A former school chapel that’s now a shiny new space for a TV production company
With its grey and white colour palette, acres of glass walls and ten different wallpapers, the original Dickensian-era pupils of The Boys Home Industrial School wouldn’t recognise the place. What started life as a 19th-century boys’ school chapel in north London has been transformed into a hub for popular television – now, Shine Group staff worship at a new altar: peak-time viewing figures.
Before Shine moved into Primrose Hill Studios (located in the eponymous London ‘village’), its 40-plus staff were strewn across three different buildings in Notting Hill. The bosses, CEO Elizabeth Murdoch and president Alex Mahon, were keen to bring everyone – including up to 150 freelancers – under one roof, and tasked The Interiors Group with renovating the dilapidated 1871 chapel.
Once The Interiors Group had smoothed over any issues between the landlord and the tenants (ie, Shine), and had got the place shipshape, they brought in Blue Bottle Design to do a number on the interiors. “It was a classic Christmas move, so there was great pressure to get it finished in time,” says Blue Bottle designer Frans Burrows. Given that Shine are purveyors of such populist entertainment as Gladiators, Master Chef and The Biggest Loser, their workplace is surprisingly restrained and tasteful.
The Interiors Group and Blue Bottle have worked hard to give what is essentially a hotchpotch of extensions a sense of cohesion, and with a clever layout have got around the varying floor levels, ceiling heights and lack of light in some parts. Or as Burrows puts it: “The shapes of the buildings mean there’s no monotony.”
Even the very front of the building is a big-windowed extension, so arrivals step down from the pavement into the reception area. This is a long, low space – just 2.3m high, which Blue Bottle has played with by installing a similarly long and low reception desk, with a smoked mirrored front that reflects the floor.
Burrows, who is half-Swede, half-Yorkshireman, has added to the boutique hotel feel with floorboards (pale, wide, oiled oak), and an eclectic mix of furniture, from the George Smith chocolate brown sofa and big brown lamps from CTO Lighting, to the buffed vintage school chairs and rectory table. The snowy white kitchen is just a couple of steps down from the reception area, so the idea is that staff can use some of this seating to take their refreshments. The smoked mirror is repeated in the kitchen, to add to the sense of space, and the white Corian worktop and white units by Options sit upon Smith & Wareham’s pale grey porcelain tiles.
“The shapes of the buildings mean there’s no monotony”
The main route down into where the company’s inner workings take place leads directly from the front door, and passes some nice panels of exposed brickwork: “it wasn’t in good enough nick to expose the lot,” says Burrows. (Although the building is in the Primrose Hill Conservation Area it’s not actually a listed building.)
On the right along the corridor is a screening room with a vaulted ceiling (those bricks again), and opposite there is a glass-walled meeting room. Instead of frosted glass, they’ve used the transparent stuff – Shine likes to think of itself as an open company. This would have been a dark room if it weren’t for the windows that open onto the back of the reception area and draw light in from the street outside.
Beyond this is the production area, which stretches at ground-floor level along the back of the building. It’s a functional space that has been both up-lit and down-lit to compensate for its view onto a light well. Furniture here comprises a white benching system on which perch banks of black Dell monitors, while whiteboards along one wall can slide in front of shelving and double as doors.
A feature staircase leads up to the first floor, which was once upon a time a skylit assembly hall, complete with stage. That stage has now been commandeered by the CEO, president and their support staff, all of whom are partially obscured from the legal and finance teams in the ‘hall’ by a shelving unit.
“Originally, Shine wanted to have more offices in the assembly hall, but we placed the offices in the wings to retain the sense of openness on the main floor,” says Burrows.
“We wanted to expose the beams but they weren’t in good enough condition, so we painted them grey,” he adds. There is, however, a pleasing triptych of blasted-brick arches at the back, and one of the side offices boasts the original stone marking the building’s respective founding and erection (AD MDCCCLVIII and AD MDCCCLXXI – 1858 and 1871). Before the front extension, this wall would have faced onto the street. The bosses’ patterned wallpaper (hand-painted weeping willows by Korean artist Young Kim for Murdoch) can be spied from the back of the room through the glass doors.
This first floor also houses another, smaller kitchen area, an out-of-bounds executive shower room for the two chiefs, five more executive offices and the drama team.
Towards the back of the building is the original staircase, now complete with grab rails, making it DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) compliant. That taken care of, Burrows could put his creative energies into the feature staircase, a bespoke affair from Midas with glazed balustrade.
While the lasting impression is of white walls and units, grey paintwork and flooring and timber, there are splashes of colour – most of which is saved for the loos. The multiple wallpapers, Burrows explains, were about “making it a bit boutiquey and residential,” adding that the way people react to them can be quite striking: “The wallpaper is a love and hate thing and I like that reaction.”
But overall, there is little that visitors or employees could take umbrage with at Primrose Hill Studios. It’s a pleasing space with a good atmosphere, and long may it shine on.