Following the reveal of their most recent design for Borough Market’s newest restaurant, Stoney Street by 26 Grains, Inex caught up with Block 1: Design’s dynamic duo, Justin Melican and Laura Kiely. Here, the pair give us an insight into their professional backgrounds and talk through some of the Bloomsbury-based studio’s most innovative projects.
Can you please provide us with a description of your professional career?
JM: Block1: Design grew out of a passion shared by us for concept-led design. Successful design is about attention to detail and collaboration. This is the ethos of Block1: Design. We are involved in each project from concept to completion, regardless of scale, and believe that working closely with our clients gives us the ability to create individual spaces that work for them.
We have experience of working within the European, Asian and Russian markets on large-scale projects for international brands. Block1: Design has studios in both London and Dublin.
LK: Our professional career is centred around commercial interior design, with a current focus on hospitality. We work a lot with independent operators and in particular clients who are taking the leap and opening their first permanent site. It is hugely satisfying and creative working with these clients as we are building their home and brand identity in the built environment.
What inspired you both to become interior designers?
JM: I always had a passion for it. I used to move two or three times a year as I got bored with the space I was in. I used to redecorate all the time and had a passion for collecting antiques – I think it was just a natural progression.
LK: I have always loved three-dimensional spaces and forms. At university, I studied sculpture and enjoyed designing and making objects and furniture. After university, I went on to study interior design as it focused on the elements of 3D design that I was most interested in.
What has been your greatest source of inspiration throughout your career?
LK: I take inspiration from the environment around me, mainly. The city is full of wonderful forms and textures, and I try to apply these to our designs. We also take inspiration and context from the site itself. For example, if we are designing within a Modernist ‘60s block, we will be sympathetic to the style of the building and incorporate Modernist elements into our design.
How do you approach your projects?
JM: By listening to the client, looking at the architecture of the space and where the place sits with regard to its surrounding. This guarantees you do not create a themed restaurant that sits uncomfortably within its surroundings.
Who is your favourite designer?
JM: I would say Carlo Scarpa would be my favourite designer – what he did years ago is now coming back around. He was a master in what he created.
LK: I don’t have any favourite as per say. I love Le Corbusier and the clean lines of Modernism.
Would you say you have a design style?
JM: Not at all. We look at each project differently and make a point not to make any space the same. I think if you lock yourself into one style, then that will date and you will not be current and lose work. It is important to stay ahead of trends and not fall into what is happening all around. We pride ourselves on creating spaces that will not date and will be around for the long haul.
What do you believe is the biggest challenge for today’s interior designers?
JM: Staying relevant and ahead of trends as well as remaining individual. Also, the perceived value of our services – clients often underestimate the amount of work that goes into each project.
What has been your biggest accomplishment to date?
JM: Every job we deliver is our biggest accomplishment. We are proud of our originality, so every design is like a new baby to us. From its very beginning to months later, seeing something that came from our headspace into a solid space is a mind-blowing experience.
What has been your most notable project?
JM: I think Gunpowder in the newly developed One Tower Bridge was something we are most proud of. We put a lot of work into creating a modern take on an Indian restaurant without making it look like a chain or a gimmick. I think the final design delivered a very unique space which has gone on to be a very successful restaurant.
Can you talk us through your most recent design?
JM: We just completed a lovely, warm restaurant in Borough Market. We had already worked with the client years ago for their first offering, 26 Grains, in Neal’s Yard, Covent Garden.
We were approached again for their second site, which was to be a full day offering (from breakfast to dinner), so the brief was different. We were asked to create a warm and inviting space; this meant knocking two units together in Stoney Street. The result was very successful, and the space looks amazing – the use of warm wood colours, marble and zinc worked beautifully together. The result was a very satisfied client!
What advice would you offer to those that are considering a career in interior design?
JM: Get as much knowledge as possible before you start your study. I think a lot of people think design is painting walls and throwing a few cushions about. However, this is decoration or styling – not interior design. Good interior designers undertake elements of architecture. We draw fully detailed packs for all our clients, which could be up to 80 pages and include plans, elevations, details, electrical layouts, ceiling plans, lighting layouts, shopfront or exterior design, signage design, full planning packs of drawings and applications – plus, all the details required to build the interior space and furniture.
What do you believe is the biggest challenge for newly-qualified interior designers?
JM: To get experience within the industry. It’s quite challenging to get your first paying job fresh out of university, so sometimes you have to intern with little, or no, money. The other issue we have faced with new designers is the lack of knowledge of the history of design, material knowledge and technical skills.
Do you have any favourite suppliers for your interior schemes?
JM: We work a lot with Solus Ceramics for our tiles. They seem to be able to get anything we require. Also, we have used cheaper options in their tile range to make our very own bespoke patterns.