Forget all those signifiers of trendy Shoreditch interiors – post-industrial scuffed surfaces, exposed brick walls, corrugated metal ducting. The showroom-cum-workshop-cum-design-studio of watch brand Uniform Wares might be near Shoreditch (and as its co-founders Oliver Fowles and Patrick Bek are acutely aware, near equally hip Clerkenwell, once the epicentre of London’s watch-making industry) but its interiors are anything but rough and ready.
Designed by Oliver’s brother, architect Edmund Fowles (co-founder, with Fergus Feilden, of London practice Feilden Fowles), the space’s style is probably best described as extreme minimalism. The walls are painted a pristine, homogeneous white and the services (containing electric cables and fire alarms) are secreted in units at ceiling height, spray-painted the same lab-coat white. No evidence here of ultra-conspicuous, shiny metal ducting snaking about the ceiling.
If you had to pick one designer whose style seems to have influenced Feilden Fowles’ design
it would be German titan Dieter Rams, best known for his minimalist electronic products for Braun. And the reference wouldn’t be wide of the mark for, spanning practically an entire wall of
the design studio at the far end of this interior,
is Rams’ spartanly simple 606 Universal Shelving System, designed for Vitsœ in 1960.
Aptly, like the brand’s name, Uniform Wares’ HQ’s interior has a uniform appearance. But then, as Bek points out, the idea of matching the brand’s understated style – conceived as “an alternative to the ubiquity of over-embellished statement watches” – with this space’s stripped-down look is deliberate. “Our brief for Edmund was for it to be the physical embodiment of the brand and its workings,” he says. “We wanted it to communicate our aesthetic. Its layout needed to reflect the journey behind our design process, from designing the watches and part-assembling them – they’re also part-manufactured in Switzerland – to bringing them to market.” Uniform Wares’ HQ is designed in three linked parts, which progress from the front of the building to the back. Its interior not only reflects the brand’s aesthetic but aims to demystify the process behind creating its watches.
The first sign of this desire to shed light on the watchmaking process is a mammoth, 3.8m-high window which connects with the street and fronts the first of these three layers, the showroom (which is open by appointment only). Peer through this and you see the second layer, a centrally positioned prototyping and assembly workshop, fronted on both sides by huge panes of glass that look more clean-lined for not having frames. Here prototypes are developed, some with the aid of a surprisingly dinky rapid-prototyping machine on the workbench, which is otherwise dotted with watch presses and other tools of the trade.
“Oliver and I collaborated closely,” says Fowles. “I already had a connection with this space as it was once occupied by architects RMJM, where Fergus and I both did work experience. Oliver wanted the glazing facing the street to expose the watch-making process to passers-by.”
Beyond the workshop is a design studio, the largest area, reached via the showroom through a dramatic, floor-to-ceiling black door. This pivots open although, cut into it, is a smaller door used as an alternative, more prosaic entrance. The latter is almost invisible to the eye as it’s camouflaged by a pattern of hand-routed vertical lines striating the entire door. This was created by London-based graphic design studio Manoeuvre, which recently revamped Uniform Wares’ packaging and brand identity by emphasising its ethos of quiet luxury and unisex appeal.
“The door’s incisions emulate the craftsmanship and precision of watch-making,” says Fowles. “The idea was for the door to look like carved stone, yet it’s made of MDF. We didn’t have a big budget so we used affordable materials which we made to look more high-end by adding very precise details.”
Uniform Wares, which was previously based on London’s Broadway Market, has also collaborated with other designers who have contributed sleekly minimalist pieces to the showroom, such that it also feels like an art gallery. These include a black display cabinet by Felix de Pass and a lab coat made by fashion designer Adrien Sauvage, which replicates those worn by the watchmakers at the Swiss factory that Uniform Wares works with.
The workshop – which in its transparency inevitably recalls a theatrical open kitchen save that it’s intended for quiet concentration – has drawers lined with black rubber, which protects the fragile watch parts in them. The air pressure here is greater than outside which helps prevent dust
from entering the room. There are also air hoses
to blow dust off watch components, while the office’s server is stored in a cupboard.
Immediately outside the workshop is more Vitsœ shelving piled with boxes for packaging the watches. This leads to the design studio, dominated at the far end by huge windows. “These were here originally although their frames were a ghastly red before,” shudders arch-minimalist Fowles. At the far end of the studio, to the left, is a kitchenette with MDF units in severe black and, opposite them, a ‘lunch bar’ and bar stools. Consistent with the office’s austere aesthetic, any evidence of nature is stylised – there are a few concrete planters here bristling with spiky succulents. Fowles describes the kitchenette approvingly as “utilitarian”, but it’s heartening to see the presence of a wine fridge, too.
The staff, a mix of watch designers, a graphic designer and people working in finance, PR and digital marketing and sales, sit at suitably streamlined desks – the Bouroullec brothers’ height-adjustable Tyde design for Vitra. Separating these are low, dove-grey partitions that afford a modicum of privacy. There are also wooden in-trays by Manufactum and Antonio Citterio’s Follow Me storage caddies with silver roller-shutter lids and castors, also for Vitra.
It would be wrong to suggest that Uniform Wares’ strict minimalism precludes any decoration here. In the showroom is a mirror with a brass frame by design brand Minimalux that illustrates Fowles’ final point about the space: “It emulates the hallmarks of a fine watch in its combination of highly engineered materials and processes, some cold to the touch, others warm.”
Played out in minimal monochrome, watch-maker Uniform Wares’ office and studio echoes the rigour of its products