We’re in Mayfair – that rarified part of London where, on the face of it, all is quiet and serene. We know, however, that behind the bronze plaques that adorn the pristine townhouses here, serious business is taking place. Really serious business!
Those plaques signify that these are the homes of leading hedge fund businesses and asset management companies. Furthermore, the only ‘shop’ within a stone’s throw is ‘selling’ Sunseeker yachts – and as we enviously look at the perfect scale models in the window, we realise that we have work to do and rapidly make our way around the corner onto Grosvenor Street – the new Mayfair base for leading South African-based asset management company, Sygnia Asset Management.
Fortunately, our timing couldn’t be better as we meet The DSGN Studio’s Benjamin Dudley, our guide for this morning, in the ground floor reception space. The DSGN Studio was appointed by Sygnia to deliver its new London home at the prestigious address of 24 Grosvenor Street. We head up to the 3rd floor, which might be somewhat compact but, as we can almost immediately see, delivers everything the business requires. This includes a smart conference room, lounge area, breakout kitchenette space and open workspace.
Sygnia, we learn, is an innovative FinTech company based in South Africa and listed on the main board of the JSE. The company provides asset management, stockbroking and administration services, as well as a wide range of savings products to institutional and retail clients. Everything Sygnia does is supported by leading-edge technology platforms, while the business boasts over R223 billion in assets under management and administration, R27 billion in unit trusts since its launch in 2012, more than 900 institutional clients (domestic and international), more than 14,000 individual clients, and over 220 staff across offices in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban – and now London.
‘This is the first office for Sygnia in the UK,’ Benjamin tells us as we walk through to the main open workspace. ‘In South Africa the business is one of the main financial institutions. They are a major force at home and an incredibly impressive business. Finding the right space was challenging to start off with. They were looking from St James’s through to Mayfair – I think that the roof terrace here pretty much sold this space to them. It’s quite a unique asset.
“In South Africa the business is one of the main financial institutions. They are a major force at home and an incredibly impressive business”
‘This was the first project in the building, which created a challenge. The fire escapes and common parts of the building are finished to a very high standard with Bolon flooring and feature walls – which meant we had to be extremely careful getting everything into the demise. We had to set a standard.
‘The client was very clear view about what they wanted and what they liked, which was extremely beneficial to our design team and led to an efficient decision-making process. There had to be that same visual identity between this office and the offices in South Africa – so that when people come in here they can reference products and finishes from the South African offices and know exactly where they are. We wanted that familiarity.
‘It’s quite a condensed space – it’s 1,500 sq ft – however a lot was achieved within the space; there is a good array of various settings here. We have the high counter for breakout, collaboration and for staff to come together, There are the workstations for the execution of tasks, we’ve got the beautiful lounge area… like I said, there are a lot of settings for the size of space. The client is looking to fill this space very quickly as it is not in full occupancy yet – and as this will be their senior management and client space for London, we have managed to keep the space as open as possible, as they do not require individual cellular offices. The only enclosed space is the boardroom.
‘We have specified some very special elements in this project, such as handmade Danish light fittings, which were completely bespoke to the project. The execution of the space had to be perfect. The flooring is relatively simple, and we have used traditional materials, such as the marble together with timber flooring, but they are set in a modern tone. There is that link with tradition, but with a modern approach throughout. What we really didn’t want was for any one finish or single element to be overpowering or to stand out too much. It was important that everything worked together, that everything was cohesive.
‘Everything here is bespoke – from the teapoint and the high counter, through to the timber screens and the desks. Bespoke joinery played a big role in this project.
‘Our clients here are mobile and come together from different offices in different countries. They needed a system that could allow them to simply plug in and start working – so we’ve used the Humanscale M/Connect, which works well and is unobtrusive. It was vital that the technology was right.
As we move around to the elegant teapoint/collaboration space, we ask Benjamin about the origins of the relationship with Sygnia. ‘This project came through a recommendation – a lot of our projects are based on recommendations,’ he explains. ‘We then work closely with our client to ensure that the design is right, the budget is right – and then we came on-site. The programme was 12 weeks in total – a two-week lead-in period and then a 10-week construction phase on site. It was a reasonably quick process – although this is comfortable for us. Where we really did need the time was to organise the bespoke elements and all the joinery. It’s very much the nature of our business to work this way; everyone has to deliver on budget and everyone has to deliver on time – and they did.’
The colour palette throughout the space is largely fresh and neutral, with natural timbers, white and greys to the fore. ‘We’ve used two colours – navy and orange – in subtle ways, while the rest are neutrals,’ Benjamin confirms. ‘For example, we added navy velvet wall panels to the walls in the boardroom – this is not just a decorative feature, but enhances the acoustic properties in that space.
‘We wanted Sygnia’s clients to feel that this is a welcoming, comfortable space. We wanted them to come in and feel at ease. Using the lighting controls, you can change the settings in the room to suit the mood.
‘More than anything, this is a professional workspace. It’s an elegant space, but it is not based on fashions. It has to stand the test of time, be durable and, vitally, practical. It must work hard for the business and be an asset for Sygnia. The flow of the space has to work well and offer some privacy as well as collaborative, open areas.
We can’t emphasise enough the quality of the fixtures and fittings throughout – and also how smart the design and planning of this workplace is. Key manufacturers Benjamin and the team have worked with include Humanscale, Havwoods, Moooi, Tom Dixon, Anour, Minotti, Orangebox and Brunner – which should give the furniture aficionados amongst you some idea of the quality throughout. Looking closely, we find a number of beautiful little touches, such as coordinated brass inlays and leg details, which enhance the elegance of the overall look and feel.
“More than anything, this is a professional workspace. It’s an elegant space, but it is not based on fashions”
Everything has clearly been fully thought through. Heading back to the collaborative space, Benjamin shows us how the vast majority of elements (microwaves, fridges, bins etc) are all hidden away behind doors, leaving an extremely clean aesthetic.
We haven’t even touched upon the fact that there is also the particularly impressive roof terrace, with wooden decking and biophilic borders, which will no doubt offer Sygnia’s people a more than welcome chill-out space throughout the upcoming summer months.
At 1,500 sq ft, this isn’t the largest workspace we’ve seen. In fact, we’ve seen bigger yachts this morning – yet Sygnia’s new London home is every bit as smart and elegant as a Sunseeker.
Sygnia Asset Management
The DSGN Studio
Purves & Purves
Havwoods, Parkside Architectural Tiles, Elements London
Orangebox, Tom Dixon, Minotti London, Brunner, Gubi, Humanscale, La Palma
Vescom, Deltalight, Pentalight, Moooi, Anour, Floss, Window Film Solutions, Network Blinds, Little Greene