In the third of our new Studio Tour series we speak with David Holt, Director at 74 about his Manchester-based interior design and architecture practice, his teams design approach and what the future holds for 74. We hope that you find this insight inspirational in your own career journey.
We began by asking David about 74’s history
I founded 74 almost six years ago. In fact, our 6th anniversary is coming up any day! I’d always wanted to explore design further, provide a really client-focused service and help develop a team of exceptional creative people. I think everyone who starts a business tries to use the good stuff they’ve learnt, whilst trying very hard not to repeat or replicate any of the bad stuff. It’s about an evolution of ideas, practices and how we treat our people. We set out to be both different and better.
As a bunch of architects with a passion for all elements of design, our path initially led us towards interior design through a number of successful repeat commissions, working on the interiors of some quite complex buildings. Our training and experience as architects helped us understand the constraints and opportunities we uncovered and how to engage with both clients and design teams to get the very best out of clients’ buildings. At the same time, we became aware that whilst we were doing all the big picture stuff very well, our work lacked the depth that’s often missing from a lot of architects’ interior work. In other words, the spaces worked nicely and the vistas were lovely but there were layers of design, texture and detail missing – the precise elements that create warm and welcoming spaces people really want to be in – and so we evolved pretty quickly, bringing in some very experienced and talented interior designers who’ve helped shape us and make us what we’ve become.
Right now, we’re one of the UK leaders in the design of award-winning student accommodation and amenities. We also work on workplace, residential and hospitality schemes and have a clutch of exciting BTR (build-to-rent) on our books in their early stages. Our clients are mostly developers, who come to us looking for imagination and a cutting-edge design eye, but most of all because we know how to make interior spaces work commercially, operationally and aesthetically.
Our ambitions for the future are to work more nationally and internationally – we’ve recently worked in Dublin and Cork for the first time, for example, and are excited about more work in the pipeline in Ireland. We’re interested in working practices in both a residential and workplace setting and looking at how design can overcome the challenges of this particular era to facilitate a future of togetherness and positive collaboration – the core of what we’re all about.
We wanted to know about where the 74 team work
Our studio is a large voluminous space in the heart of Ancoats in Manchester. As an area, Ancoats feels very indigenous to the city, with new developments set against a tapestry of industrial mill buildings, cobbled streets and canals. The majority of buildings now have active ground floor uses, which adds to the vibrancy of the area. It’s a friendly place too, where you see the same faces daily, and the canal outside is a great place to sit with a beer at the end of a hard day. We’ve watched the area regenerate to become a hotbed of creative talent with some of the best independent bars, restaurants and coffee shops in the country. It’s a brilliant neighbourhood and one we’re proud to be a part of.
The studio itself is located within a former mill owned by Urban Splash, a developer we’ve always admired for their pioneering approach to regeneration. It’s got lots of room to work in, in different ways and plenty of space to collaborate, with nooks and crannies to get away from everything too when needed.
We like to work together, share ideas and debate options, but also to get our heads down, so it works for all missions. The built environment around us is a constant inspiration in terms of materiality and texture, the mix of old and new and intelligent re-purposing – very much our heartland when it comes to redesigning our urban fabric.
We asked David more about his team
As a practice, we cover place-making, masterplanning, architecture and interior design. I personally get involved in every element of the business, from client relationships and pitches to concept design and technical reviews. We have a very flat structure internally where we all work together. Our team are great all-rounders, as you have to be in an SME, with a broad range of experience. They’re all highly creative and back this up with technical knowledge. Our culture is open, creative and professional. Clients say we’re enjoyable to work with, as well as committed and hard-working. As one said recently ‘It’s very likely when you meet them that you will just click. They build a rapport with you’.
If I was to pick out three members of the team, I’d choose Bianca Yousef, Rob Brown and Megan Jones. Bianca is 74 Associate, has been with us for five years and has grown with us as a practice. She’s developed the perfect blend of creativity, technical know-how, the ability to lead projects and to support the business with pretty much everything. Bianca is a specialist in BTR design, a growing sector where opportunities are now starting to take us into Europe. She’s extremely dedicated and cares a hell of a lot about our projects. Away from work she’s really into fitness, as well as enjoying a quality gin and tonic now and then!
