The Department Store - Squire and Partners
“Study the past if you would define the future.” Reviving The Department Store in Brixton is a textbook example of Confucius’s advice in practice.
It was built in 1876 by a local businessman whose horse had won an unprecedented double at Newmarket. This good fortune left him with a surplus £80,000; a tidy sum to help realise his vision to bring an upmarket shopping destination to Brixton. Its overall design was inspired by the lavish Bon Marche department store in Paris and it was also the first steel-framed building in the UK.
In 2015, architects Squire and Partners purchased the dilapidated Edwardian department store. Incorporating the family of buildings along Ferndale Road, the practice set out to revive this local Brixton landmark by reinventing it as a series of collaborative workspaces ideally appointed to serve an evolving hub of creative, retail and community uses
Tim Gledstone, a partner at the practice, describes the early stages of the restoration: “With The Department Store in our possession, work to strip back the building soon revealed a decaying grandeur that was clearly the result of extraordinary commitment to detailed craftsmanship by the artisans of the day. As the original composition of this fine Edwardian building was exposed, this helped us reimagine the space by providing an historical narrative to guide both our approach and redesign journey.”
Once unveiled, selected remnants from the early 1900s, together with other relics left by more recent occupants, were kept on display in the state they were originally uncovered. Having accented key elements from its broad heritage, Squire and Partners then focused on adding a series of sympathetic, contemporary interventions to repurpose the building as an inspiring modern workspace.
Among these, was the use of Squire and Partners’ bespoke series 2 lever handle design. Developed in collaboration with Franchi, this handle incorporates a series of adaptable components that can be customised and refinished to suit individual project style requirements. For The Department Store, the series 2 lever handle and a complementary bespoke pull handle were manufactured in satin brass to coordinate with the overall design scheme. A full suite of matching ironmongery was then developed to harmonise the look with the overall project.
The building’s interior design legacy has been preserved through a patina of colours that include a mahogany and teak parquet flooring as well as a tiled, grand staircase. The building’s striking vistas and dramatic sense of volume were achieved through the series of voids cut between and within levels. And office workspaces peppered with visual reminders of craftsmanship that had thrived here in the early 20th century, ensure the artisanal heritage continues to be celebrated.