank etc – and to this day that is technically the same model. Another result of the partnership was that we ended up with a lot of the projects coming to us with architects and design practices already appointed – it could be a Jump Studios or Scott Brownrigg – but the client wanted to go quasi-traditional, they wanted us to take on the responsibility of design, but they wanted Jump or Scott Brownrigg to do that design.

‘We then made the decision to actively broaden our spectrum of design partners, and started working with the likes of Harmsen Tilney Shane, Gensler – in fact, you name it, we’ve worked with them! There are some great design companies out there right now. They all earn their reputations and they deserve their place.

‘In the last two years we’ve realised that the support that these guys need and the input the project managers want is changing – project managers are now very pro-D&B, and to that end we have bolstered our design department and employed a wonderful new Head of Design, Kathryn O’Callaghan, to run the team. Now the majority of projects we work on are designed by our in-house design team, including the stunning 70,000 sq ft design and build project for Honda Motors Europe in Bracknell. In addition, we have expanded our technical detailing team so that, when required to work with external design houses, we can amply support them during the detailing and construction phases and run a fast track D&B style project with a focus on quality and cost efficiency whilst working with best of breed design consultancies.

‘At our core is trust and delivery – the proverbial ‘on time and on budget’ is a given. We have to have a genuine belief that we can deliver what we promise – and we have to create an arena of trust with the project team. If you can bring that team together…realise that the comfortable, happy and successful way of completing this project is to act like a team. Ensuring the client’s team is like-minded is of such importance. The happier the team, the happier the client.

‘We’ve made a few changes over the years and had a few changes of personnel – and I know that I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, but my view is that nobody is bigger than the company.’

‘At our core is trust and delivery – the proverbial ‘on time and on budget’ is a given. We have to have a genuine belief that we can deliver what we promise…’

And, while we’re on the subject, The Interiors Group of today is a truly great company, with recent expansion into new territories, a constantly growing client portfolio and a turnover well in excess of £30 million a year. ‘In 2009 we set up in Abu Dhabi and then two years later in Dubai,’ Andy continues. ‘That’s going extremely well. We now have over 20 people out there and also have an office in Oman. The projects range from 90,000 sq ft down to 1,000 sq ft. It really has been a great success for us – and we have some fantastic people out there.

‘It’s an intriguing place to work and full of genuinely fascinating people to work with. I’ve even been trying to learn Arabic – unsuccessfully – but I will stick with it. That whole ex-pat way of living is very different and I’ve learnt that it tends to involve quite a lot of alcohol – so I fit in quite well!’

St-SwithinsSpeaking of the drink (not that we’re ones to generalise of course), The Interiors Group has also recently expanded into another territory a little closer to home. ‘We opened in Dublin last year,’ Andy explains. ‘That actually came about through connections in the Middle East who had origins in Ireland. They realised that enquiry levels at home were going up exponentially and they wanted to create a full D&B offer. We had just finished a job in Dublin remotely and so the timing was perfect. Dublin is getting a lot busier – whatever the taxi drivers tell you! They are running out of client space and the technology and pharmaceutical companies are all heading in for taxation purposes – and others will follow. There are some fascinating projects in the pipeline.

‘We’re only a few months in, but at the moment we are bidding on five projects. There are some strange similarities between Dubai and Dublin – they work hard and they play hard.’

Now who does that remind us of?