The House of Koko is more than London’s latest members club. It’s a music lovers’ haven, bringing the legacy of the long-standing theatre venue forward with meticulous design
After seven years and a £70m pound restoration, Camden’s iconic concert venue Koko reopens this week. The theatre – famed for legendary performances by Charlie Chaplin, the Rolling Stone and Amy Winehouse – shines again in all its glory. Yet, it’s The House of Koko, a four-storey private members club that hugs the back of the 120year-old building, that will define its next chapter.
Koko founder and CEO / Creative Director Olly Bengough worked with Archer Humphryes Architects to organically connect The Hope & Anchor pub and a derelict piano factory to the back of the theatre. His vision was to create a ‘backstage’ townhouse, a place for members to experience the energy beyond the stage – in part inspired by Prince, who after one of his Koko concerts famously continued jamming backstage for hours.
That narrative guided design studio Pirajean Lees who collaborated with Bengough to create a members’ club interior that dazzles with a potent mix of comfort and surprise. Like a rabbit warren of seemingly endless opportunities, rooms connect and spaces transform. Sliding doors and hidden dining rooms build a sense of discovery that increases with each floor, vertically circulating guests up to the heady heights of the Roof Terrace restaurant. And just when you think it can’t get any better, there it is, the cherry on the cake. For Koko’s famous dome, restored in shiny copper, houses a secret bar akin to a private party in an oak barrel.
“I love seeing people’s reactions when they enter the Dome,” says Clemence Pirajean. “How people take possession of a space is central to our design thinking. We want you to feel welcome when you enter a room, whether it’s heaving or you’re the only person there. Here you’re not spectating, you are part of the action.” And indeed, mixologists create cocktails at communal tables, chefs cook in open kitchens, from the Library to the Piano room, every scene is inviting yet consistently linking back to the theatre’s roots. Members have exclusive access to stage viewpoints, even the toilets echo the make-up stations of performers with stools perched in front of circular-lit mirrors. An impressive art collection, curated by Katie Heller, adorns the walls, mixing young talent with art donations by famous musicians. Every detail feels deliberate, never breaking the character of the setting.
Pirajean explains why. “The entire design is bespoke. We customised furniture to reflect the venue’s music heritage, using timeless materials like timber, velvet and leather that will age beautifully.” Meticulous research went into selecting the perfect finishes. In the first floor Battens bar, for instance, the ceiling is made of a traditional speaker fabric, nowadays only manufactured by a single company in Louisiana. From punk-inspired deconstructed tartan on tiled floors to David Bowie’s flash on a wooden chair, subtle music references tie everything together. Yet the music cues aren’t just visual, “each room has been designed with a respect to sound and how it travels”.
Not all guests may recognise these references but the accuracy of detail is palpable. Olly Bengough has witnessed it already. “People are getting it. They feel good in the space, because the architectural flow is so intuitive. For 15 years this theatre was my living room so I developed a clear vision of what textures fit naturally.” His main ambition, however, was to future-proof the venue in keeping with its rebellious, ornate and independent nature.
Today, each room is technologically equipped to live stream, should artists wish to spontaneously broadcast. Impromptu gigs like Prince’s back then could now be accessible to members or virtually across the globe. The penthouse has its own recording studio, and members can play vinyl in little booths with the added bonus of a ‘room service’ button. Yet for Bengough, The House of Koko is not just about design. “Ultimately, it’s about how your imagination works. Does the journey surprise?” You sense this place will create many moments of magic. The questions is, behind which door?