London-based architect Sebastian Mann, co-founder of design agency Minale + Mann and founder of its sister furniture company The Workshop, takes an innovative approach to designing high-end residential and commercial spaces. With a philosophy that good design should be permanent and not follow fashion, he shares his secrets for creating the perfect modern interior...
What first sparked your interest in architecture?
My first encounter with anything architectural was through taking photographs of buildings and people on my travels. As a child, my Polaroid camera was alwaysto hand. I stuck the photos into albums and every once in a while, I’d flick through them – in my teens, I started to notice something different in the photos; I saw how people were somehow intrinsically connected to the buildings and their surroundings.
How does the interplay of people and spaces figure in your designs?
It’s vital to create spaces that envelope and cosset their inhabitants, whether it’s in a private room or in an office. In someone’s home, I think about intimacy and ways to reflect the owner’s personality; in a commercial environment, it’s about how people need to interact to get their jobs done.
What tips would you offer someone starting a new project?
Always start at the top end of the spectrum when planning a project and never compromise at the beginning; if you hold back at the start, you’ll never reach the stars! As a designer, it’s my job to innovate and come up with ‘outside the box’ ideas that make each scheme.
Are you a neutral kind of guy?
It’s common practice to use a neutral palette, like a gallery with its blank canvas of white walls, to help make a piece of furniture, lighting or artwork the focus in the room, but I think that’s a bit old hat! I like to mix things up – at the moment, I’m playing with concrete finishes teamed with natural stones and zinc-framed details; sultry backdrops of shimmering velvets with moody shades, such as Farrow & Ball’s Black Blue;
and modern hardware by Buster + Punch [Massimo Buster Minale is the other co-founder of the design company] in metals like brushed blackened steel, smoked bronze and glowing brass. These can give a sexy edge to even the simplest cupboards or drawers.
Do you have a particular design style?
I’m driven by materials and texture, especially the interplay between hard and soft finishes, such as hand-stitched quilted leather against a concrete wall, or matt and reflective materials working together, like solid wood with copper.
Most of all, I like to play with light and shadow to create atmosphere and mood.I design with a refined industrial aesthetic in mind – I love the hard-core elements of London, be it the skyline of cranes or the majesty of Battersea Power Station or the more contemporary twist on industrial techniques, such as the Lloyd’s building.
What’s the best way to find inspiration?
I took a year out of my studies, taking the path less travelled for a young architect. I worked in Kathmandu (on community projects, such as schools, clinics and orphanages), Siem Reap in Cambodia (on temple restoration for the World Monuments Fund) and Beijing (on restoration projects inside the Forbidden City). It taught me what an invaluable impact architecture has on a community – how people respond to a space is not just about shelter and comfort, it can inspire us into a different state of being.
How do you spend your downtime?
I try to switch off from work completely and focus on my family. We treat each weekend as ‘the holiday weekend’ – which the kids find exciting, if not a little confusing. Sometimes, we don’t even leave the house!
What does home mean to you?
Home is the world I’ve created with my wife and our two young daughters. It’s not a place, a building, or even a particular feeling – it’s simply wherever we move as a family, that’s home.
Is there an ultimate dream project still to come?
I can’t wait to have a garden big enough to design my girls a treehouse. This would be a place where we would all camp out at night, so it needs to house the whole family, with the ability to open the roof and look up at the stars.
We have a sneaky feeling, though, that this particular treehouse will have a concrete floor!
To learn more about Sebastian’s work, visit minaleandmann.com and theworkshop-mm.com