a pas­sion for de­sign

Rhonda Drake­ford talks brav­ery, Bru­tal­ism and re­lo­cat­ing to The Sil­ver Build­ing in Royal Docks with her Dark­room and Stu­dio Rhonda brands

The Wharf - - Focus - Jon Massey

With the blocks of ABP ris­ing, Cross­rail set to ar­rive in 2019, Lon­don City Air­port ex­pand­ing and vast tracts of land sprout­ing hous­ing de­vel­op­ments, no fur­ther ar­gu­ment need be made that Royal Docks is on the rise.

But there’s ev­i­dence in the shadow of the cold con­crete cores that the area is be­com­ing more at­trac­tive as a place to live and work.

Fo­cussing on the lat­ter, re­cently en­sconced in the raw Bru­tal­ist spa­ces of The Sil­ver Build­ing is de­signer Rhonda Drake­ford.

Join­ing the likes of menswear cre­ator Craig Green and set builder Block9 at the for­mer brew­ery, we meet in her stu­dio up the can­tilevered stair­case of the cul­tural cen­tre and workspace – a role it will play un­til it, too, is re­de­vel­oped by Key­stone.

From grad­u­a­tion at Cen­tral Saint Martins to co-found­ing de­sign con­sul­tancy Mul­ti­storey and then Blooms­bury in­te­ri­ors re­tailer Dark­room in 2009, Rhonda’s jour­ney spans the cap­i­tal.

Rental in­creases on the phys­i­cal space of the lat­ter re­sulted in her tak­ing the brand on­line and part­ing ways with co-founder Lulu Roper-Cald­beck in 2016, even­tu­ally mov­ing to east Lon­don to do her own thing.

“We’d been work­ing to­wards be­com­ing more of a brand – go­ing on­line any­way,” said Rhonda.

“At that point I com­pletely changed the busi­ness model to be­ing solely a de­sign brand.

“So it’s now only Dark­room prod­ucts that I de­sign and sell on­line – they’re mostly in­te­rior prod­ucts although we do have a range of jew­ellery as well.

“There’s ev­ery­thing from soft fur­nish­ings to ceram­ics and fur­ni­ture and we have a range of price lev­els so we have ev­ery­thing from an en­try level tea towel (from £10) up to hand­made show­pieces.

“We’re quite known for hand-painted fin­ishes but try­ing to keep things quite ac­ces­si­ble.

“We treat it like a fash­ion show, where you have the show pieces but you can get a sou­venir as well, like a note­book.

“My style is bold with a sense of re­straint. I like things to be quite neat – I have an army up­bring­ing and I think that comes through some­where. I think the graphic an­gle is strong. I’ve got a real ob­ses­sion with geo­met­ric shapes, an­gles and colours.

“I also re­ally like mix­ing things and things that are im­per­fect – a lot of our prod­ucts use nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als so you get quite geo­met­ric, math­e­mat­i­cal pat­terns on some­thing quite rough.

“I like work­ing with con­crete and ter­ra­cotta – im­per­fect things that then get painted onto.”

Her in­flu­ences range from ar­chi­tec­ture – “I’ll travel some­where purely be­cause I like a build­ing” – to the in­ter­play of cul­tures, with bright batik prints, cre­ated in Europe but pop­u­lar in Africa, a ma­jor in­spi­ra­tion.

If Dark­room is all about her, in­te­rior de­sign busi­ness Stu­dio Rhonda is the flip­side – rel­e­vant to any­one look­ing for some­thing in­ven­tive to do with their Dock­lands flat. “I am a gun for hire,” she said. “I’ve been work­ing, do­ing in­te­rior de­sign for res­i­den­tial clients for a cou­ple of years now, hav­ing pre­vi­ously done com­mer­cial spa­ces in­clud­ing Dark­room it­self.

“One of my ma­jor projects was on the eighth floor of a King’s Cross tower block.

“It was a pretty non­de­script build­ing with a non­de­script in­te­rior – a com­plete blank can­vas. Four years old, it had an iden­tikit kitchen and bath­room – there wasn’t much to start with, so I ended up start­ing with the views.

