Rob Leechmere of Jonathan Tuckey Design, whose samples are kept in the vaults of a former public house


Jonathan Tuckey Design moved to its current premises, a former public house in Brook Green, west London, two years ago. The building had been derelict for some time; now it accommodates the practice’s studio of fourteen staff at street level, where the floor is cut away from the facade to create a timber-lined office within a pub. The basement provides a space for lectures and exhibitions, and seven vaulted, larder-like cellars extending under the pavement make a series of open-access rooms. These house a kitchen, printers, a small photography studio cum private meeting area, model-making supplies and a library of books and magazines, including bound copies of completed projects.

Model-making resource

The two vaults located nearest the foot of the stairs are dedicated to materials, with largely mineral-based samples – bricks, stone, glass and tiles – and timber in one, and synthetic materials and metals in the other. While artificially lit, they also benefit from daylight entering through glass pavement lights to the front of the vaults. Specially-designed materials cupboards have generously spaced drawers that allow their general contents to be discerned at a glance. Notched drawer fronts and backs accommodate dividers that help keep the samples neat and orderly.


Clearly your library is freely accessible…

We were previously in a workspace unit where we had a separate room for materials but it wasn’t accessible and enjoyable in the way that it is here. I feel the work has changed for the better by having materials so readily to hand. We start talking about materials very early in the project; they lead the design to a large extent, especially the way the facade is constructed, and by implication the lining material. We’ve got a project called Brickyard, a house on a site where clay was quarried and bricks fired, so using clay and other materials linked to that place tells a story and enriches the project.


Is there anyone in charge of the library?

Our practice manager, Sarah Warner, makes sure it’s all ordered, or she’ll instruct a member of staff, if they’ve got a spare hour or two, to do so. We’ve also got boxes, stored separately, which have all the samples for a specific project in them. There’s a degree of thievery that goes on between projects, but it’s quite flattering if other people want to use a sample you’ve sourced!

One vaulted cellar houses timber and mineral-based samples.

Does the library get reviewed regularly?

It normally happens the day before our Christmas party. Particularly if the samples aren’t put away properly, they get pulled out for review and laid out on a table for us to decide on. We always feel it’s such a waste of embodied energy and material to throw them out, we wish there was some sort of sample recycling library where they could all go. Bricks tend to find homes in people’s gardens, but I’ve recently seen a new Danish cladding system, of patchwork panels made up of discarded bricks.

Metals and synthetic materials.

How do you go about researching materials?

It’s a mixture of things. Although we’ve got Olympia down the road, we only go to one or two trade shows a year because they largely feature whole products, rather than individual materials. I did recently see a vermiculite plaster with swirls of colour  in it that could be crafted to form furniture. If I’m looking for a material with certain technical qualities – the hotel project we recently completed in Germany had a very high fire specification, for instance – I’ll use the Architectonic web platform.

Recommendations from architect friends can help too – we chat in the pub about our projects, and enthuse about materials we’ve come across. But we use a lot of natural materials – woods and stones – that aren’t going to change a huge amount, although we’re always looking for different colours and tones.


Do you make factory visits?

Probably only about twice a year. We tend to visit in order to look at large items, such as precast concrete, structural or facade samples that we don’t keep in the office.

Do you have CPDs in house?

Yes, they are often specific to a particular project, where everyone is invited to participate. About three-quarters of the time they are on technical aspects, such as glazing, insulation or tanking; the remaining quarter are on new products and materials.


“A core drilled out of some concrete. This isn’t something we’d use as a material, but it’s a thinking piece. The cutting of the material and its shape is very linked to the patina. There are a lot of interesting, strange materials in the world and you feel like it’s a constant search for something new and interesting. Because we work a lot with old buildings, there’s something phenomenological about how that material should link to that building’s past, or where it is in the world, or its use.”


“This split-face facing brick, or block, shows how texture of material is as important as colour; the haptic nature of things is very important to us. You experience architecture with your eyes but you also touch walls and surfaces; the way your arm brushes a wall going down a stair, and the way light interacts with different textures is very interesting.”


“We like using products that don’t need a large degree of customisation. Sometimes we do require it and we work with many suppliers for custom bricks. We’re very lucky that the partner of James, one of our associates, is a ceramicist, and she has mad numerous tiles for our projects. This brick is by European Building Supplies, who source bricks from various companies and can also customise them.”


“I found this material in the back of one of the cupboards when we were moving office. It’s called Panzerholz, it’s a plywood that’s compressed to be really thin. It’s surprisingly heavy because of its density and it’s used for both armoured cars and record players. It has high engineering qualities, allowing you to do very thin joinery because it’s so strong.”


“This is an interesting product called Skatelite. It’s quite strata-like, you can imagine it being a piece of the earth’s crust. It’s pieces of paper compressed to form a block material. I like the way that the sample’s presented because you can see its structure.”


“This is one of the original tiles from outside the pub. I love the colour, it’s like amber, you can imagine finding an insect trapped inside it.”


“Roach Bed Portland stone: time frozen in a solid piece of rock. It’s not great for baths or sinks though, because of the holes!”


“We don’t feel the necessity to use very expensive materials a lot, but rather more ordinary materials in a special way. A corrugated cement board can be extremely beautiful if it’s put in the right place, the shape of it and the colour… we try not to be biased in terms of a material’s connotations.”