Preserving the historical charm of a period property is a skill which is often overlooked and one which brings depth and soul to a residential space. In the case of property investment and development company Obbard, and design expert Kate Watson-Smyth, this was a critical factor in the recent redesign of No.1 St James, a block of residential apartments owned by, and situated above, the iconic London-based wine merchants Berry Bros. & Rudd.
The red brick, Grade II listed building, beautifully designed with its Portland Stone details (circa. 1881) by Richard Norman Shaw, was originally built as compact apartments for country dwellers coming into the city to attend nearby clubs. The block was divided into a selection of pieds-à-terre, mostly consisting of a bedroom, sitting room and a WC with limited catering facilities. The landlords, Berry Bros. & Rudd, who have been on the site since 1698, and who originally started out as a grocers before diversifying into coffee and finally wine, decided to renovate the block two years ago after it had become outdated with previous improvements which hadn’t been sympathetic to the buildings original architecture and layout. Enlisting the help of Obbard and Watson-Smyth was the first step in the process of reviving the building while being mindful of the heritage behind it.
Now, two years on, the apartments are complete and ready for new residents to move in. And the finishing touches and historic references certainly make them a special rental investment. From reclaimed fireplaces to vintage furniture and restored artworks from the Berry Bros. & Rudd archive, the design team has paid close attention to the impact of each interior element. “The dedication to re-using furnishings in this project was a labour of love,” says Watson-Smyth. “Our design studio was constantly visiting vintage markets and auctions to find perfect pieces for each apartment.”
Approaching interior design with this mindset can pose a variety of challenges, especially when working within strict timelines and budgets. And, as Watson-Smyth reveals, it wasn’t a simple case of placing an order for 15 identical side tables from one supplier, which meant they had to work with a range of styles and finishes across each space. “Some key pieces we sourced were snapped up before we even got a chance to put our bids in,” she laughs, “so our designs had to be a bit fluid and not everything is uniform but to us that’s what we think gives the apartments such charm.” And on visiting, the apartments’ homely, ‘lived-in’ ambience is undeniable, a result that can be difficult to achieve when redeveloping an entire block.
Where new purchases were inevitable, the team also ensured they worked with brands who work tirelessly to reduce their environmental impact. This included beds from The Cornish Bed Company, paint from Graphenstone and sofas from Love Your Home. Repurposed textiles were also utilised in a lot of the accessories within each space, thanks to a collaboration with Haines, a UK-based platform enabling the resale of dead-stock and leftover fabrics.
Keeping it personally connected to the history behind Berry Bros. and Rudd, a variety of archive pieces have been repaired and upcycled to fit into the contemporary scheme. Notable items include a letter from The White Star Line (dated April 16th 1912) which is addressed to the company informing them of the loss of a shipment which was on the Titanic. In the bathroom of the penthouse, framed original, handwritten drinks recipes decorate the walls as well as an original hand-drawn plan of the tea clipper ship ‘Cutty Sark’ which is hanging in the first floor apartment: the inspiration behind the original ‘Cutty Sark’ whisky which was developed by Berry Bros. & Rudd in 1923. These nostalgic touches provide beautiful points of interest throughout each space, where the narrative of such a long history is given the room to live on into the future.
“What we didn’t want was a building that felt completely disconnected,” explains Patti Patrick, Head of Design & Development for Obbard. “A lot of this project has been about reclaiming the buildings narrative that had been erased and, in working with this mindset, we want these apartments to appeal to those that respect the history of St James’s and are genuinely interested by the neighbouring St James’ Palace, and Berry Bros. & Rudd as well as a host of other iconic British institutions.” Far from being stuck in the past, the apartments boast a cohesive blend of both classic and contemporary design, a feat which has been achieved through a curated approach.
While the interiors speak for themselves, added services to the block also add an extra special touch. All tenants of No.1 St James will have access to a dedicated wine concierge, provided by Berry Bros. & Rudd. During store hours, residents are able to ask for advice, recommendations, as well as tastings, which means bottles can be delivered directly to their door. For wine lovers, this is an extremely attractive benefit!
Looking back at the development as a whole, Watson-Smyth reflects on the need to approach every interior design project with a conscious and responsible attitude but also allude to the fact that you need to invest time to carry out the necessary research. “Compared to five years ago there are many more eco-friendly options on the market, even when buying new,” she comments. “It’s about taking the time to research as these brands exist but perhaps aren’t the most known. What’s exciting is that there is change afoot though, specifically in an industry that has taken its time to start evolving for the better.”
While this project is just a snapshot of what can be achieved, especially when working at a larger scale, it is a positive step in showcasing the realm of opportunities that do exist when sustainability underpins the ethos of any design project. Paying close attention to impact does not have to mean a compromise in style, in fact it’s quite the opposite. When paying homage to history through sensitive materials and reclaimed designs, a certain depth is created which results in a striking, yet welcoming, aesthetic. For me, it is the foundation to the making of not just a house, but a home.