We’re in central London to take a look at the new working home of Agatha Christie Ltd and we can’t help but get into the spirit of the most prolific and best selling author of all time by not revealing all until the cliff-hanging end.
Best known and loved for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections, particularly those revolving around fictional detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, Agatha Christie also wrote the world’s longest-running play – murder mystery The Mousetrap – and six bittersweet tales under the name Mary Westmacott.
In 1971 she was made a Dame for her contribution to literature, before her death in 1976 at the grand age of 85.
Agatha Christie Ltd has been managing the literary and media rights to Agatha Christie’s works around the world since 1955, when the company was set up by Christie herself. It is today chaired and managed by Agatha Christie’s great grandson, James Prichard.
Recently, the company moved to new premises on Drury Lane – in the heart of London’s theatreland. Deciding upon the design and build route, a leading firm was asked by Agatha Christie Ltd to help create a new office environment – one which was clearly aligned with the Agatha Christie brand, which is rich in heritage and yet has a growing contemporary momentum.
‘As a brand whose roots are firmly embedded in literature it was important to our client that the extensive volumes of works by Agatha Christie and owned by the organisation, should play an integral part in the design,’ we are told by a mystery design figure. ‘Our challenge was to take a neutral office in central London and give it personality and warmth and align it with the Agatha Christie brand values.’
As the company’s offices were situated on the third floor of an impersonal office block in London, it was important that, as visitors stepped out of the lift, they would immediately be aware that they had entered a creative and historic environment. The team therefore designed a feature wall directly facing the lift with Agatha Christie’s distinctive signature on a striking black background so that visitors would be in no doubt as to where they were.
Other personal touches, which give a nod to the brand’s heritage, include the use of quotations from Agatha Christie novels, which provide a visual stimulus of her work and are reproduced at various strategic points around the office. Tactile bespoke wooden bookcases are used to display the company’s many (and when we say many, we mean many!) copies of Agatha Christie’s publications and to create warmth and personality. We’re told that we can find every single piece of Agatha Christie’s work here – and many of them in multiple languages. ‘They are integral to who Agatha Christie Ltd is, so they had to be on display. ω It’s that visual reminder and it also breaks up the canvas here,’ we’re told. ‘Because of the nature of the space here – which is long and quite thin – we didn’t want to enclose the space and create more walls, so we have open-back displays, which still allow the light into the space.’
Artwork, photographs and memorabilia from some of the great Christie movies are also on display to create visual appeal and interest.
Indeed, it was important to Agatha Christie Ltd that the new home was visually appealing and inviting. As the company is often visited by creatives from film and TV companies, the management team at Agatha Christie wanted the office and meeting rooms to have a contemporary feel. The space is therefore designed to feel very open with predominantly white walls and etched glass partitions creating a sense of light and space and with the books and artefacts giving it a heritage feel. Splashes of accent colour on some walls are used to create interest alongside the book covers themselves.
‘It is a very neutral canvas,’ we’re told, ‘and there is great natural light here, which makes it feel bright and modern.’
Modern is an important word for the company right now, with the team here helping bring those great works of the 20th century bang up to date.
‘Our aim is to tell Agatha Christie’s timeless stories to today’s audiences around the world,’ says Nikki White, Executive Assistant at Agatha Christie Ltd, who helped facilitate the office move. ‘We’ve recently produced two brand new adaptations of ‘And Then There Were None’ and ‘The Witness for the Prosecution’, both of which have a real contemporary feel in their interpretation. Plus, we’re building up to a major Fox movie adaptation of ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ this coming November, with Kenneth Branagh directing and starring as Poirot, alongside Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench and many more.
‘We do get quite a lot of visitors here – including the production companies we work with, publishers, games developers…it has a fairly heavy footfall. That’s why we’re in this part of London. We’ve always had a central location, in and around the Covent Garden area, and our new office means we can really reflect the brand and its heritage.’
The space is designed as mainly open plan with a large modern U-shaped kitchen and an informal meeting room – referred to as the ‘library’ – at the far end. Both are used for social interaction and a more relaxed working environment.
As mentioned a little earlier, open-ended bookcases are used to ensure that staff did not feel cut off from each other. The bright ω open space has a strong sense of the brand’s heritage, which serves to create a sense of belonging and ownership by the whole team.
At the other end of the space we find two meeting rooms, which can be opened to form a single larger boardroom facility. ‘Again, we’ve kept the space mainly neutral, with artworks and memorabilia from the films and TV productions providing a bit of visual interest,’ we’re told, ‘including a really cool clock and the original figures used in the recent ‘And Then There Were None’.
‘We also wanted to bring in a bit more warmth with the use of timber – and again we wanted to keep things subtle and neutral throughout.
‘It’s a lovely little project and there is only a relatively small team here. Therefore, flexibility wasn’t really a major issue. People have their own desks – and they wouldn’t want to work in any other way. We were slightly concerned that the kitchen/breakout space was a little too close to the working area, but we’ve used different flooring and finishes to demark the area and it actually works really well.’
So, we’ve gathered in the boardroom here at Drury Lane for the big reveal.
Whodunnit? It was ODB Group’s Design Director Andy Terry, with the design expertise. The reveal might not be up to the standards of Poirot – but there’s no doubt we’ve still managed to get a great result here.