Studio Found / The Libertine, London

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The Elizabethan-era Royal Exchange gets a complete makeover and is tastefully reborn as a premier eatery


Words By Emily Martin

Images By Billy Bolton & Studio Found


PROJECT INFO

Design: Studio Found

www.studiofound.co.uk

Client: Incipio Group

Size: 650 sq m

Duration: 3 years


SOUTH-LONDON BASED Studio Found has completed its biggest and most ambitious project to date; the transformation of the Grade 1 listed underground vaults of The Royal Exchange into a new premium drinking and dining destination in the heart of the City of London: The Libertine.

Despite its design challenges due to its age, The Libertine was designed by examining the old building’s numerous reference points

It is the second project for client Incipio Group, which owns and operates the venue, with the studio previously working on Percy’s in Kensington for the company. Studio Found’s latest project for its client has delivered the new space from concept to completion, which over saw managing the complex planning application and consent required to convert the historically significant site into a functional, contemporary hospitality venue.

The moody arched vaults of The Royal Exchange now house The Libertine, allowing customers to enjoy a premium dining and drinking experience complete with atmosphere and a rich Elizabethan heritage

Ed Plumb, founder and director at Studio Found, comments: ‘This has been one of our most challenging yet rewarding projects. Working with such a committed and engaged team at Incipio, and with some talented contractors and artisans, has made it so worthwhile for everyone involved.’

The moody arched vaults of The Royal Exchange now house The Libertine, allowing customers to enjoy a premium dining and drinking experience complete with atmosphere and a rich Elizabethan heritage

The Royal Exchange’s established history as a place of commerce, gathering and revelry provided Studio Found numerous reference points to work with, while the cavernous underground arched vaults provided design challenges. It was a bustling place where goods from around the world were bought and sold. Established by merchant Sir Thomas Gresham, it was opened by Queen Elizabeth I in 1571 who gave it its royal status and licence to serve alcohol, marking it as the first venue in Britain to be granted an alcohol licence. It has twice burnt down, first in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and again in 1838, and each time has been rebuilt. The current Royal Exchange was designed by Sir William Tite in the 1840s and opened by Queen Victoria.

The moody arched vaults of The Royal Exchange now house The Libertine, allowing customers to enjoy a premium dining and drinking experience complete with atmosphere and a rich Elizabethan heritage

Studio Found curated and delivered a complete styling concept to enhance and complement this incredible space and all its idiosyncrasies. Evoking a sense of escapism and delight among The Libertine’s guests was key. Studio Found sourced, designed, commissioned and staged objects, artworks, furniture and lighting to bring moments of surprise around every corner.

The moody arched vaults of The Royal Exchange now house The Libertine, allowing customers to enjoy a premium dining and drinking experience complete with atmosphere and a rich Elizabethan heritage

Walk through the entrance and you find yourself in an antiques shop full of equine- themed artifacts, which harks back to Queen Elizabeth I’s love of horses. A spiral staircase decends into the vaults where the full scale and impact of venue is revealed. Here, brick walls and arches of the vaults, which once stored goods such as the spices and silks sold above, provide the structural framework for the Libertine’s various hospitality spaces including a main bar, a stylish restaurant for 90 guests, as well as a relaxed dining area with an open kitchen, a private dining room and apothecary.

The vaulted ceilings brought with them character, but also design challenges

At the entrance to the vaults is a bespoke illuminated whiskey display, which provides an impactful backdrop to the host desk – an antique tobacconist’s counter sourced by Studio Found. The main vault houses a huge 14m-long bar, which creates a focal point. Illuminated glazed antique brass framework spans the vault arches, while four exposed copper 1,000 litre beer tanks add an element of scale and drama. The materials and textures selected give the venue has a more contemporary and premium edge coupled with a palette to provide a rich base.

Walk through an archway by the side of the main bar, and you reach the restaurant. Here, elevated design features and high-quality finishes, such as specially designed leather banquettes, a 4m custom wine display, and bespoke lighting designed by Studio Found, add to the feeling of luxury. To the rear of the main bar, there’s a more informal dining area with loose banquette seating leading to an open kitchen and pass at one end which provides a sense of theatre and a focal point. In this area, the challenge of low-hanging existing services was overcome by creating a charred timber and rattan ceiling feature – a visual nod to its historical fires – which obscure these elements.

Off the main vault, there’s also an apothecary – an intimate space that can be sectioned off for private events. As a nod to its history, this area is dressed and designed with old bottles and other apothecary artefacts set in a bespoke piece of joinery specially commissioned for this space.

Within each of the different areas of The Libertine, detail of materials, finishes and fixtures have been carefully thought out by Studio Found. Specialist consultants were commissioned to create bespoke pieces such as the fun, modern portraits of the characters who might have frequented the Exchange.

‘As a boutique design studio, we are very proud of what we have achieved in transforming this prestigious, historical listed space into a multi-functional hospitality venue, the likes not seen before in the City of London,’ comments Plumb. ‘We have enjoyed working on every aspect of the project, from researching its history, handling the complex planning application, to devising and delivering a design concept that paid its respects to the space, while bringing intriguing and interesting details and surprises. We are confident that many people will enjoy drinking and dining at The Libertine and keep coming back.’


KEY SUPPLIERS

Lighting

Studio Found

www.studiofound.co.uk

Northern Lighting

www.northern-lights.co.uk

Lighting Corporation

www.lightcorporation.com

Furniture

Hillcross

www.hillcrossfurniture.co.uk

Contract Chair Company

www.thecontractchair.co.uk

Studio Found

www.studiofound.co.uk

Atlas

www.atlascontractfurniture.com

Art consultants

Indigo Art

www.indigoart.co.uk



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