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Regal London play client and designer at their latest project in the heart of Shoreditch

Located a stone’s throw from the historic Columbia Road flower market, on the edge of London’s financial and design district, sits Shoreditch Exchange – a residential-led mixed-use development from Regal London.

08/03/2021 4 min read

Completed in 2020, the scheme consists of 184 apartments, residents’ facilities including a super lobby, gym, screening room and large roof gardens, as well as ground floor retail and leisure spaces. A 100,000sq ft WeWork also sits on the plot – together creating a new and vibrant community where people can live and work.

Regal London appointed AHMM as concept architect and Scott Brownrigg for the post-planning development and delivery. WeWork carried out its own fit-out of the main commercial building shell… so far, so conventional.

The residential interiors, however, took a very different design route. Regal London is, after all, a developer – working at all points in the development lifecycle, and to support such a wide range of activities it has most of the key professional skills in-house, including planning, design, sales and marketing, cost and construction. For the residential and amenity interiors, Regal was therefore client, designer, cost-consultant and contractor.

The design and specification of the apartments was a collaboration between the design and sales teams, with Regal Founder, Simon De Friend, taking on the role of ‘client’, explains Nick Threlfall, Regal’s Design Director. ‘For the key public and amenity spaces the relationship was tightened to just Simon, me and Lauren Willis of our in-house design team, with the design and specification developed over a series of structured presentations. However, with the client and designers sitting close together in the office (and a huge table full of samples and sketches near the kitchen), a lot of the key decisions were made quite casually whilst grabbing a coffee!’

An early part of the development process was the creation of a brand, CGIs and material palettes, which became a key part of the sales and marketing campaign. ‘This was done in-house and was a collaboration between the sales, marketing, design and cost teams – with Founders Paul Eden and Simon De Friend taking their usual roles as ‘educated clients’,’ says Nick. ‘This is a set of working relationships that has produced several award-winning schemes over the years, so there is an easy-going but highly focused synergy within the team: making design decisions based on what has worked well on previous schemes, picking up and anticipating trends, and knowing what will appeal to residents in a particular area and price-point.’

The budget was also critical and was set early on in the life of the project, reflecting the area and sale values. The in-house design team then worked within this budget, using their knowledge of material and FF&E prices and getting advice from a group of regular sub-contractors on specialist elements such as bespoke joinery. ‘This has been a good example of a client and designer really understanding each other and sharing the same business and creative goals, with the result that design can be pushed further than it might be with a traditional client-consultant relationship,’ Nick adds.

The lifestyle vision at Shoreditch Exchange wasn’t as unusual; to create a confident, relaxing, design-led place to live and work in one of London’s most exciting and energetic neighbourhoods. With 184 apartments, the buildings had to be broken down into several cores, many with their own secondary entrances and exits, so it was important to Regal to provide shared amenity spaces and gardens at the heart of the development, to help connect such a large community and provide opportunities for social interaction. The design of the public areas and resident amenities had to respond to this aspiration, and also appeal to a largely young demographic of residents – this was achieved with a modern take on some of the traditional and industrial design elements that are part of the history of the surrounding area.

‘Residential amenity has many similarities to hospitality design – it’s all about creating places that people can connect with and make a part of their lifestyle,’ says Nick. ‘Whilst function is important (it should really be the invisible ‘given’ aspect of the design) the furniture and finishes are critical to how the spaces feel: Regal worked with several of their regular furniture and lighting suppliers to provide a range of classic and mid-century modern pieces to achieve the look for this project.’

The concierge space is generous and often has to accommodate large numbers of people (and their furniture) on move days, but the scale is tempered by traditional wall panelling, with artwork hung on cords from traditional brass picture hooks – not only providing the right visual feel but also making it easy to move and swap out artwork.

The residents’ lounge and library have become a popular place to meet friends or settle down to do some quiet work – people are encouraged to borrow books, which are on shelves and sideboards across the whole lobby. This turns out to be Nick’s favourite part of the space. ‘We had a lot of fun curating the content for the shelves and organising the books – but setting up on site took a lot longer than planned simply because there are few things as distracting as rummaging through a box of books with interesting titles!’

The team’s greatest challenges were inter-linked. ‘We had to find a limit to the quantity of spaces we were providing (who wouldn’t want to keep adding more great quality resident amenity facilities?) but the budget was set in stone, which was a grounding influence whenever we had a ‘wouldn’t it be nice to…’ moment,’ says Nick.

With careful specification of finishes, furniture, lighting and accessories and constant cost-checking the design team was able to knit together almost all of what they wanted. ‘There were a few compromises along the way, as there so often are, but always made with an eye on the bigger picture so that the finished product achieved the desired level of style, quality and consistency.’  

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