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    Interior architecture in historic buildings

    As an Oxford-based interior architecture business, Element Studios often works with historic buildings.  We are very lucky to live in such a richly historical environment and through our work, to see parts of the ancestral fabric that are seldom seen by the public.

    Historic buildings require a very nuanced approach; partly to be sympathetic to the history and partly because these buildings are often listed, so any changes (even internal ones) require Listed Buildings consent.  The Element approach starts with in-depth research into the building itself, and then seeks to add back and reflect historical colours and details, to both enhance the built environment and to comply the Conservation Officer.  An advantage here at Element Studios, is the architects and interior designers work alongside one another to achieve this.

    The research, plus brainstorming, results in concepts and moodboards which are developed with, and finally signed-off by the client.

    We work closely with the Conservation Officer to ensure the design meets approval. Re-instating a previous detail or designing elements that respond to the original features can help to keep the local authority happy.  In this example, removing a partition opens up the the whole of the historic plaster ceiling for the first time since the ‘70s, and the new glass roof to the corridor maintains the separation of function without interrupting the original ceiling design.

    You can make small interventions that don’t affect the historic fabric of the building or introduce new detailing that responds to the past in a modern way.  An example is this ground floor bar, which we designed as part of the restoration of the 16th century Plough reverting to its original purpose – as a convivial drinking house and restaurant.  This extensive design and change of use reflected all the historic periods seen in the building – including the Arts and Crafts influence shown here.  You can see more images from The Plough in Cornmarket, Oxford here.

    Historic buildings are often neglected and drab, and can be easily brightened up with small but in-keeping changes.  In this Oxford college the new design draws the eye to the historic quad and complements the new oak building opposite.  We have also re-instated the light from a boarded-up roof light to open up the space.

    The design palette can respond to any feature – historical, personal or traditional.  This anteroom mood-board for an Oxford College, shows the fabric chosen for the Roman blinds, which give a nod to the famous Virginia Creeper in the quad outside.

    Sometimes contrasting with the old aspects of the building in a small area or detail can be a focal point and add shock or surprise to the interior design scheme.  An example of this can be seen in the bathrooms at The Plough.

    Finally, to tie the interior design scheme together and add cohesion stick with a simple colour palette/concept and repeat it throughout the building. The red for the Plough was used in the bathrooms, in the bar paint colours and in the powder coating of the light fittings.

    So if you are lucky enough to live or work in a historic building, think about how some interior architecture and/or interior design work could bring it back to life and that sometimes looking to the past is the way to preserve it for the future.

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