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12 Feb 2010

Warnford Court by Scott Brownrigg

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  • Architect: Scott Brownrigg Interior Design
  • Client: Esselco Services LLP
  • Location: London, UK
  • Cost: Undisclosed
  • Duration: August 2008 - January 2010
  • Floor Space: 20,700 sq m

Scott Brownrigg’s eye-catching revamp of Warnford Court points the way to a new generation of serviced office space

Traditionally, serviced offices were not the sorts of places to get excited about, at least not from a design perspective. Synonymous with bland, functional space, their convenience muffled any complaints about the aesthetics.

So it went until the end of last year when The Interiors Group and Scott Brownrigg Interior Design completed an impressive transformation of 23 Warnford Court in the City of London for their client Esselco Services LLP. Combining the jazziness of a bespoke corporate office with the practicality of the serviced office model, Warnford Court is a bold attempt to blaze new trails.

However, such an extensive makeover was not part of the original brief.

“The client had originally bought the building with a view to simply refurbishing it,” explains Scott Brownrigg’s Cristiano Testi, the project’s lead designer.

But as the economy nosedived so did the demand for large-scale upfront investment and the fully serviced office concept crept in. Revamping the aging interior proved far from straightforward.

Constructed in 1884, Warnford Court’s handsome neoclassical facade hid a multitude of sins. Nearly a hundred office suites were spread out over six stories, while thick structural walls indicated a maze of disused chimneys snaking through the edifice. Added to this were large quantities of asbestos hidden, in some cases, under the floorboards and disabled access that, although compliant with guidelines, was far from ideal.

“Warnford Court was unique because it changed from office fit out to serviced office during the design process”

“It looked dated and cheap,” Testi bluntly puts it. “The idea was to create an attractive environment that people wanted to go to work in, a kind of home away from home.” Of course, these words have a familiar ring, but its not often they refer to a serviced office.

They kicked off by reworking the reception, which was dominated by a lift in the middle of an open stairwell.

Firstly, Scott Brownrigg transplanted the lifts to an adjacent lightwell behind the front desk clearing the slightly claustrophobic air. This move yielded an unexpected bonus: strip-out work on the shaft revealed an ornate wrought iron balustrade, a remnant of the original Victorian composition.

It was decided to incorporate this into the refurb, creating a contrast between the modern feel of the space with the period detailing of the stair. Inserting a vertical light tube stretching the length of the stairwell further embellished the idea of old-meets-new. Again, this was not part of the original plan.

“The initial idea was to build a back wall all the way up the stair with chandeliers and pendants, but we felt the light tube gave a continuity and could be appreciated on all levels. It creates a talking point,” says Testi.

Another talking point is Hugo Nowhere, a suited shop dummy strapped to the wall with red gaffer tape. The bureaucracy-busting metaphor provoked a “Marmite response”, Testi says, explaining that its primary purpose is to “differentiate Warnford Court from being just another smart city building.”

The main change made to the exterior concerned disabled access, where improvements were badly needed.

Initially, Scott Brownrigg explored the construction of a platform lift at the main entrance, but ultimately it was felt this would compromise the openness of the reception.

“We managed to persuade building control to allow disabled access at the rear of the building,” says Testi. To this end, a ramp was constructed to allow access to a small lobby where a platform lift carries people up the main flight of stairs to the ground floor. “It was a compromise, but in some ways the access was an improvement on the original plan as there is more of a lobby for the wheelchair user.”

The building’s bottom floor is devoted to meeting rooms ranging from 40-person conference suites to two-person interview booths. A business lounge featuring a large breakout space and touch-down areas forms a focal point.

The icing on the cake, however, is the fully furnished flat on the fifth floor, which can be rented to clients or staff staying overnight. Sandwiched between these two contrasting spaces are a series of office suites housing 750 desks. Instead of cramming in as many units as possible (the conventional serviced office blueprint) Esselco went for a less-is-more approach.

This policy in turn enabled Scott Brownrigg to fashion fluid, uncluttered office space, light years removed from the building’s previous incarnation.

“It’s fair to say for my whole team it was quite a learning curve,” admits Testi. “Warnford Court was unique because it changed from office fit out to serviced office during the design process and everyone, including the client, had to take those changes on the chin.”

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