Once the last fireworks of the Closing Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games had fizzled out, it was time for the cranes to move in and turn this former marshland into a place people being would literally buy into.
While West Ham and Spurs were arguing over who gets the Olympic Stadium, a team of experts had started transforming the former Athletes’ Village – where superstars like Usain Bolt ate, slept and partied (probably) – into East Village, London’s newest neighbourhood.
Over 1,400 of these were turned into private rented homes, and Hemingway Design was brought in to freshen them up for a new generation. Perhaps Hemingway was brought on board because founder Wayne knows what young Londoners want – he simply asks his design partner and daughter Tilly. The Hemingways like to keep designing in the family; Wayne founded the fashion brand Red or Dead with his wife Gerardine in the 80s, after he blew all their rent money on his punk band. The pair emptied their wardrobe onto a stall in Camden and, by the mid-90s, they had outlets all over the world. Since the Hemingways have designed everything from McDonald’s uniforms to gardens for Gateshead Council.
Wayne says the invitation to provide interiors for the first homes in E20 “came completely out of the blue” so he recruited his daughter Tilly as his partner in design. “We get on well, we never argue,” says Tilly, “I can always say what I’m thinking.”
“Tilly has reached the age now where we’d be stupid not to respect what she’s saying,” Wayne interjects. “Especially on things like this project, where she’s closer to the market. We can add our learning and knowledge, but the real cutting edge, modern thinking is coming from Tilly. We’re the elder statesmen; Tilly’s generation should lead.”
Her vision, in keeping with post-Games patriotic fervour, was to create a range of furniture packages for tenants to choose from called Best of British, featuring brands like John Lewis, Matthew Hilton, G Plan and bespoke HemingwayDesign items. As a result, the number of tenants choosing furnished apartments was far higher than expected.
“I want people to feel like it’s their flat, with furniture you would buy for yourself,” says Tilly. “Over the past few years, I’ve viewed rental flats in London that are advertised as furnished, but it’s all in terrible condition or the most basic stuff you can get. So it was great to be able to design flats where people would be able to actually live with high quality furniture that would last.”
Another attraction for, Wayne in particular was Get Living London, the lettings agency set up specially to manage the new homes, that offered longer, more flexible tenancy contracts, an office on-site and no agency fees.
“When I saw that they were actually doing it, I couldn’t quite believe it,” says Wayne. “This is what Generation Rent needs and it was a very brave thing to do. I can’t imagine renting for years with no security of tenure, where the landlord is not caring about the damp, leaving them with furniture that’s falling apart... It’s just not right.
“Over the next few years, I think this will make things better for young people. We already know there are many who are looking at Stratford because it’s set a benchmark. We’re proud to have been a part of it.”