London is home to an incomparable network of creative professionals to connect with, learn from and collaborate with. Which is when things get interesting. Creativity is vital to London as a whole, driving its social, cultural and economic success, and allowing emerging and established talent to feed off each other. There’s enough space for everyone. Or so we thought. Creative Londoners with unique skills and requirements are finding it increasingly difficult to find a suitable workspace amid the sprawl. How far can you sacrifice your day-to-day work for your network, resources and professional opportunities, if you can’t find a studio space that fits?
To prevent London’s valuable creative communities from becoming endangered, Keep London Creative is bringing some necessary attention to this problem. As Mayor Sadiq Khan has said: ‘It’s very important to keep creativity in London and to create spaces for creatives, not lose them.’ We sat down to talk shop with six creatives at workshops and studios across London to find out how the challenge to find studio space and survive economically as a business in the city can crush the creative spirit. Keep up with the action - and have your say - with #KeepLondonCreative. Follow four of London’s creative Instagrammers, @littlebigbell, @greatarsenal, @tschang and @josephowen, for inspiration, and add your own story about your creative studio space – selected stories, chosen after the closing date of 25 September, will be featured on Wallpaper.com. For more, visit keeplondoncreative.co.uk.
Bill Amberg set up his first studio in Rotherhithe, London, in 1985 and has now been honing his leatherwork craft for more than 30 years. Today, Bill Amberg Studio employs 30 craftspeople and has an international reputation for commanding and contouring the material to new capabilities. ‘My business is built around highly skilled people,’ he says – and it’s based in London, where he can find a breadth of knowledge about artisanal, century-old methods and skills, from case-making to saddlery and bookbinding.
In London, Amberg has an eco-system of people, skills and ideas beyond his hive: ‘The work we do is integrated into everything, into the very culture of making’. ‘There have been makers in this street forever,’ he says of his studio location, now in Queen’s Park. ‘It was originally a street of stables for refreshing horses. There was a railway down the street and the tired horses of London were refreshed with ponies from the countryside.’
Essentially, designing and making happens under one roof at Bill Amberg Studio. Naturally, this should be reflected in the architecture. ‘For me, it’s very important that the workshop is in the middle of the building – it’s crucial that the process of making is integrated into the design process,’ says Amberg. ‘I’ve always followed the ethos of Japanese industrial designer Sori Yanagi, whose father Sōetsu Yanagi wrote a book called ‘The Unknown Craftsman’ about the design process.’
‘Not everything is made from a computer render. Leather is a very tactile material – you can’t simply put it together on a laptop. It requires people with skills, passion and energy,’ he says, explaining how the physicality of the studio is central to his employees and his customers alike. ‘We spend our whole time looking, talking, touching and feeling. When people walk through our door, they get it, they understand why we are unique.’
‘Originally I worked from my house – until my girlfriend threatened to leave me,’ says Bellerby & Co founder, Peter Bellerby, whose personal project erupted into a bespoke globemaking business when he discovered a chasm in the market for exquisitely handcrafted globes. ‘I moved into a small artists’ studio, but when I was commissioned to make a 650in globe, I had to find a bigger space and I was lucky enough to find a shop in Stoke Newington,’ he says.
Bellerby has a few issues with modern commercial spaces in London: ‘Workspaces are geared towards the computer – finding places for messy businesses is quite difficult. When you’re doing any type of art work, you need tonnes of space. Globes don’t package well – you have to design spaces for them or they just roll away. It’s always a challenge in a big city to have space – but there is also so much under-utilised space in London,’ he says.
Being based in London magnifies the global appeal of Bellerby’s creations: ‘For us, 75 per cent of our clientele come from abroad and a good 60-75 per cent make it to the studio. Not just before they commission, but often afterwards to visit the studio as well. London is an international centre – people come here every two or three years, or make an excuse to visit. If we were based outside London, it would be much more difficult.’
When he’s not rolling his globes out across the world, being able to take a bike ride across London or walk to his studio is very important to Bellerby: ‘The mews we are in is very diverse and inspiring. It has a community radio station, an animatronics studio, a tattoo artist and a furniture up-cycling business, as well as several music studios. This city is quite breathtaking – the draw it has on people is incredible.’
In 2004, on a mission to create pieces that contribute to a sense of harmony, interest and resonance, husband and wife Russell Pinch and Oona Bannon founded Pinch. They initially worked from home, but, six years later, with a growing business – and two small children on the loose – it became clear that the studio had outgrown its domestic digs.
Pinch was still an emerging business and the question then was how to incorporate the shop, studio and design agency hybrid. The duo found some dishevelled units in North Clapham and had the foresight to see their potential.
