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The Libertine: A Fusion of History and Modern Elegance in the Heart of London


studio found london
The Libertine: A Fusion of History and Modern Elegance in the Heart of London
Clara Carlino de Paz
November 20, 2023

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Studio Found, a dynamic design studio based in Borough, London, has marked a significant milestone with the completion of its most ambitious project to date. Teaming up with Incipio Group, the studio has breathed new life into the historic Grade-1 listed underground vaults of The Royal Exchange, creating a sprawling 7,000 square-foot drinking and dining haven, The Libertine, in the heart of the City of London. Awarded the Interior of the Year Prize and the Central London Winner by the British Institute of Interior Design, this project is a testament to the value of “old bones” and artisanship… With a bit of contemporary flair.

Now, let’s dive deeper into this beautiful project, and its many hidden details (with a mini-interview with its creators!). For more interior design inspiration, subscribe to our weekly newsletter.

Photography credit: Billy Bolton & Studio Found

Meeting the minds behind Studio Found

Hi! I am so happy to chat with you. Could you introduce Studio Found?

Studio Found is an award-winning hospitality design studio based in Borough, London. The studio was founded by me, Ed Plumb in 2017 and since then we’ve had the privilege to collaborate with some of London’s most respected restaurateurs, chef/owners and bar groups such as Robin & Sarah Gill, The Woodhouse Restaurant Group, Honey & Co and the Incipio Group. Our team’s varied experience means that we can design for both historical and modern spaces whatever the footprint from a small, intimate 28-seater restaurant & bar to the 7,000 square-foot Libertine. We offer a bespoke and personal service which is why we believe our clients trust us with designing their prestigious venues and we win industry awards. 

Photography credit: Billy Bolton & Studio Found

How would you describe your studio's design philosophy and ethos?

We are storytellers of spaces and creators of unforgettable experiences. We love creating exciting, intriguing and thought-provoking hospitality spaces that reveal their personality through their own unique stories.  

With every project, our mission is to get curious; to dig deep to find interesting details, facts and reference points on which to build our design concept. We take a holistic approach looking at every aspect with equal measure, be it the building and location the space  inhabits, the client’s vision and brand ethos, the story behind the chef and the style of food they serve, or the desired ambiance the venue will encapsulate.  

There are often many intriguing narratives to play with so it’s our role to distil them down into a cohesive and compelling design concept that feels authentic, yet original. For example, at 64 Goodge Street in London, our latest restaurant for the Woodhead Restaurant Group, our concept centred on capturing a French bistro inspired design that felt elegant and effortlessly luxurious yet at the same time rustic, taking its cues from head chef, Stuart Andrew’s time spent cooking in Paris.

What’s important to us and those we work with is authenticity and longevity - they mean so much more than ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ trends. We want our venues to stand the test of time by evolving and maturing beautifully through the considered choice of materials, palettes, textures and fittings. 

Finally, working collaboratively with clients is at the heart of our success. Building a strong partnership from the outset helps to deliver quality design that not only transforms spaces visually but also functionally too, so that they work commercially for the owners and aesthetically for their customers. 

Photography credit: Billy Bolton & Studio Found

In three words, what is Studio Found’s style all about?

Timeless, Considered, Storytelling 

What learnings did you gain from The Libertine at the Royal Exchange project that you could share with our audience of designers?

We have a lot of experience working with historic buildings but each one is unique and presents its own challenges which need to be approached in their own way. The Royal Exchange was no exception, the site had been mistreated over the years with a lot of modern elements added in an insensitive way. Learning to work with these elements was key to telling the story of the space, for example we retained sections of modern block-work in a number of areas and softened these with textured paint finishes rather than completely covering them over. Not only was this more cost-effective for the client it also allowed guests to understand the evolution of the space which we felt was important to retain. This approach was welcomed by the conservation officers who quickly understood that we were going to take a sensitive approach to the design making the planning process more streamlined.  

We also learned a lot about trusting our instincts and knowledge of hospitality spaces, this was particularly important for the early planning stages where our years of experience working with operators helped us to guide the client towards the layout which would make the venue more efficient to run and enhance the overall customer experience.

Photography credit: Billy Bolton & Studio Found

Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. Before we finish, could you let us know what three products on Portaire’s directory would make the Studio Found edit?

