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Ellis Design Studio: Bringing stories to life across the pond

London-based, Australian designer Alan Ellis brings a theatrical, narrative-led approach to his work. None more so than in his latest project, Electric Shuffle, which is envisioned as a beautiful factory brought to life.

It’s one thing to start a business in your home town. It’s another to start one abroad. We chat with Alan Ellis, an Australian with Irish heritage who founded his design studio Ellis Design Studio in London in 2017. We also take a look at the studio’s newest project, Electric Shuffle, an elaborate new venue in Canary Wharf that brings the shuffleboard to life, with inspiration from Nikola Tesla.

Indesignlive: Can you tell us about your experience with Ellis Design Studio?

Alan Ellis: I moved to the UK in 2014 after working with a number of well-known interior design firms in Dublin. After working as a senior designer for a high profile design studio in London for three and a half years, I decided to set up Ellis Design Studio. The aspiration was for the studio is to create beautifully detailed, perfectly formed interiors with a desire to bring stories to life. 

We’re based in Central London and our work is centred on hospitality design, typically spanning bars, restaurants, private member’s clubs and hotels. Our experience in the industry has included working with a wide range of high-profile clients, both in the UK and internationally, including luxury international hotel chains, prestigious restaurateurs, dynamic bar and leisure groups and exclusive private member’s clubs.

How do you feel design in London and the UK differs from Australia?

It’s difficult to generalise on differences in design between the UK and Australia, especially as we live in such a interconnected, globalised environment.

However, for me, Australia with its boundless horizons and big open skies appears to manifest itself in a design approach based on simplicity, beauty, purity and authenticity. Interiors in Australia seem to focus on a provenance and honesty, feeling at times, to be less ‘curated’ than they might tend to be in London. 

I think the need for an immersive experience, almost like you’ve been transported somewhere else, is a more significant design motivation in a vast, fast moving city such as London. Working in London, with its contrasting layers of history and modernity, means these are significant factors influencing our design approach. Creatively and technically, heritage considerations are crucial, we also have to ensure that we retain an awareness and appreciation of historical context in our designs. 

We have worked on a number of historical buildings and our work has involved everything from recreating lost Victorian wallpapers from unearthed fragments, to unexpectedly uncovering the base of medieval turrets in a castle hotel, even working to preserve Georgian and Victorian details in former banks and tax halls. 

What’s your design philosophy and how does this come through in the work you create?

Our work is very much about creating a strong sense of narrative and weaving a story throughout the entire design scheme.

Once we agree on the direction conceptually, we love the idea of exploring the narrative right down into the bones of every element we design, be it the bespoke lighting and furniture, working with artisans to create custom made plasterwork and ceramics or commissioning bespoke scenic and fine art works. 

“I think the need for an immersive experience, almost like you’ve been transported somewhere else, is a more significant design motivation in a vast, fast moving city such as London.”

What projects are on the books?

One of our latest projects – Electric Shuffle – has just been finished. It’s a brand new £4-million, 9,000-square-feet (830-square-metres) experiential interior design concept in Canary Wharf, London. 

Electric Shuffle is a brand new experiential concept based around the revival of the game of shuffleboard. The design is inspired by the heritage of the game of shuffleboard and its heyday in the 1940s. As the game has been reinvented and ‘electrified’ we took inspiration from the pioneers of electrical technology, in particular the work of Nikola Tesla. The fusion of these ideas manifested in a design scheme we describe as a ‘beautiful factory’. The idea is to celebrate the beauty in utility and reimagine and celebrate the industrial aesthetic. 

We also have a selection of other large hospitality projects coming up in London mid/late next year along with work on a private member’s club to name a few….

How are you seeing the end-user expectations changing for hospitality venues?

We are definitely seeing a change in the expectations of the end user as customers become more design savvy. The whole movement towards ‘experiential design’ is very much a response to this dynamic. A number of our current projects are focused around the growing concept of experiential design. Our approach involves the creation of fully immersive spaces where every detail of the guest experience is considered. 

Guests in London want to have a sense of escapism on a night out, whether it’s activity based, ‘Competitive Socialising’ such as darts, ping pong or axe throwing or even perception or sensory based, like dining in the dark.

As designers we aim to respond to these changing expectations and feel we’re leading the charge in blending a seamless hospitality experience with an activity based night out.

For us, this means ensuring that every element works perfectly in tandem to ensure the F&B offer is perfectly designed, beautifully detailed and seamlessly delivered to the guest. 

“We are definitely seeing a change in the expectations of the end user as customers become more design savvy. The whole movement towards ‘experiential design’ is very much a response to this dynamic.”

Anything else that’s important to your practice?

I think the most important thing to the practice in ensuring we deliver an end result which is not only visually beguiling but also perfectly in tune with the client’s brief. An integral part of our approach is the element of storytelling… We always strive to imbue our designs with a strong narrative thread throughout the entire design scheme.

I’m a big believer in the mantra ‘do one thing every day that scares you’ and I feel that good design should always be about embracing the desire to be unafraid, to explore and to experiment.

Also, approaching our projects with an element of playful irreverence allows us to ensure the spaces become as expressive and individual as the people who enjoy them.

Photography courtesy Ellis Design Studio.

We think you’d like this story about the rise in narrative-led hotels.

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