You don’t have to live in a loft to get the industrial look. In fact, industrial 2.0 is all about adding unexpected pops of colour to create an upbeat, retro feel. Designer and MADE.COM collaborator Rhonda Drakeford applied this bright new take on brutalism to her latest interiors project: renovating a bland two-bed apartment in London's King's Cross. We find out how she put the fun back into functional...
What was the brief for this project?
"To create a showcase apartment for two chefs who like to entertain — with the kitchen as the hub of the design. They were very keen to use concrete. We'd all seen the AnZa coffee machine in almost the very same week, and loved its industrial style and material use, mixing heavy concrete with fun, shiny levers. We agreed this was a great starting point: brutalism with a twist."
How do you use recurring motifs?
"When a project consists of different rooms, all connected, I like to give each space its own personality — but anchored by something that talks to something else in an adjacent room. The grid from the kitchen is mirrored in the bathroom, in the bespoke tiled furniture and informed the painted stripes on the living room walls."
Was the space a blank canvas?
"This home had very little worth keeping. It was a white box with standard white kitchen and bathroom. For me, some context and relevance is important, so the exterior views became the visual starting point. When thinking about a big space, it’s always best to start with one element that will become the focus of the scheme."
With chefs as clients, was the kitchen your starting point?
"Yes, and I wanted to create a dialogue with the Bladerunner-esque views of King's Cross, particularly the neighbouring pink tower block. The modular landscape of tiled kitchen units was designed to look quite machine-like, being clad with the uniform grid of concrete tiles, but this was made more fun by using pigmented concrete in chalky hues."
What key kitchen features did you have to consider?
"The rear worktops are set 10cm higher than the island to make standing for different tasks easier. The island is designed to be both functional [housing two ovens, a hob and a pop-up plug socket] and also sculptural, with block colours and gravity-defying cantilevered shelves."
The tiles are so visually pleasing. How did you do it?
"The whole kitchen was custom-built by a cabinet maker. We had to meticulously work out the measurements of the inner wooden carcasses to allow for the thickness of tiles and adhesive, so that we didn’t have to break the grid by cutting any tiles."
You manage to brighten-up brutalism. Is this intentional?
"Completely intentional! I personally love the starkness of brutalism, but it’s not for everyone. It’s extremely important that my clients feel at home within the spaces I create. Being playful with colours and textures not only softens a space, it makes it less austere and contrived."
Is the design based on a definitive decade?
"There’s a nod to the 80s with the playful colour palette, mixed with a harder-edged brutalism rooted more in the 60s. Contrast is really important to me — I love a twist that feels surprising yet familiar. This makes a space feel comfortable."
How do you soften-up concrete to make it feel more ‘homely’?
"I love overgrown green foliage on grey, brutalist buildings and this contrast is something I try to inject into my projects. Man-made uniformity mixed with something organic and soft. I like the rigour of grids and angular surfaces but roughen them up with plants and textiles. A big textured rug on a concrete floor, a huge plant in a tiled bathroom. In this project, I softened the grid by using concrete tiles that had inconsistent surfaces and patination."
How do you choose accent colours?
"I work on a core palette but like to add many tonal hues to make a space feel less contrived. In this scheme, there are about six shades of blue which all work with each other to create a feeling of relaxation."
Do you think plain white walls are less popular now?
"I try not to be too trend conformist but things definitely come around as a reaction to what came before. Zeitgeist is a powerful thing! I do think that there is currently a want for individualism within a mass-market world."
What are your favourite MADE pieces in this project?
"I chose the Astoria rug for the living area as it completely ties the whole room together and adds its own tangent. I also love the Lucio bed — the padded upholstery really adds a feeling of contemporary and sculptural luxury to the space."
What's your favourite feature from the final project?
"The interior was influenced by the exterior views. The second phase is completing the exterior [garden terrace] which will be influenced by the interior. That's 100% meta and makes me really happy!"
Article written by: Natalie Wall
Imagery by: Veerle Evens