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Loud and Clear

London, England

Waldo Works designs a penthouse at Television Centre, the BBC's former TV headquarters, inspired by the fuzzy screens and soundwaves of mid-century technology

‘It has an extraordinary history to it,’ says Tom Bartlett about Television Centre, the White City development where his practice Waldo Works has designed a 378 square metre penthouse. The late-1950s building is held in many people’s consciousness as the architectural face of the BBC, its curved glass facade having made its way into many of the broadcaster’s programmes over the decades. It’s considered by some to be a mid-century modern masterpiece, and although Waldo Works has been inspired by the playful design that characterised the period of the building’s conception, this is no hackneyed 1950s pastiche stuffed with ‘iconic’ vintage furniture. Instead, the scheme looks more to what Bartlett calls ‘the architecture of broadcast’ such as TV towers, as well as everything from fuzzy screens to sound waves, to create pattern, texture and tone.

‘It’s a period we often look to in terms of influence – that Festival of Britain aesthetic that’s very joyful and forward looking,’ says Bartlett. ‘Those two ideas of cosy domesticity and modernism, they have sometimes had a tension between them, but this was a time when they meshed rather well, I think.’

Bartlett’s client, Peter Allen of developer Stanhope, says that Waldo Works was on his radar because he wanted someone ‘who really understands and is sensitive about colour, and who could effectively add warmth and turn the space into a home.’ This is in part to counteract the monochrome, gallery-like interior architecture created by Alford Hall Monaghan Morris (AHMM), which includes Douglas fir flooring, a monumental metal helical staircase and black-framed glazing.

It’s a period we often look to in terms of influence – that Festival of Britain aesthetic that's very joyful and forward looking

Waldo Works has answered the brief with a scheme that’s full of colour, especially teal and terracotta, the latter echoing the penthouse’s red-brick birds-eye view of West London. The high-shine surface of a blue lacquered dining table reflects the clouds scudding outside the window, as well as Lee Broom’s brass and glass lighting above it, while a scarlet chair punctuates one of the bedrooms.

Despite some of the vast spaces, especially the open-plan kitchen-dining-living area, there’s a certain informality to everything. For example, velvet-upholstered benches have been used in place of uniform rows of dining chairs: ‘we were very keen for it not to look like a conference room,’ says Bartlett, surveying the lacquered table. In the principal bedroom, a textile-lined alcove at the head of the bed is a modern take on a four-poster, and the sense of safety and privacy it brings: ‘we were trying to reinterpret that comfort and grandeur, and create the same sense of sanctuary,’ says Bartlett.

Buildings from around this time, they were a pretty hand-crafted modernism – it wasn’t a kit of parts. It's important that things feel like they have been made by somebody

A twisting artwork made from pleated paper and silk by Deepa Panchamia tumbles from behind the living area’s large curving sofa all the way down the stairs, and there’s more crumpled and pleated paper in the lighting designs by Ingo Maurer. Hand-drawn patterns, uneven geometric lines inspired by soundwaves and subtly textured fabrics such as hessian all make the space feel inherently relaxing.

Up here on the seventh and eighth floors, the natural light is a feature in its own right: the principal bedroom suite has triple-aspect views, and Panchamia’s paper sculpture takes on a lovely translucency and dynamism as the light changes. Waldo Works also designed its own alternative to a voile window treatment – cream wool with a lattice of little laser-cut squares punched out, another nod to pixellated TV screens.

The meshes and grids that echo through the apartment – on wallpaper and boldly checked fabrics, to name two examples – reference structures such as masts and towers, and when they are used three-dimensionally, such as in the grid-like Living Divani shelving units in the office area, they also create a sense of visual openness: ‘It was a reaction to solidity of the apartment we were presented with, which is very strong-looking,’ says Bartlett. Artwork, softly textured fabrics and playful colour, meanwhile, bring those essentially homely elements. ‘Buildings from around this time, they were a pretty hand-crafted modernism – it wasn’t a kit of parts,’ says Bartlett. ‘It’s important that things feel like they have been made by somebody.’