Sensitive handling of colour, space and material distinguish a ceramics showroom designed by Simon Astridge Architecture Workshop
Stepping through a wicket gate in a grey garage door, visitors to the London showroom of Pentagon Tiles leave the bustle of Leather Lane street market to arrive in a sanctuary of calm, where Simon Astridge Architecture Workshop has employed soft light, natural materials and pale, powdery colours to create strong but subtle sensory experiences.
The showroom comprises three main spaces: visitors enter a display area that has been created within a former laneway that ran through a brick-faced building to reach a courtyard at the rear, where a two-storey workspace has been formed from four shipping containers. From the yard a narrow passage leads back towards the street where a second product display area sits within a small retail unit.
Astridge and his client, Pentagon creative director Sam Frith, sought an alternative to the conventions of showroom design, opting instead “to use Pentagon’s products but not in an obvious way”, says the architect. “We’ve tried to integrate them into the background”.
Says Frith: “The materials were used to form the space rather than simply placing them on display. Each area has tiles chosen for their technical, tactile and aesthetic values, with reference to Juhani Pallasmaa’s book ‘The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses’.”
Floors and walls are lined in ceramic tile, and the material is also used to form table tops and cabinet fronts. Ceramic products by other makers are also used to hint at the potential of fired clay products: light fixtures were sourced from architect Tom Housden’s Hand & Eye Studio, and from a Australia-based designer, Anchor Ceramics.
“One of the key design concepts is that everything visitors touch is 100 per cent clay”, says Astridge. This tactile experience of the product begins with the entryphone and extends to door handles and pushplates. Ceramicist Emma Louise Payne, who is part of the Architecture Workshop’s network of makers, developed a custom-glazed, textured ceramic handrail for the Corten steel stair in the courtyard.
In the centre of the main display area, two purpose-made, tile-clad pieces of furniture provide storage for tile samples and a tray-like top on which to examine the products. Their design alludes to the shopfittings of jewellers in nearby Hatton Garden.
On the wall, mild steel shelves are lined with pieces of an underfloor heating system sold by Pentagon, which has been reversed to expose its grey fleece underside, leaving only glimpses of the orange plastic top surface, like the hidden flamboyant lining of a sober suit.
Cross-lit porcelain-tiled ground-floor office within the building formed of four shipping containers. These were pushed through the narrow laneway on purpose-made ‘skateboards’. The use of shipping containers refers to the industrial heritage of the area, but was also intended to suggest to planners that this building – in a conservation area – is readily demountable.
A coffered ceiling disguises newly inserted services above, its grid of softwood timbers framing pale terracotta dishes – plant pot saucers, in fact – which add visual warmth and act as mounts for pendant lighting. “We searched high and low for the right thing and eventually found it in B&Q”, says Astridge. “Visitors come in through the wicket gate and their eyes dance across the ceiling before they notice the shipping containers in the courtyard beyond”.
James Turrell-inspired windowless meeting room, with a table made from the same tile as the walls
The two-storey container building is painted an oxblood red on the ground floor and a sandy beige above, in acknowledgement of the colouration of nearby listed brickwork. Its upper storey is reached via the steel staircase with a bespoke ceramic handrail, on which the glaze has been dripped to give a textured surface wherever the thumb lands.
The small container is angled to address a large locust tree through a full-height window. This showroom is lined in plywood and large-format porcelain tiles with ‘faults’, where the surface has cratered during firing, giving the appearance of concrete.
On the ground floor, ceramic tiles line the floor and walls of the office. At the far end, a meeting room is lined in dark porcelain, in counterpoint to the bright daylit interior of the workspace. Electric light seeps from behind the panelling, directed upward to wash the pink-plastered ceiling.
Despite the prevalence of hard surfaces, the acoustic is warm and intimate, aided by carefully chosen furniture and plants. “For me”, says Astridge, “plants are a material in the same way that daylight or time are”. Though each space has a distinct character, there is also a subtle consistency of effect. “The aim”, says Astridge, “was to create an atmosphere rather than a ‘look’”.
Simon Astridge Architecture Workshop
Simon Astridge, Beth Johnson
Emma Payne and SAAW