This month’s issue of AD Magazine, Interior Atmospheres, contains an article by CiA staffer Sally Stone with her regular co-author Graeme Brooker. The piece, entitled “Off the Peg: The Bespoke Interiors of Ben Kelly” was based upon an interview with the designer and discusses the qualities of the interiors that he creates.
In response to our opening discussion about the general perception of interiors practice and education, Kelly introduces himself as ‘an old fashioned interior designer’. He describes the subject as something that has integrity far beyond just surface consideration and he regards it as something that is ‘very close to architecture, but its not architecture’, that actually has little to do with surface treatment, but has its basis in the manipulation and control of space. He explains that the starting point for any project is in the analysis and understanding of the unique qualities of the existing space, and suggests that there is a resonating element that springs from the original building that is crucial for the development of the project. This interpretive attitude can be traced back to the work of the well known interior architect, Carlo Scarpa, although of course with vastly different visual results.
‘When I get the plan then this is when the project begins. We sit around the table and discuss what it’s telling us, what’s possible, what can we keep and what has to go,’ says Kelly. The site-specific qualities of the existing building that can be teased out and repossessed in the transformation of a space are one of the major sources of atmosphere in his work. It is from these readings that the process of organisation and assembly can begin. Kelly could be accused of not really doing very much; the basic spaces are relatively unaltered, many of the finishes are pre-existing and the new bits are very much the same as the old. He makes it look too easy. But that is exactly the point – he liberates the existing, not just in the way the space is exposed and manipulated, but also, and most importantly, the manner in which the new elements, insertions and materials echo the existing qualities.
Pictures: (Top) Ben Kelly in his studio, photo by Graeme Brooker; (Bottom) article page featuring The Hacienda, Manchester (now destroyed).