Build is a design studio producing modern, graphic solutions for lifestyle clients, both independent and corporate. In late 2012 the studio was ranked number 23 in Design Week’s ‘Top 50 creative agencies in the UK’. Build relishes working with forward-thinking clients who are open to a creative dialogue, while keeping their aim simple: to make a difference to how their business is presented and experienced, through the use of strong and engaging visual language. Founded in 2001 by Michael C. Place, Build is now Nicky Place (Business Director & Project Manager), Joe Luxton (Designer), and Sophie James (Studio Assistant).
To celebrate the 11th year of Build, the team took the initiative to organize an anniversary exhibition ‘Build: Blood, Sweat & 11 Years’. Located in The Dray Walk Gallery the show was part of the 2012 London Design Festival. Collaborating with architects Studio Octopi & hi-end carpenters Aldworth, James & Bond, Build produced a bespoke/one-off table with custom perspex frames to display the work and window-vinyl graphics. To coincide with the their anniversary exhibition, Build crafted a beautiful hand-numbered, 116 page french-folded catalogue with a cast-coated cover and a fold-out poster wrap slip-cover, along with complimentary colour-edged duplexed invites.
I can remember the first time I thought about setting up on my own; it was a weekday, on my daily commute from Leeds to my job at The Designers Republic in Sheffield. I loved my job but was getting frustrated; I wanted to be in control of my own destiny.
Nicky and I had been talking about leaving our jobs for a while, to go travelling. We’d already started making plans but hadn’t thought about what we would do when we got back, or where we would come back to. Eventually I plucked up the courage to tell Ian (Anderson) I was going to leave, and I wasn’t coming back – I was going to set up on my own when I returned. When we landed in Mumbai (India) at the start of our trip around the globe in October 2000, I left the design world completely behind, for a while at least.
10 months later, we land back in London stopping with friends, sleeping on couches, and eventually staying for a few months in Camden, house sitting for a friend-of-a-friend. September 10th 2001 was an important day for us both- Nicky started a new job with Sony PlayStation, and from a table in the front room of our Camden flat, I started Build. We both remember the day really clearly, but the truth is that the date it is more likely ingrained in our minds because of the terrible events of the following day.
I made the decision that I wouldn’t show any of my old work to get new work, although luckily the mention of being ex-Designers Republic did open a few doors; people were interested in what I would do next. Nicky’s return to the Sony London studio meant I didn’t have the usual concerns of working for myself, of producing commercial work or paying the bills. It was a luxury that meant I was able to experiment and find my creative feet again, and for that I am eternally grateful to Nicky. Without that I don’t think Build would really have got off the ground.
At the end of the year we moved into a flat in Fulham with our good friend Mark. Build then had a slightly bigger desk, but it still in the front room with the TV in the other corner. It was difficult to watch a film in the evening; my Mac was ever-present and the lure of working a few more hours too great. But work was picking up, and although the studio still didn’t have a website, the reputation was slowly growing.
A move south of the river to Clapham in 2003 brought Build its first dedicated space, a small box-room with a view over Clapham Common. I finally had space to sit in a different room and relax without the constant draw of work; I could switch off, I had thinking time, and I could ‘travel’ to work, albeit a few steps across the hall. Sometimes I walked out in the morning, and around the block to arrive ‘at the studio’. I still couldn’t have clients ’round to the studio’ (I used to meet people in coffee shops, insisting ‘it’s nice to get out’), but that little room made a huge difference.
By 2005 we had saved up enough money to buy a flat- and so we moved north of the river to Walthamstow, in East London. We moved there because not only was it was cheap enough buy our own flat, but also cheap enough to get a decent sized spare room too, for Build to work from.
The view wasn’t quite Clapham Common, but it was definitely a bigger, better space.
Work had really started to pick up, enough that Nicky could leave her job at Sony and join Build full-time in 2006. Nicky’s office was on the dining room table in the ‘open plan’ kitchen (which was in the middle of the flat and also part of the hall – if you went from one end of the flat to the other you walked through the kitchen) – you couldn’t shut the door and forget it at the end of the day. It wasn’t long before we started to dream of a ‘proper’ studio space for Build.
When we walked to the tube station from our flat we would walk past Hatherley Mews- it was a bit ramshackle, a row of old warehouses and long ago, stables, and also home to an interesting newer building- we always thought how great it would be to one day, work somewhere there in the mews. We found out that it was a series of small studios for creative businesses, and although we didn’t really think we could afford a studio, curiosity got the better of us and we decided to look anyway.
We were shown a few spaces not much bigger than our spare room at home – although they were definitely affordable it seemed rather pointless moving to such a small space – if we could fit into these then we could fit into the studio at the flat, which we couldn’t.
Then, we were shown Unit 112, which was much bigger- a bit too big, just for two. It had exposed beams, a double height ceiling with skylights, enough space to invite clients over – it was amazing and we said yes. In January 2007, it became home to Build for the next 5 years. It was a ten-minute walk from the flat and big enough for 3 desks, a meeting desk, library and a small kitchen. We loved that studio, and things really started to happen. I learned that it’s good to have other people in the studio: we started to get students and recent graduates in for placements. Quite a lot happened in that 5 years, and we finally got a full-time designer in the shape of Brighton graduate Joe Luxton (after doing a 6-month internship).
Meanwhile, the ‘interesting newer building’ at the end of the mews had already been up for rent once – we looked but decided it was a financial step too far. We watched a church move in and then – suddenly in December 2011 – out. We grabbed the chance to see it. We’ll take it, we said. In January 2012, almost 5 years to the day that we moved into our first studio in Unit 112, we moved across the hallway into Unit 15.
We’d already hired a full-time studio assistant, Sophie James, to start in the new year. Sophie’s first job in January was to help us pack and move. It was an odd start to the year – because we weren’t going far we found ourselves strangely and unusually disorganized – we didn’t have to have anything packed and ready for a removal van, we just drifted across with boxes every now and then.
We’ve thought many times about moving to Shoreditch, Clerkenwell, Bethnal Green or Soho, but we both still really like the fact the studio isn’t in any of the expected places. We like the fact we can still walk to work too, and everyone tells us how lucky we are not to have to face the tube or the train in the morning. E17 may not have a Pret, or a Pizza Express (yet) but it does have an odd kind of spirit. Walthamstow, the birthplace of William Morris, feels a fitting place for the studio.
So, we’ve grown from a little round table in a front room in Camden, to a beautiful modern studio space in Walthamstow. Every move seemed a natural progression, each with a little more space, and now with a proper team behind us. We will never be a studio of 20 people – that would never feel right – we probably won’t even get to 10.
As the title of our show ‘Blood, Sweat & 11 Years’ hints at, it’s been incredibly hard work, there’s been a lot of sweat and many tears. Build has been 11 years in the making but we are incredibly proud to have taken the leap of faith we both did, we are proud of the studio, the people we work with, of the work we produce, and very importantly of the way we do it too. We hope it shows.
We’d like to thank everyone who has worked with us in the studio over the years, and also for the amazing help we’ve had from family, friends, collaborators, clients, and supporters. Not forgetting Jaap and Yaser for helping us move all our furniture in January.
Michael C. Place (Walthamstow, 2012)
Photography by Gyorgy Korossy © 2013.