Thinking outside the box: creative solutions in a London apartment | Interiors

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Ohen Alex Holloway first watched Verve’s music video for their 1997 single Lucky Man, he found his attention wandering from the lead singer strumming guitar and wiping himself with the Mod mop inside. The location was a typical 90s industrial style apartment designed by Richard Rogers. But it wasn’t the floating staircase or the steel-framed windows that piqued the future interior designer’s imagination. It was the kitchen. The surfaces were made from that dimpled stainless steel you usually find at your local chippy. For teenage sci-fi fan Holloway, who also spent a lot of time “hanging out at fast food joints,” it was just the thing: futuristic, urban, and cool.

“It proved that you can elevate the most basic material if you design it right,” says Holloway, who co-founded his architecture and interiors firm, Holloway Li, with architect Na Li in 2015. “J decided that if I could ever afford my own apartment, I would use it for my kitchen.

Designer in house: Alex Holloway at his home in North London. Photography: Charlie Forgham-Bailey

A chippy-inspired kitchen isn’t the only unusual thing about the north London flat where Holloway lives with his partner, Elle Parmar Jenkins, an antique dealer. After more than a decade of roommates, “where you can’t even hang a picture without bugging your housemates,” he felt “liberated to do things differently,” at the property he bought in 2019. Holloway, who began his career with the Soho House group, specializing in hotel and co-living projects. Like his mostly millennial audience, he favors “high and low cultural references: a bit of street vernacular with good classic design.” The country house aesthetic is not for him. “Fun and a sense of adventure” are. This house is his test bed for new materials and ideas.

He was lucky that the Victorian building was not listed. So, with his brother ready to help, he returned to brickwork, abandoning the partition walls of the old square layout. He made use of the hallway space, opening up the small second bedroom to flow into the expansive living room and kitchen. The ceiling has been removed – “unleashing two centuries of dust” – and beams have been installed to echo the warmth of the wide planks of the floor. It’s a corner property, so he added two new windows at each end. Now the top floor is bathed in “morning light and sunsets… It has a pleasantly continental feel.”

On tap: a bath in the office.
On tap: a bath in the office. Photography: Edmund Dabney

He also loves how the metal kitchen works with sunlight, casting “beams of light across the room like a disco ball.” The carcasses are high street with this textured metallic surface – circular brushed steel, for those on the market – glued on for a design effect. He sings against the fresco pink plaster of the walls: “You can drill it and glue it back together without having to redo the whole room. We love its lived-in texture and how it complements the floor. It has a Quaker simplicity.

The dining table is another experience. It is cut from a resin panel originally designed for a store display. He used this versatile material – “You can stain it, carve it, it’s kind of like wood” – to make the shower room panel and the bedside table. A resin sculpture shines like a futuristic totem under the kitchen window.

The bright orange of the table – another Stanley Kubrick reference – is echoed in a curvaceous fiberglass chair. It was designed by Holloway’s studio and, in a nod to street architecture, is made by a Turkish company that also furnishes the interiors of London buses. Opposite, the sprawling 1970s corner sofa, with built-in shelf, is from Parmar Jenkins’ furniture store, Goods In, where she also restores vintage upholstery. Excess inventory often ends up in the apartment. “Friends say it looks like a showroom. Because it is. We experience new things before they are sold. It adds to the air of change.

Resin of being: colored resin panels in the shower room.
Resin of being: colored resin panels in the shower room. Photography: Edmund Dabney

Stone plinths were inspired by commercial kitchen work, where vinyl floors curve upwards at the edges to deter rodents and make cleaning easier. It’s the “elevated version” of Holloway and it suits the demanding side of his nature: “I’m pretty obsessed with cleaning.”

The lockdown, when most of the work had taken place, allowed extra time for cleaning and ‘bathing boredom’. There was not enough space in the bathroom for a tub. So he slid it under the open-plan office window, across from the kitchen, threading the taps through the windowsill. “During lockdown, one of us was in the bath while the other was in the office.” The in-room tub is a boutique hotel trope, but show ablutions aren’t for everyone. Holloway knows this, which is why he designed the space to be flexible. New owners can reinstate the wall if they wish. “But for now, I didn’t want to be paralyzed by the thoughts of future buyers. I wanted to take advantage of the space, just as I encourage my clients to do.

Some may be slow to adopt the new. But Holloway hopes that when people see his think tank, they’ll come back to his way of thinking. “I think if you can justify something in terms of usability, design quality, and usefulness, people will be more receptive to new ideas.”

hollowayli.com; @holowayli

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