On every project, we do stuff that is risky for us. But therein lies the beauty,” Ciaran O’Brien says.
He’s one of three directors at Shoreditch-based architect-designers Red Deer, a trio completed by Lionel Real de Azua and Lucas Che Tizard. The long time friends and colleagues have taught at the London School of Architecture and the Royal College of Art, but they’ve just won Best Pub at the Restaurant & Bar Design Awards for their collaboration with Box 9 design on No 197 Chiswick Fire Station and have a growing portfolio of conceptual projects to put their stamp on.
Whether they’re designing a table that “might not stand up”, or branching out into their first menswear boutique – Anglo-Italian, which opened in Marylebone over the summer – they love a risk. As soon as the team “starts to get into a groove”, they’re back on the lookout for a project that will shake it all up.
It’s an attitude that’s reflected in their philosophy, “love of the unexpected” – never rolling out a formula, keeping themselves immersed in the creative process. “Everything’s a moving target, and we enjoy that,” Ciaran says.
They say they have found more creative head space and their productivity has rocketed since they ditched the responsibility of a head office for co-working space in the Tea Building on Shoreditch High Street. “Being nomadic like this makes it easy for us to design as much as we can bespoke,” Lionel says. “We know a lot of leatherworkers, fabricators and lighting manufacturers within half a square mile from here.”
“Being nomadic like this makes it easy for us to design as much as we can bespoke”
But does insisting on British-made furniture push up the price? “If you use the right materials you don’t need to blow the budget for it to still be interesting,” he replies.
Still only four years old, Red Deer has expanded the team to 12 in the past year, hiring mostly women; the directors are inspired themselves by the new blood. “We hire people to challenge us,” Ciaran says.
And when it comes to working with clients, they say that half of being an architect is possessing emotional intelligence. “We always like to be relaxed and set up a personal rapport,” Ciaran says. Current projects include bringing two fine-dining restaurants to East London, and a couple of intimate dining spaces are under way, too – a Lebanese eaterie in Broadway Market and an oyster bar in Soho.
“And we’re working on an Indian street food restaurant in Dubai,” Lionel says. They took it on because it’s not the typically brash, culturally anonymous establishment that Dubai has become known for.
“The client is very adventurous – they wanted something harking back to 1950s Art Deco Indian cinemas.” When looking for local furniture companies to work with, they drove out to the boondocks of Dubai and found a small company called Art and Craft Furniture.
“We drove out there past the barracks of all the underpaid Indian, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi construction workers, and we found this Indian-inspired workshop making bespoke furniture. Suddenly we’d found a sense of place in Dubai.
“On the surface the project might seem alien to what else we are doing, but it held up against our principles. It is challenging us, in all the right ways.” And for Red Deer, you can expect the unexpected.