Pinch like to be in London to be close to resources and skills, particularly as they work with 14 different manufacturers across the city, But, for Bannon, the most important thing is square metres: ‘You need extensive space to display a variety of options and finishes, and we’re a design-led furniture brand – we need space to experiment and prototype,’ she says.
‘Our studio needs to work hard – we make things of high quality that will last a lifetime. Yet it also needs to be super flexible and fulfil our physical and intellectual needs, and to be presentable to the public. Furniture is a bad business model for this city – there’s no other motivation apart from love.’ Bannon now sees the struggle for studio space in London as a restriction for new furniture businesses even getting their teeth into the industry.
Yet, travelling in an Uber from the Pinch shop, which opened earlier this year in Belgravia, to their Clapham studio, Bannon remains mesmerised by London: ‘There’s so much multiculturalism, cross-pollination and entrepreneurialism here – life feels very rich and varied in London.’
Maverick designer Naomi Paul shares a studio in East London with her photographer husband. She headed to London ‘in a flash’ after growing up on a farm in Sussex. ‘I have moments when I think I would love to move out and see nothing but green on a daily basis, but as a growing business, it’s so important to be connected to people,’ she says – her small team of creative makers are fundamental to her business.
Her haptic textile and lighting fusions are all handcrafted in her studio, a large unit space on an industrial business park in Leyton. While the space was too big for Paul and her husband, she saw an opportunity: ‘We spent a few weeks doing it up ourselves with the help of my parents-in-law, then sublet part of the space to a jeweller and a textile designer,’ she says.
She was given just a few weeks’ notice to move out of her previous studio, which was to be redeveloped into housing. ‘Before our current studio I had spent three years moving annually due to rent increases and needing more space to house our growing business. There is no such thing as affordable space for creatives in London anymore. Our current studio lease is coming to an end soon and we have been forewarned by neighbours of a 45% rent increase when resigning.’
Yet Paul is happy where she is, and a move would mean breaking ties with her creative neighbours: ‘We have such a broad community of craftspeople, from carpenters to metal spinners and even a brewery and fishmonger! What more could you ask for – there is always something going on and always someone to ask for advice or to give a hand with a new prototype.’
As a student at the Royal College of Art in London, Bethan Laura Wood met many fellow designers who would go on to set up in the city. This network proved useful when searching for a studio. She teamed up with fellow student Oscar Lessing of Silo Studio: ‘We’re in East London, sharing with other individual practices we know, opposite the Lea Valley Riding Centre, north of Hackney Marshes.’
Her mixed-design practice, which dips into textiles, jewellery and ceramics, is like a collage of colour, ornament and ideas, so her studio needed to be adaptable, yet the options she found when searching online and scouring industrial estates were limited: ‘You either find somewhere very overdeveloped and not suitable for workshop-based things – we’re not just sitting at computers – or just these very unloved warehouse spaces.’
Wood’s work takes her all over the world. Sometimes she’s tempted to move away, but she continues to stay in London: ‘I realise that being in the capital is very important if I want to be part of the wider conversation about design in the UK. There is a great energy and diversity in London, and there are so many types of creative people.’
East London-based furniture designer Gareth Neal – whose bespoke designing and making practice yields smooth and intricate pieces made of wood – once tried working from the countryside, but it wasn’t for him. ‘I love to be part of the throng – clients can come to me for meetings and the East End has a brilliant creative energy,’ he says.
While London promises a plethora of personal and professional perks for Neal, it hasn’t been easy to find a proper place in the fray. ‘Anything I looked at was not right for me as a furniture maker – too small and with access issues,’ he says. ‘It’s very hard when you need something bigger and slightly noisy or with three-phase power.’
Owning a studio would be the dream for Neal, who has had a rocky ride finding, and holding onto, space. He was priced out of his last two studios, and now shares a space with three other creatives in Bethnal Green. The solution in London is often to share, which can be useful, but also has its pitfalls: ‘Squeezing the space and all sitting on top of each other isn’t great for productivity – it doesn’t lead to a calm environment where you can make things efficiently,’ says Neal.
And this has consequences. ‘It means you can end up changing the way you work,’ says Neal. ‘I do less making because of my environment.’ Yet he is always weighing up the pros and cons of London and, at the moment, he says the pros still rule: ‘I’m a social being, I like being surrounded. It’s critical to have my own space, but equally to have it be a shared experience – ideas become stronger with collective knowledge.’
We know that a workplace is more of a lifestyle for creatives. A studio reflects an ethos as well as an outcome. So, to keep London creative, we want to see your studio spaces across the capital – your workstation, the people around the table, and the succulents hanging from the ceiling. These places matter to us. Tag them on Instagram with #KeepLondonCreative, @thepeninsulist and @wallpapermag and tell us why your London studio space matters to you, and why being in London is key to your creativity. Post between 15-24 September to be in with a chance to feature on Wallpaper.com