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32 l mix l 125 - Mix interiors

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Heart of the MartaThere are a great many people we must thank for their involvement in lastmonth’s amazing Clerkenwell Design Week. We cannot, however, think ofanyone who deserves our gratitude more than Marta Nowicka.it’s one thing to embrace the spirit of the event and open yourshowroom to the masses, it’s another thing altogether to openyour own home up to said masses and, just in case that’s notenough, also organise and curate one of CDW’s most excitingprojects.Well, that’s exactly what Marta did for us.Anyone fortunate enough to have visited Marta’s amazing OldStreet studio/home during CDW will have a genuine insight intoher design talents. And those who got involved in the brilliantBENCHMARK initiative will be equally aware of Marta’s energyand vision.Speaking of energy, Marta tells us she has just enjoyed a ‘glamping’wedding weekend. Looking at her photos of the event at F Forest,we’re suddenly very aware of how suburban and straight we are. Ifyou’ve not heard of glamping, look it up. It’s a bit like camping, butwith proper beds and an on-site pub. We could do that.Furthermore, immediately following her chat with us, Marta’sjoining us for the judging of the Mixology awards, and then headingoff to Grand Designs to deliver a seminar.With time of the essence, we begin by asking about Marta’s nearlifelong design aspirations. ‘It’s always been design,’ she admits. ‘WhenI was little I wanted to be a teacher – but I’m a bit dyslexic so thatwent out of the window. I was good at art and making things plusmy father was an architect, so I decided I wanted to follow in hisfootsteps, but the school I was at did everything they could todissuade me because I was dyslexic! They said I couldn’t cut themustard.‘In hindsight I think the dyslexia allowed me to approach thingsdifferently, having a positive influence on my three-dimensionalthinking, so design was a natural calling and a place I feltcomfortable. I also think I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder, so Iworked incredibly hard. It’s a complex thing; I really enjoy ‘the word’and language, reading copiously and adding words to my vocabulary.In a visual world, images really help you to be concise – you canexpress yourself concisely through those images.‘Anyway, I went and worked for a year at my father’s practice –and then decided that I didn’t want to be an architect after all andthat I wanted to go to art school. I did an art foundation course, andthen decided to do interior architecture. Kingston offered thisfantastic course under Fred Scott and Robert Lee – the golden yearsof Interior Architecture at Kingston. It was very exciting and someamazing people came out of there. It was really hard to get in and Iworked solidly for two years to get into it. It was definitely worth it– it was an amazing course. mix l 125 l 33

‘After Kingston I started working for architects, and also startedteaching. So I did become a teacher after all!’In 1993 Marta started her own design consultancy, working forthe likes of Nicholas Grimshaw, Sheppard Robson, The Body Shopand The Big Issue. Her enviable list of clients also included HewlettPackard, KPMG Corporate Finance, Lend Lease PLC, Merrill Lynch,The English National Opera, The Woolwich Building Society,University of Central England and World Trade Centre.‘Nicholas Grimshaw built this fantastic building for the RAC inBristol,’ Marta recalls. ‘I was brought in and kind of sexed the wholething up; I did a whole package for the entire interior and did areally powerful presentation full of images, textures and dramaticlighting, with fantastic bespoke furniture. I came up with the idea ofusing a car dashboard as the concept – everything lit up and waswalnut, rubber and leather. It was very seductive and powerful. It wasso exciting – and they loved it.‘I then worked on a couple of universities in Manchester withSheppard Robson, detailing all the public areas and core areas. I lovedit. I just wanted to design, design, design. I remember everybodylaughing at me at Sheppard Robson because I essentially took overthis whole area; I had full-size drawings and mock-ups everywhere! Ijust worked 24/7, doing my freelance projects at night. I wanted asmuch exposure and experience as possible.’We said the lady had energy! It was this energy, coupled with herever-growing client and contact list that led Marta to start her ownpractice, Nowicka Stern. The new firm offered conceptual projectsolutions for Basillico, The Gate, Gerald Ronson, Nick Leslau andFramestore, to name but a few. ‘It was a great nine years,’ Martasmiles. At one point we had something like 15 people working withus. We did some great projects – I think my favourite one wasanother.com, where we took the concept of surf and turf and createda meeting room which was a live lawn under ultraviolet lights, it hadswings in reception and everybody worked in these blocks on bigbenches…it was a great process. I love that process where the clienttries it, uses it, brings you feedback and then you re-evaluate it.Design should be re-evaluated all the time. You have to learn, youhave to constantly appraise, review, reflect and then improve. We wona best office award for that – it was really exciting.‘We then went on to do a presentation for Hewlett Packard inCalifornia – I think we may have been a bit too zany for them!’In 2001 Marta sold Nowicka Stern to start Marta Nowicka & Co– offering architectural solutions for the likes of Michael Landy,Gillian Wearing, Karsten Schubert, Framestore and Peter Peri.‘I never liked the idea of being pigeonholed into just workplace,’Marta considers. ‘Currently, I’m doing more residential thanworkplace – and I’ve also done the full gambit over the years. I’vedone the educational aspect and designed furniture…as a designeryou have to be fresh, you need to explore different things and look atthings in a different way. I’m also doing more architecture – andthat’s really interesting. I just like to keep it as open as possible and34 l mix l 125

