At that time, Rogers had been commissioned by the government to look at ways to revitalize rundown urban areas. The massive Millennium Dome project fell under this edict, and although it has been the subject of mirth and national disappointment (one critic described it as “the world’s largest refrigerator magnet”), Rogers is proud of the construction of the Dome. The architect reports that he spent a mere $82 million of the Dome’s $1.1 billion total budget, adding he had nothing to do with its contents, which many people understand to be the problem. Lord Rogers–whose career spans the famed Lloyd’s of London building, the new Welsh Assembly building, and Paris’s Pompidou Centre with Renzo Piano–is not only deservedly renowned, but refreshingly honest. Montevetro is his first residential building in England (apart from the design of his own home) and its popularity has already been proven. In a matter of weeks, high-priced, highly-designed penthouses were snapped up at the same rate as the more demure lower-level apartments, which can hardly be considered as the dregs.
Constructed in step formation on the site of a demolished warehouse on a bend in the Thames across the river from the chicest row of terraces at Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, Montevetro can boast not only river views but also, closer on its own bank, proximity to a 17th-century church built by Sir Christopher Wren as well as a pair of landmark 1960s apartment blocks.
Lord Rogers created Montevetro as a composition of five distinct but attached parts, in ascending order from A block to E block, E forming the tallest of the stepped columns. Within each block there are two penthouse apartments, the most impressive being the taller one in the E block where views through glass walls extend 360 degrees. All penthouses have full-height glazing on their east and west elevations and double- or triple-height rooms with ceilings reaching 30 or more feet.
Model apartments with full furniture
Having considered a short list, the developers appointed Reed Creative Services Ltd. on strong recommendation to fabricate the interior of the larger of two model apartments in the D block. The fast-track commission was awarded in May 1999 with a completion date slated for the fall. Within six months, the installation, over 2,650 sq. ft. on two floors, was complete. “The specification was to create a detailed plan for the architectural organization of the apartment and to develop internal architectural finishes, materials, and detailing. We were also asked to devise a full furniture and furnishings scheme for the penthouse,” says head designer Jonathan Reed, who worked with Martin Brudniski, an associate designer who served as project manager, and Matthew Daines, the furniture and furnishings coordinator. “A showhouse would not normally be of interest to us, but this was different.”
The fusion between architecture and furniture interior design
“The developers had a challenge on their hands insofar as London is genuinely reticent about real modern architecture. Most modern developments are a little pastiche,” adds Reed. Taylor Woodrow Capital Developments being the clients, he explains, “was appealing since they have decided to become complete niche developers–not wishing to compete in average developments, only landmark one-offs.” (Woodrow’s next project will be the conversion of the Chelsea Power Station into an enormous, modern residential development within an existing shell.) “Montevetro is rare as a complete build in the U.K. and was an opportunity for Richard Rogers to conceptualize a strong residential building and for us to show the fusion between architecture and interior design. The result is a provocative architectural concept, which has translated into a very beautiful building,” Reed states, adding that he and his partner have just purchased an apartment for their own occupation in the glass building (for many reasons, but specifically because of “the enormous amounts of reflected light bouncing off the water”).
With the generous support of Donghia and Holly Hunt, who supplied fabrics for window treatments and upholstery, the team at Reed Creative Services devised a scheme atypical of expected modern interiors. “I couldn’t use white at all, and wouldn’t want to, since the natural light, at times, can be too harsh, so I opted for a melange of natural hues,” says the designer.
With a fit-out budget of $400,000 and a further $160,000 for furnishings, Reed set about aesthetically linking the penthouse’s two floors by creating an overall seamlessness where one space flows logically into another, with certain walls surfaced in Venetian stucco, punctuated by others in rippled sycamore and wenge. The space is further unified by the use of clever devices such as a dumbwaiter in black American walnut that links kitchen to library. “First of all, I couldn’t imagine walking all that way with a drinks tray, especially if it was my second, and there really is no room to have servants here–most apartments have one or two bedrooms only–although I believe some new, owners have purchased other apartments in the building to house staff,” Reed explains. “Secondly, I did not see the point of commissioning some sort of redundant sculpture to simply fill the space.” It seems the apartment’s new owner (it has already been sold) loves the dumbwaiter so much, his only requirement from Jonathan Reed now is to “make it electric.”
But the joy of this project, for Reed, was designing for an imaginary client. “It is like designing for film, where you are allowed to be practically autonomous in the decision making,” he says. The only areas Reed could not touch, since they were pre-fabricated in Denmark and slotted in as whole units by crane, were the bathrooms. This was the only concession in a project that achieves an extraordinary unity of architecture and interior design.