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How 1508 London became a global force in interior design

From Cipriani and Six Senses to Mandarin Oriental, 1508 London is an interior design studio with a prestigious portfolio. Co-owner Hamish Brown speaks to Effect Magazine about why listening is the most important skill for a designer to have – and how it’s taken them to a global stage.

While most design companies would claim to listen closely to their clients’ needs, 1508 London uses this approach to drive a distinct vision for every project. It has deliberately not associated itself with an “above-the-door” personality and eschews a house style. “This means we can give our clients absolutely anything they want, from stark minimalism to full-on maximalism,” says Brown. “Our passion is to interpret and achieve their wishes. We never see ourselves as the artists, so the project becomes the celebrity, not us.”

For this kind of wide-ranging creativity to flourish in the highly competitive world of interior design, a tightly structured framework is essential. Hamish’s partner and CEO of 1508 London, Stuart Horwood, comes from a background of being on the board of and running FTSE companies. “It sounds crude but his operational expertise gives us the stability to do better work and grow,” explains Brown. 

We can give our clients absolutely anything they want, from stark minimalism to full-on maximalism

Hamish Brown, partner, 1508 London

The name 1508 London is a reference to the year in which the Pope commissioned the then-unknown Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling after seeing his perfect, freehand circle. The “Michelangelo moment” for 1508 London was winning the commission to transform Chelsea Barracks – the former British Army barracks in London’s Westminster that dates back to 1860 – into luxury apartments. It was the project that catapulted the studio onto the global stage. “Our residential experience and the way we always bring a firm set of design principles to each project to reflect the scheme’s essence impressed them,” says Brown. “With Chelsea Barracks, we wanted residents to feel they were buying into a piece of historic London.”

The challenge with this was that everything behind the historic facade, other than the chapel, had been removed and 1508 London had to infuse a sense of “heritage, destiny and legacy” into the scheme without making it a pastiche.

To achieve this, the team turned to classic Georgian design principles. Skirting, geometric floors, dados, wrought-iron spindles, cornices, panelling, and fireplaces are a nod to history, but distilled and interpreted in a strikingly contemporary way. The palette celebrates historic oxblood reds, racing greens, and the colours of regal uniforms, while crafted equestrian details, like buckles, reference the original use of the historic barracks. A bespoke scent with notes of freshly cut grass was even created to evoke the grass square around which Chelsea Barracks is built.

When it came to the OWO Residences by Raffles – which saw London’s former Old War Office building reborn as luxury residences and an upmarket food hall – the challenges were even greater. “We were dealing with an actual relic, a piece of genuine history where Henry VIII resided and from where Churchill presided over World War II,” says Brown. “Our job was to respect and understand the building’s legacy, from the way the archways and doorways were built to the materials.”

Reception room at OWO residence, interior designed by 1508 London in Effect Magazine
OWO residence, interior designed by 1508 London. The historic legacy of the building was both a challenge and a great opportunity.

This drove the entire creative vision. The floor grates, for example, were made by the same company that manufactured WWII grenades. The team imagined the residences as being inhabited by Barack Obama – “Someone politically minded and fascinated by history, culture, and the arts,” explains Brown – and thought about how he would like to live and entertain. 

Similarly, when designing a beautiful private home in Lennox Gardens, the team imagined it as the residence of style icon Daphne Guinness – and, as a result, infused it with flamboyance and a glorious eccentricity.

“Living in the OWO could have felt like living in a museum – it’s why it was so useful to keep a real person in mind,” says Brown. “We looked at the beautiful corridors and hallways as amazing opportunities to place art and sculpture and thought Barack would love this. We didn’t want it all to be stately and proper, rather we want people to walk in and feel an emotional connection to the stories and history of the building.”

While 1508 initially focused on residential interiors, today the team designs everything from public spaces, to restaurants and hotels. Brown is particularly proud of the upcoming Armani Hotel in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia, the Six Senses Resort in Napa Valley, California, and the Cipriani Residences in Miami. “The Cipriani Residences were such fun to do as the brand is so strong globally and the family has such a clear vision,” he says. Here, the interiors have a firm nod to classic Italian sentiment, with high-gloss timber surfaces paired with simple yet elegant white and caramel leather chairs and ornate Murano-style chandeliers.

The Cipriani Residences in Miami with interior design by 1508 London in Effect Magazine
The Cipriani Residences in Miami epitomise a timeless Italian style. The interiors by 1508 London respond to the distinctive glass tower that features an organic, curved facade and nautical details reminiscent of the Italian Riviera.

One of 1508 London’s latest projects is Atmosphere in Dubai, a restaurant perched atop the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. “Some days it’s literally in the clouds,” says Brown. “‘Our brief was that diners should taste the food as they walk in. You’re only ever in a restaurant for a few hours so the time you spend should be experiential.”

Husband-and-wife duo Gareth and Charlotte James, from 1508 London’s Singapore office, led the project, mixing tartans, stripes, dots, and mirrors to create a restaurant that feels like a maximalist members’ club. Skilful lighting is used to build up layers of drama; seat buttons, rich velvets and table linens add  texture and depth. “It echoes what the food does,” explains Brown.

Atmosphere – an upcoming restaurant in Dubai located on the 122nd floor of the world's tallest building, Burj Khalifa with interior design by 1508 London in Effect Magazine
A rendering of Atmosphere – an upcoming restaurant in Dubai located on the 122nd floor of the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa.

Next up for the team is Njord, the world’s largest superyacht, for which 1508 London will design every detail, from port to starboard. There are also two projects in Taiwan and more in Vietnam. “Designing for public spaces is nerve-wracking but exciting,” says Brown. “Ultimately, though, for all our growth, we never forget we design for people. Private clients are our company backbone and we will listen for as long as we need to in order to bring people’s wildest dreams come to life as accurately as possible.”

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