I like the handcrafted nature of all three products below. The Clayworks custom finish plaster forms a tactile yet muted back drop, while the Alabaster Sconce is beautiful in form and crafted expertly, I like the way it glows and dissipates the light. The Nsonsa Pendant Light brings a natural and honest feel through its imperfections.

Source Allied Marker, Ilala and Clayworks on Portaire

A journey through space and time

The three-year project unfolded as the Studio Found team meticulously navigated the complexities of planning and consent, transforming the centuries-old underground vaults of the Royal Exchange into a vibrant bar and restaurant. Before a single brick was laid, extensive historical research paved the way for a design concept that paid homage to the Royal Exchange's 451-year history as a hub of commerce, gathering, and revelry.

With a storied past as a bustling hub of commerce, gatherings, and revelry at the heart of the City, The Royal Exchange traces its origins back to its establishment by the merchant Sir Thomas Gresham. Queen Elizabeth I, in 1571, bestowed upon it royal status and the pioneering licence to serve alcohol—the first of its kind in Britain. Despite facing adversity with two incidents of fire, first during the Great Fire of London in 1666 and then in 1838, the resilient structure has risen from the ashes on both occasions. The current incarnation, designed by Sir William Tite in the 1840s, was unveiled by Queen Victoria.

Transforming into a bustling marketplace where commodities from around the globe were exchanged, The Royal Exchange witnessed vibrant revelry in the vaults beneath its foundation. Over its history, this iconic building has woven tales of countless stories and characters into its very fabric, providing Studio Found with a myriad of rich reference points for their creative endeavours.

Photography credit: Billy Bolton & Studio Found
Photography credit: Billy Bolton & Studio Found

Crafted with purpose

Studio Found curated not only the physical space but also a complete styling concept that enhanced the venue's idiosyncrasies. From the moment guests step through the entrance, they are transported into a world of equine-themed artefacts, a nod to Queen Elizabeth I's love of horses. A bespoke illuminated whiskey display at the entrance to the main vault down the stairs sets the tone, seamlessly blending the building's past with a modern context.

Descending into the vaults reveals the full glory of The Libertine, featuring a main bar with a 14-metre illuminated glazed antique brass framework and four exposed copper 1,000-litre beer tanks, creating a modern and premium ambiance. Materials like charred timber and fumed oak were chosen to reference the building's history of previous fires, providing a rich palette that contrasts with the existing brickwork.

Photography credit: Billy Bolton & Studio Found

Subtle references and luxurious touches

The restaurant, with seating for 90, boasts elevated design features, including specially designed leather banquettes and a four-metre custom wine display. Subtle references to the building's history are scattered throughout, such as handmade grasshopper tiles nodding to Thomas Gresham's family crest.

To the rear of the main bar, an informal dining area with loose banquette seating leads to an open kitchen, creating a sense of theatre and a focal point. In an intimate apothecary space, old bottles and artefacts add a historical touch, with a bespoke piece of joinery commissioned for this unique area.

Photography credit: Billy Bolton & Studio Found
Photography credit: Billy Bolton & Studio Found

Attention to detail and collaboration

The seamless fusion of history and modern elegance at The Libertine owes much to the collaborative efforts of skilled artisans and contractors. Prestec, the main contractor, brought expertise to the construction, while First Plan navigated the intricacies of planning. The bespoke lighting, a captivating feature, emerged from the creative minds at Studio Found and took shape through the craftsmanship of Northern Lights Ltd. Lighting Corporation's architectural lighting cast a spell on the vaults, enhancing the ambiance too. 

The list doesn’t stop there. Hill Cross Furniture and Contract Chair Company contributed to the inviting atmosphere with their expertise in loose furniture. Umdasch, the joinery supplier, added finesse to the structural elements, while Atlas Contract Furniture Ltd transformed Studio Found's design into reality with their impeccable banquette seating. Indigo Art, the art consultants, added the final strokes, infusing The Libertine with artistic flair and historical nuance. Together, these artisans and professionals have played a pivotal role in bringing Studio Found's vision to life.

As The Libertine opens its doors, it stands as a testament to the fusion of history and modern elegance, inviting patrons to savour the unique atmosphere and intriguing details that Studio Found has meticulously crafted.

Photography credit: Billy Bolton & Studio Found

Explore more at:

IG: @studiofound