Rob came to us a graduate with obvious raw talent and has committed himself to becoming a very good all-rounder with a specialism in design for student living. Rob’s really dedicated to his work and is always there when you need him. He’s up for pretty much anything, as long as there’s is beer or two involved – which is beginning to sound like a theme…
Megan’s experience in hospitality design gives us the missing piece of the jigsaw. She has a wealth of knowledge in this area which, in this era of increasingly-blurred boundaries, is very much applicable to everything we do. Megan’s a brilliant space planner and fights for the integrity of our designs throughout the often rigorous design and construction process. She’s an avid footy fan and particularly partial to vodka and 90s hip hop.
We asked about 74’s design approach
Our process starts with client engagement, listening very carefully to aspirations and frustrations. Then we develop a brief that looks to extract every drop of potential out of a project. I think this is where our dual skillset really comes into play, because we consider buildings from every angle – location and surroundings right down to a really detailed look and feel.
We sketch and brainstorm using a massive white board. We make 3D models, lay out materials sample boards, visit site and speak to our client a lot as we go along. It’s really important to us to develop a connection and get on as friendly terms as possible as quickly as possible. It’s incredibly important to inspire clients and walk the path together, so that the project vision remains intact.
It’s always important to us that we’re developing realistic designs for real end-users. We’re very commercially-aware too, as this client quote demonstrates, whilst never sacrificing design values, ‘They’re very good at complying with the brief, but also at understanding how to achieve the brief within a budget. They’re pragmatic. It’s too easy to get accolades when budget is not a consideration, but much harder to balance the budget and achieve good quality design.’ (Dave Thomas, Senior Director, Development, Greystar Europe Holdings Ltd).
David told us about a selection of 74’s key projects.
Hox Haus for Moorfield Group was a very important project for us as a studio and really put us on the map. It was a triple award-winner for a start, not just catching UK judges’ eyes, but winning a major award in the Far East too, which I was privileged to go out to China to collect! It exemplified both our skillsets as first of all a dynamic architectural project, re-purposing and expanding a Grade II-listed former Victorian gym as a student clubhouse, as well as featuring show-stopping interiors.
Much more recently, we completed the student amenity design for Symons House in Leeds for LSSH, which really does push the limits of this market and is currently shortlisted for an FX Award, which take place in late November. The quality and standard of the design here really takes this sector into new territory. MIX Interiors Magazine called it ‘Student living at its finest’.
We’re also transferring our skillset into the BTR (build-to-rent) market currently, working for a number of leading developers, including Grainger plc, the UK’s largest listed residential landlord. We’re working on expansive amenity design for both the redevelopment of the Yorkshire Post site in Leeds, part of the new Wellington Place urban quarter and also Grainger’s second Leeds Build to Rent project, Pin Yard, due for completion in autumn 2021.
What does the future hold for 74?
I think the future for the industry is both encouraging and challenging. We’re all still adapting to a constantly-changing situation of course. Individual sectors are facing very different scenarios and architectural practices in particular have seen a lot of redundancies. Whilst hospitality has been badly hit, the lack of appetite for international travel may mean a mid-term boom in UK staycations over the next 18 months, whilst, in the nearer term, there’s been a rush to adapt and maximise outdoor space by many hospitality venues.
Bricks and mortar retail has been badly hit and will continue to suffer, although sectors such as grocery shopping and gardening centres have benefitted and there’ll continue to be interest in local, organic and sustainable offers, as we re-align our relationship with the natural world. Workplace design will continue to be in flux as the impact of home-working and people’s unwillingness to use public transport continues. Smaller workspaces may function more as drop-in hubs for collaborative work with more satellite offices developing. Housing will continue to be a strong market, with the attractiveness of renting only set to increase with our sense of permanence and even of semi-permanence so thoroughly shaken up.
For us as a studio, we’ve worked incredibly hard to stay stable over this period and we’ve had some great pay-offs recently, winning a couple of major pitches which are very reassuring additions to the books. We’re cautiously optimistic but closely watching what happens next – just like everybody else!