INTERIORS+DESIGN for architects

Design practice Studiofibre was set up in 2007 by co-founders Fiona and Ian Livingston, and landed their first job designing workspaces for Net-a-Porter two years later. Since then, the design duo has firmly cemented their relationship with the online retail giant, and has gone on to design a further five offices from London to the USA and China.

The World Interiors News team took a visit to Westfield shopping centre in West London to meet Fiona Livingstone and discuss her flagship design on a show round of the Net-a-Porter offices.

What is your history with Net-a-Porter?

I always knew who they were and loved the clothes and fashion. Since we have been working with them we have got to know them back to front as a company and we feel as though we've actually grown with them, in terms of the size of our studio.

Yes, you must have grown just to accommodate them let alone your other clients?

We have this joke in the studio that every time they take on 1,000 staff, we take on another person.

The first job that you did for Net-a-Porter, was that a competition?

The very first one project at Whiteleys was a competition, yes. I pitched for that as a freelancer for Fibre, my previous practice before I joined up with Ian to form Studiofibre. Winning was a lucky break.

And again for the Westfield office, you won a competition?

Yes, and this time around they were obviously much more established as a company. Net-a-Porter founder, Natalie Massenet, is a big believer in having offices that reflect the brand and that everyone wants to come to work in. The Whiteleys offices were black and white and we had the same carpet, and diner booths but everything else is new, such as the panelling, the extrusion of classical details, the ying and yang of Net-a-Porter - that all came through doing this project. We developed the language with Suite One, which is the first side of NAP at Westfield. On every subsequent project we have continued to use the same language.

Did you spend a long time in New York when you were working on the offices there?

I did, unfortunately that one is done now! But of course we communicated a lot through video conference calls and digital media. We oversaw the projects remotely but had visits once a month to check progress.

In America the first project that we did was the Net-a-Porter, Distribution Centre in New Jersey, which is 80,000 square foot of offices and a further 80,000 of warehousing. The Manhattan project, which followed on from that is only 24,000 sq. ft. and the two buildings are very different.

So you've entered the Westfield offices for the WAN Workspace Interiors Award?

We have really entered all of them because the point is that we developed the initial language here at Westfield and it's been rolled out for each of the different projects. There has been a big challenge each time, and I think each project needs to be seen in the context of the whole set.

A main part of the overall brief from Natalie was that she wanted to just open the door and find she was in New York

or open the door on a warehouse in Hong Kong and still feel as though she is at home, so we have really tried to embody the brand in the design.

In terms of sustainability were there any stipulations in the brief?

The Manhattan project is LEED certified, which is the American equivalent of BREEAM [design and assessment method for sustainable buildings]. One aspect that Natalie was keen to get right was lighting, but as we went through the LEED process with Manhattan, we found that the language generally was very much 'best practice' so we didn't have to make that many alternations.

You design and make furniture in your own workshop outside of London. What pieces did you produce for the Westfield interior?

We produced the panelling for all of the meeting rooms, the break-out booths you see around the office and anything else that's upholstered, the high-gloss reception desk and bar with its sliced classical detailing.

How many staff are there at Studiofibre now?

There are nine of us; we are still quite a small practice.

Yes, the intimacy and the fact that you are so holistic and involved in every project must be something that Net-a-Porter have bought in to. How do you retain that as you grow?

Ian and I are still personally involved in every project and that's how we would like it to continue. It's very important and is key to our business, so whilst we have a great team of designers and architects working with us now, we still want to be very involved.

You're not based in London are you?

No, we're just outside in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire. Most of our staff live in London and commute out to the countryside!

We're very happy that you are coming back to judge the Retail and Leisure Interior Awards for us this year. What is your favourite part of judging the awards?

I think it's all the projects that I get to see. It's a fantastic day and a real eye-opener to see the talent that's out there. Last time I came away brimming with ideas and enthusiasm and when I got back to the studio I did a little presentation. We do a 'show and tell' in the studio each month to share ideas and inspirational things we've discovered.

What motivates you to enter the awards yourself?

Obviously everybody wants to win! It's also good publicity for your projects, and a good chance to get people to see what you've done and to explain your work and the reasons for it being there.

What other projects are you working on at the moment?

We've just been approached by the British Fashion Council, of which Natalie is the chairman, so that brought us to their attention. We like to do lots of different things so we don't want to get pigeonholed but certainly at the moment there are plenty of opportunities in fashion because it seems to be one of the areas that haven't lost out during the recession.

We are also moving into hospitality and leisure, such as hotels, which is a real motivator for us at the moment.

By Sarah Roberts