“It had this feel­ing of the metropo­lis; there were lots of cranes and big build­ings go­ing up, so the main in­spi­ra­tion was the in­dus­trial land­scape out­side.

“It’s all con­crete tiles and pas­tel pinks – a sur­pris­ing way of do­ing Bru­tal­ism. Play­ful but rooted in these solid forms.

“The clients were two chefs – they wanted a space that was a show­piece, some­where they could do events, re­ally out-there.

“They knew my work from Dark­room and were re­ally happy with what I pro­posed. I’ve been lucky in that way.

“Each pro­ject is very much its own thing. There’s ob­vi­ously a way in which I work but the space has to be com­fort­able and work for the client. It’s very much con­ver­sa­tions with them.

“An­other pro­ject I did was for a writer – to cre­ate a space where some­one can write was quite a task.

“I re­ally like to climb in­side the psy­che of my clients. From Dark­room, which is very much about me and what I want, to client­based stuff – I re­ally en­joy the two dif­fer­ent sides of my brain.

“The cost de­pends on the pro­ject but it’s gen­er­ally more af­ford­able than you think.

“Peo­ple think of in­te­rior de­sign as a bit of an ex­trav­a­gance.

“But your home is where you go to re­group and recharge your bat­ter­ies, to re­lax and en­ter­tain. There are all of these things your home has to do.

“If that’s thought about cor­rectly, I think the ben­e­fits to your life are so pro­found.”

And there’s a sense Rhonda’s re­lo­ca­tion to Royal Docks has also had an im­pact on her.

She talks of her dis­like of modern sky­scrapers but ad­mits to warm­ing to the view of Ca­nary Wharf from her win­dow, re­call­ing Blade Run­ner.

It was an op­por­tu­nity for pas­sion to flare for the 1964 struc­ture built for the Carls­bergTet­ley Brew­ing Com­pany.

“I ac­tu­ally worked from home for about a year af­ter we closed the shop, just to try and work things out,” she said. “It was a bit of a shock. It all hap­pened very quickly and was ex­pen­sive. But it was an op­por­tu­nity to change things too.

“I came down to The Sil­ver Build­ing with a guy who does met­al­work for some of my in­te­rior projects to col­lect a piece. He works in one of the ware­houses out at the back and said I should come and look at the space.

“I’d kind of been think­ing I was ready to get a stu­dio space and I com­pletely fell in love with the build­ing.

“That com­mu­nity thing was big for me too – there were loads of peo­ple here with two de­grees of sep­a­ra­tion.

“For me, I re­ally like the hon­esty of the build­ing. “There’s a cer­tain amount of: ‘F**k you,’ about it. It’s brave. It’s con­crete heaven and it had spa­ces with light.”

She added: “If you’re work­ing on de­sign, hav­ing good light is es­sen­tial and all the

I am a gun for hire. I’ve been work­ing, do­ing in­te­rior de­sign for res­i­den­tial clients for a cou­ple of years now, hav­ing pre­vi­ously done com­mer­cial spa­ces, in­clud­ing Dark­room it­self Rhonda Drake­ford, Dark­room

break­out spa­ces are amaz­ing. We’re quite of­ten do­ing quite big projects, so to use the big­ger ar­eas is great.”

For those ea­ger to gain closer con­tact with Dark­room’s style, Rhonda will be run­ning two-hour dec­o­ra­tive plate paint­ing work­shops at Sam­ple Christ­mas Mar­ket on Green­wich Penin­sula on De­cem­ber 1-2 at 11.30am, 2pm and 4.30pm, al­low­ing par­tic­i­pants to cre­ate their own pieces. Tick­ets cost £35 and should be pre-booked. Go to dark­room­lon­don.com and stu­dio-rhonda.com for more de­tails about her prod­ucts and ser­vices

Rhonda loves work­ing with blocks of colour and geo­met­ric shapes


Rhonda Drake­ford is based at The Sil­ver Build­ing in Royal Docks, where she uses her de­sign ex­per­tise to cre­ate fab­u­lous prod­ucts and in­te­ri­ors

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