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6 experts give their highs, lows and lessons learnt in 2020

2020 has undoubtedly been the year of seismic change for all professionals in every sector. We caught up with 6 past Mixology judges to give us their highs, lows and learnings over the past few months.

01/12/2020 6 min read

Tina Norden
Partner, Conran and Partners

This year has shaken our boundaries, belief systems and everything we took for granted to the core. We had to adapt, adjust and move fast to keep the studio working entirely remotely – not something we thought possible.

As a multidisciplinary studio, we have always followed a strategy of spreading our risk across different markets, project types and regions, which has been the right path to see us through this testing year and into the future.

The big positive in all of this has been the realisation that we have an amazing team that has pulled together to keep working, be creative and deliver our projects from their kitchen tables or bedrooms, in very difficult circumstances.

We have missed being in the studio as a team, sharing creative conversations, brainstorming, bouncing ideas off each other (which don’t work perfectly on Teams!) and generally being with people. Design is a team effort and we can only be locked up in solitary confinement for so long!

As a result, we will never give up a home for our team in a studio (excitingly, we are moving to a new studio in Clerkenwell in spring!), but we are extracting the positives from the enforced WFH. This will definitely have a lasting impact on our work culture, improving our work/life balance and reducing the time and cost of commuting through the introduction of flexible working. We are already formalising this for our team.

Mark Simpson
Principal, Board Director, Chair of Design and Head of Workplace, BDP

As far as the highs are concerned, we started the year with the opening of PwC’s offices in Birmingham, where they welcomed 2,000 staff to a superb new agile, collaborative and progressive workspace – and, of course, Trump being dumped.

As for the lows – where to start? From a business perspective, dealing with projects delays, cancellations and new levels of uncertainty. From a wider perspective, seeing many friends in the industry and elsewhere lose their jobs. The hardship many people are facing will take some time to repair, even if a vaccine is found soon. The economic and political landscape is very depressing. Hopefully, Biden’s win will be the start of a better world?

We have learnt that we can work effectively from home but company culture and engagement, in-person collaboration to foster innovation, mentorship and learning, and a desire to form real and meaningful connections and friendships with colleagues, is very important. We all crave a place to collaborate, communicate and create, to learn, inspire and develop. The office is not dead – the pandemic has merely accelerated the pace of change and the evolution of the workplace that was already underway.

The trick will be to make the office environment one that we will all want to go to.

The new distributed workplace will need to support people more, offer a more diverse, inclusive and energising, experiential community environment, which brings real choice, really embraces the sustainability agenda and the wellness of the people that work there – they are no longer boxes to tick, they are essentials.

Those organisations that do those things well will thrive, those that don’t won’t.

Nick Threlfall
Design Director, Regal London

2020 has been an exceptionally challenging and, in many ways, cruel year for the development world. It is a sector where design, construction, sales, marketing and finance all come together to make vibrant new places to live and work – the whole process relies on a complex and extensive network of people. This year, the resilience of these networks has been tested as never before.

Since construction sites were allowed to reopen, stringent public health measures have been put into place in order to maintain construction activity. This has meant that Regal London can continue supporting dozens of small sub-contractors and family-run businesses, many of whom we’ve been working with for years. 

Sales is a critical part of the sector and essential face-to-face interactions have been disrupted. As a result, the industry has innovated. Using the latest smart technology has helped to really raise the standard of our online project presentations and virtual tours, allowing our sales teams to engage effectively with purchasers and agents remotely.

Our head office team has been working effectively from home. We’ve adopted Zoom and Microsoft Teams effortlessly for meetings and our Friday fancy-dress virtual pub quizzes have been a lot of fun, creating much-needed camaraderie.

Despite all the uncertainty and disruption thrown at us, we’ve had a remarkably strong year, with the completion of major projects and record sales. It just goes to show that, if you have a talented team, are adaptable and can deliver great design, you are likely to do well. This year has demonstrated to me just how important – and effective – good design has been to our success.

Simon Jackson
Director EMIA Interior Design Practice Leader, Aecom

Many highs and lows are commonplace. Surprising, from my perspective, is the enhanced camaraderie that has developed in the team, and all done virtually.

The quality of design solutions being produced by our design teams is incredible under the circumstances…perhaps it’s that extra thinking time, or the challenges we are facing, that are contributing to stimulating our creative genes – but I must say I’m immensely proud of the contribution the team is making at this time. An added benefit is the increased focus on our digital design response – of course, I’m the guy with the fat and thin felt-tips, but I make my point and contribute accordingly!

The lows perhaps are obvious, but for me it is the loss of the industry events. That meeting-up with old colleagues, industry associates, especially the supplier community, and spending quality social time with colleagues…I can’t lie, I do miss this enormously.

It’s been pretty tough from a business perspective for us all. It has been a time of reflection, a time of reviewing business strategies, a time for rightsizing (that horrible word that appears when the economy contracts, or goes into recession), the furlough scheme, the many redundancies that have affected some talented individuals.

I do believe this period of uncertainty is different and presents more opportunities for the design industry. It is our time to shine and make our mark. We can make a positive difference; we can drive the agenda for the new paradigm across all industry sectors – increasing the value of the human condition through our design solutions…to be continued!

Colin Wood
Director, Project & Building Consultancy, Colliers International

One of the best things to come out of this challenging period has been the opportunity to advance our use of technology. The pandemic shone a light on the importance of technology and staying connected, and we were able to act fast to invest in technology to reposition our service offer. Our clients are always looking for ways to save time and money, particularly in the current environment, and the 3D visualisation and budgeting tool that we developed have really helped us to respond to our clients’ needs in these difficult times.

From a personal perspective, a positive from COVID has been my new hobby of early morning yoga sessions. One of my contacts started teaching sessions during lockdown, and has continued to run them, free of charge, over the last six months. It has been a great way to keep in contact with people and has provided some much-needed structure to my day during lockdown. It always amazes me how people pull together in times of crisis.

As for the lows, in my role I’m usually surrounded by people and everything is fast-paced. So I’ve missed the buzz and the energy of working in London, and I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve had some really low moments during lockdown. I’ll be eternally grateful to the close friends in my network for helping to keep me motivated during these challenging times.

The road to growth and success is rarely a straight line, and I’ve realised that, if you need to go backwards so that you can then move forwards more quickly, then that is not necessarily a bad thing. My team has definitely emerged stronger for it. Plus, I can also downward dog with the best of them now!

Katrina Larkin
Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer, Fora

Working from home has exposed the failings of old-fashioned workplaces. Employees need happy, healthy, and safe spaces that enable them to work productively together, to learn, and to have shared experiences that enrich their company culture. Flexible workspaces will be the answer to post-COVID-19 office life.

At Fora, this year has seen us accelerate our work to be leaders in the workspace sector. We stepped up our wellness offerings to support residents during what is a difficult time, both as an individual and for the wider company. The wellness programme has developed a permanent hybrid offering, covering a variety of classes seven days a week, supporting mind, body, and soul. These classes can be bespoke and tailored to individual companies and their needs.

Fora’s philosophy in light of COVID-19 is to celebrate returning to work for those who are ready, but to cater to those who aren’t with ultra HD 4K webcams with integrated Rightlight technology installed in all meeting rooms for video conferences, whether that be on Zoom, Teams or Hangouts. All events are streamed as hybrid, for example, across our wellness festival – called Restore – held in September. 

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