ecause I’ve had this breadth of experience I hope that clients areconfident that I could take any challenge on.‘I think being a designer is a little like being a therapist –understanding who the client is and what they’re about. I kind of putmy clients on the couch and we have this journey of discoverytogether. My job from there is to interpret that spatially.‘I’ve never had a written brief in my life – and if I did then Ididn’t get the work! I’ve always had verbal briefs and they’re usuallyvery basic. I remember for Karsten Schubert’s gallery in GoldenSquare, his brief to me was ‘No design’! He wanted the space to looklike it had ‘just happened’. At first I was slightly perplexed, but it wasgreat – a real challenge. It showed me that if you do take your clienton that journey, they will be far more accepting – and you’ll reachthe destination together.’As she mentioned a little earlier, parallel to Marta’s professionalcareer, she has had an active and committed academic role within anumber of leading design and architectural schools, includingRavensbourne College of Art, Kingston University, University ofCentral England, London Metropolitan University, and she is also anexternal examiner at University College Falmouth. ‘I never give abrief to students – I develop a brief with them,’ Marta explains. ‘Ibelieve that, for students to really engage in a project, they need totake complete ownership. They need to feel empowered.’Speaking of empowerment, Marta has clearly created her owndestiny – and that is embodied, in many ways, by this very specialpart of Clerkenwell.‘I did it myself,’ Marta laughs, referring to both her career and herhome. ‘I raised the money for this development, then created threeunits – two of which I’ve rented out to fund this one. This was anold lithographic printers. They’d had the space for 35 years and Ipurchased it and did a change of use. We lived it in it as a bigwarehouse for a while, with the studio in here. It was very rough andready – we had a kitchen on wheels! It was great fun, but this ismuch more grown-up! I still don’t know which I prefer! It’s certainlymuch nicer waking here the morning after the night before.‘It’s lit by light pollution at night – by St Luke’s Church nextdoor. It is very dramatic – quite theatrical. I’ve been here for 15 yearsnow – and worked in Clerkenwell before that. It’s changedenormously. You couldn’t even get anything to eat or a decent cup ofcoffee back then. It’s a wonderful mix now – lively during the weekand relaxed come the weekend.’Before we head back onto those lively streets, we must ask Martaabout BENCHMARK. ‘The idea comes from mark making...like theidea of leaving a mark after Clerkenwell Design Week. I wanted tocreate an event that would culminate in something physical –something that would commemorate the event and would leave itsmark on the area. I want all the designers in Clerkenwell to helpdesign a bench so that we can then get it made and leave that mark.It would be great if, every year, we could develop another newbench, leaving a chronological trail of benches. This is all aboutcollaboration and sharing ideas.’Initial workshops at the Interstuhl showroom brought greatinterest during Clerkenwell Design Week. If you missed those, it’s stillnot too late to get involved, with development and concept work stillongoing – directed, of course, by Marta. We don’t know where shegets that energy36 l mix l 125

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