Adapting (to) the corporate mindset


Creating an on-brand space for customer meetings.

I recently completed a project for the luxury British watchmaker Christopher Ward at their Maidenhead HQ. There were two core aspects of the job – firstly to create a suitable setting for customers to visit the offices and try on the wonderful watches, and secondly to bring a touch of high-end interior design to the company boardroom.

Boardroom basics

The latter task was in many ways the most straightforward: the boardroom needed to echo the company’s ethos of quality and professionalism, so that meant high-class furnishings – a rich wood table and leather seats. Black is the dominant colour, set against warm grey walls and carpets, and pinstriped blinds. On the walls, I selected framed photos of the company’s products, and added in a couple of individual touches: an elegant display clock and a stylish coat rack. It’s entirely in keeping with the image you’d expect of the company, even though it’s a place few ‘outsiders’ will ever see.

Showing, not showing off

By contrast, the customer reception area is very much designed to be visited. Christopher Ward operates out of what is essentially a Maidenhead town house; there’s no shop as such. Instead, they wanted to create a showroom of understated elegance, where different products could be on display and customers could come and try them on, under the guidance of an expert consultant.

I took cues from bespoke tailoring and personal shopping environments, in things like choice of furnishings. There are sofas and armchairs, with display tables at a comfortable height. Lighting was also critical so that the products could be seen to best advantage; in daytime, the sheer curtains offer privacy but also allow in natural light, as do the glass panelled doors. As night falls, the curved uplighters and dome lampshade – each subtly echoing the shape of the watches – come into their own. Contemporary display clocks are also a key feature, again referencing the company’s business but in a discreet way, and subtle shades of blue – part of the brand – are used in the pelmets and paintwork.

Applying some home truths

But the thing that always strikes me about commercial jobs like these is how many of the same techniques that apply to residential interior design are just as relevant in the workplace. That was never more true than in this case.

We needed a place that customers could relax in; somewhere they would want to spend time. That meant attention to all kinds of small details. For example, it’s more than mere courtesy to offer customers a drink; I carefully selected mugs and glassware that would be appropriate to the experience Christopher Ward wanted to provide. The Emma Bridgewater Union Jack mugs are homely but also subtly reinforce the Britishness of the Christopher Ward brand.

The showroom also had to be low-maintenance. It’s simply not realistic to expect sales consultants to spend time preparing the room, plumping up cushions and the like before customer visits. So I selected seating styles that wouldn’t sag and look sorry with lack of attention. I also insisted that, as part of the customer experience, the toilets got a makeover too!

The commercial imperative

The showroom needed to have a dual purpose: it wouldn’t be used the whole time for customers, so would double as a secondary meeting room. To enable this, I selected a table which could easily be used with stackable chairs for meetings – but which would look suitably ornamental when part of the showroom.

Of course, once I knew that optimising use of space was a key consideration, I found other areas of the offices that could benefit from some high end interior design. For example, a small space outside the kitchen area seemed to have no real function. I turned it into an informal seating area for staff to use, either to relax at lunchtime or again for small meetings or discussions. In fitting it, I retained the accent on understated quality.

Christopher Ward offices by Samantha Johnson Design