Playful Places

Architecture can be a po-faced business at times, where timid clients, style-conscious architects and restrictive local planning regulations conspire to foist a certain sameness on us all. Not in this case. We Design Homes introduces us to architects Office S&M.

Office S&M

Office S&M do not conform to that conspiracy. Theirs is a practice of colour, whimsy, materiality and playful post-modernity. Their team of four, headed by founders Catrina Stewart and Hugh McEwen, believes in buildings as an experience.

The two met as university students with a shared interest in the use of colour as a means of expression in architecture. The practice’s adeptness at using colour to bring their projects to life is immediately evident from their portfolio. The pair talk animatedly about palettes not normally associated with home life in Britain: ‘We like to use colour spatially, to create moods that change with the weather and the movement and quality of light over the course of the day. It’s exciting.’ 

Colour is characterful and meaningful. It can also be really personal. It’s an affordable way of bringing personality to a project. Where possible we favour self-coloured materials that don’t require painting.

Catrina, Office S&M

Janus House, Office S&M (Photos by French + Tye)

After graduating and working in the studios of an established architecture firm, they grew their own practice one commission at a time, initially on a part-time basis. ‘We worked for ourselves after work and on weekends’, Hugh laughs. ‘I had to attend site meetings on my bicycle at lunchtime.’

The practice developed with a blend of private residential projects, public commissions and teaching. They formally established Office S&M in 2013 and have maintained a mix of private and public work. ‘Working with community engagement on public projects helps us communicate with our clients on residential projects, and working with tight budgets on housing helps us extract the maximum from limited public finances,’ Hugh notes. ‘They are complementary skills.’ They are skills that have won the practice a host of plaudits, most recently the prestigious Building Design Magazine ‘Young Architect of the Year’

Salmen House, Office S&M (Photos by French + Tye)

Much of the design philosophy of the practice is on display in their Salmen House project in east London. A build-to-rent, new-build house, it features a delightful burst of mallow pink and glinting green terrazzo, with a cool, subtle monochromatic interior – like an exotic fruit sliced and flipped inside-out.

‘We go on design journeys with each of our clients to deliver buildings beyond their imagination,’ Hugh explains. Catrina adds that ‘joyful design is embedded in our DNA.’ Their body of work tells of a sense of narrative, where each project is an unfolding story, complete with surprising plot twists and thoughtful interventions.

Valetta House, Office S&M  (Photos by French + Tye)

Thanks to our wonderful friends over at We Design Homes for introducing us. We love getting inspired.

You can follow Office S&M on Instagram.

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