Who are they? Alex Holloway and Na Li met as apprentices at design studio Michaelis Boyd, where they found themselves working together on the design for Soho Farmhouse (Li designed the main barn, while Alex was responsible for the gym).
Unwittingly, before that they had followed similar paths, both studying at The Bartlett School of Architecture. ‘We set up our own separate practices in 2015, but shared an office space and started to collaborate informally,’ explains Holloway. ‘We built confidence in each other, aligning on aesthetic, work ethic, and spirit, so we made the partnership official in 2018.’ They now specialise in luxury hospitality projects, but have also designed homes.
What’s their style? Modern and opulent, with theatrical flourishes such as decorated ceilings and dramatic lighting. Holloway says this look was shaped by the ‘pomp and ornament’ of his Catholic schooling and, later, his love of clubbing. ‘We like to create impactful interiors with a strong narrative,’ he reflects. ‘We’re very inspired by art and film, and our designs often centre around a key moment that has a filmic quality.’
Director Stanley Kubrick’s penchant for symmetrical vistas and the detailed stage sets of performance artist Matthew Barney are cited as key influences, along with the London landscape. ‘Often, we find ourselves working on buildings with a long history, and we like to play with the conflict between old and new,’ says Li.
What are their recent projects? Though their studio is still young, the duo has a prolific output, influenced, says Holloway, by The Bartlett’s notoriously high-pressure work ethic. Last year, in collaboration with designer Martin Brudnizki, they designed Linnaean, a wellness store, spa and café in Battersea’s Embassy Gardens, which they covered floor-to-ceiling in plants and botanical patterns, in tribute to the Swedish naturalist after whom the venue is named.
They’ve also created the Marylebone home of a Chinese calligrapher and art collector, which is perfectly pitched between traditional and modern. Inspired by oriental philosophy, they filled the Edwardian space with dark woods, rich jade greens and a host of antiques, contrasting these with modern details like brass lighting and herringbone-tiled walls.
What are they currently working on? A rooftop bar extension for The Hoxton hotel in Shoreditch, and their first hotel projects as sole architects: Bermonds Locke, which opened in Bermondsey in September, and Wunder Locke, launching in Munich next year. Both are outposts of the Locke apartment-hotel concept. The London venue, in an abandoned office block, is inspired by the cabin architecture of Joshua Tree National Park in California. ‘We’ve tried to capture its psychedelic experience by using a metal-dipping technique to create an iridescent finish on the steel bar and wall panelling,’ says Holloway. ‘It echoes the desert sky. The sun and moon are also recurring themes.’
They’ve used lots of waste finishes, including recycled concrete, reflecting a growing interest in eco design. ‘We want all of our work to have an element of reuse or upcycling, but sustainability can also be about low-cost, locally sourced materials,’ says Li. ‘Alex and I would love to do a project where everything we use is recycled.’
They say: ‘We think of ourselves as chameleons – we’re happy to work to different briefs, as long as we are free to design with imagination.’ hollowayli.com
THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK
Every project has its own unique list of suppliers and craftspeople. Part of making it special is finding the right mix and match
Contrasting natural materials with unexpected industrial finishes, such as polished stainless steel, is one of our favourite design tricks. We love collaborating with Clayworks to develop bespoke applied plaster finishes, which give more texture than you can achieve with typical wall paints. The team are incredibly helpful and will develop bespoke colours, too. clay-works.com
We often work with Dodds& Shute, a supplier of the best sustainable designs by brands such as Another Country, Sebastian Cox and Very Good & Proper. It will help you to find a supplier or product to suit any need or budget. doddsandshute.com
We look for unique pieces that will add character to a space. Heathfield & Co designs bespoke lighting for our projects, and also sells sculptural ready-made designs in glass, alabaster and wood, as well as lampshades in every imaginable shape. heathfield.co.uk
East London designer Beatrice Larkin creates wonderful merino wool fabrics, cushions and throws in monochrome geometric designs. We’re collaborating with her on bespoke bed throws and cushions for one of our hotel projects. beatricelarkin.com
This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration December 2020
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