The Leeds studio of Northern design giants SpaceInvader has completed a three-year CAT A project to reinvigorate the public and common areas of Central House, Harrogate, a four-storey building providing local companies with 168,000 sq ft of office space, car parking and associated facilities, for property group client CEG.
“We were delighted to work with CEG on this project”, SpaceInvader’s Creative Director Sarah Dodsworth commented, “with the aim of making Central House Harrogate’s premier office address.”
The Central House Property
When SpaceInvader was first instructed, this popular building on Harrogate’s Otley Road, heading north out of the famous spa town and situated almost directly opposite the famous RHS Garden at Harlow Carr, was already fully tenanted, with flexible floorplates offering suites from 1,000 to 11,400 sq ft. This meant that the refurbishment scheme wasn’t primarily about attracting new or particular target tenants, but more about unlocking the potential of the interior, creating new places for people to dwell and appreciate the building, as well as future-proofing by time-sensitive investment.
The Renovation Remit
SpaceInvader’s remit was the complete modernisation of the building’s core and common areas, encompassing the ground floor reception area, featuring a café and breakout spaces; creating strong indoor-outdoor links, and refurbishing the linking ground floor corridors and toilets. On the first and second floors, SpaceInvader also updated the lift lobby area and toilet facilities, whilst on the lower ground floor, showers and changing rooms have been installed for those cycling to work to chime with and further encourage the green travel impetus.
Part of the scope was also to unlock the scheme’s potential for landscaping and, for this, SpaceInvader introduced Urban Wilderness, a local, Leeds-based company, to the project, with a brief to create and retain a strong inside-outside connection as well to design as an easy-maintenance landscaping scheme for the property owners.
Design Brief & Approach
“Our overall brief”, Sarah Dodsworth commented, “was to create a high-quality, simple and pared-back look for the common spaces, with a clean, elegant and unobstructive feel – and one which was definitely not too fussy or busy!”
The design approach was expressed through a materials palette of concrete and timber, black and white furnishings and the occasional use of muted colour, together with a monolithic poured concrete floor and plenty of internal planting.
Copper is a strong material feature in the ground floor space, used for the zig-zag fronts of the welcome podiums, table legs on the longer tables and the metallic spray finish to the hoop pendant lighting. Perforated eco-board is another visually effective material used for the low-level timber acoustic wall panelling, whilst vertical bulkheads feature white CNC-cut ribbed panelling with radial edges to soften the look. Soft furnishing, meanwhile, such as cushions, as well as coloured glass table lamps, follow a nature-inspired palette of cream, stone, moss greens, baby pink and rusty reds.
Artwork throughout the space features scenes from Harrogate and Yorkshire or else relates to cycling – linking both to the increasing popularity of cycling as a way to get to and from work and also alluding to the World Championship races that passed through the town and put it on the larger cycling map in 2019.
The building’s exterior, with glazed walls introduced in the 1990s, had a smart existing look and didn’t require a great deal of restorative work. The external works were completed therefore with a light touch and include a replacement ground floor canopy, new signage and external lighting.
The ground floor has been treated as a single space with no defined, traditional reception, replaced by two podium points to the right of the main entrance and a back-of-house area for CCTV. The location of the podiums within the same open space as the café area represents a change of direction for the landlord and an acknowledgement of how much tenants and visitors enjoy the buzz and vibe that hospitality environments provide – as well as confirming the end of the era of monolithic reception desks!
The space is now open and welcoming and the new café, to the immediate left of the main entrance and clearly visible through the external glazing, gives the space instant appeal for both tenants and those working in nearby office buildings. Central House forms only one part of a larger business park that also includes, for example, Harrogate’s main Police Station.
The café is open to all and has 40 covers, with a servery counter and kitchen prep area. The servery front is in top-lit trapezoidal metal sheeting, both a simple and cost-effective treatment, as well as offering an honest and pared-back aesthetic. The neon-light ‘Kitchen at Central House’ signage-artwork behind the counter draws the eye. An additional meeting or bookable dining area, available for all tenants, with a bi-fold internal door and a high-quality AV system, offers two additional tables of ten covers. When not in use, the space can be fully opened up for co-working usage.
The DDA-compliant toilets nearby feature a baby-changing area and a hospitality-venue fit-out style, including hand-made, coloured fish-scale tiling and wallpaper within the cubicles.
For the ground floor ceiling, SpaceInvader stripped back the existing, dated suspended ceiling to reveal the much more attractive concrete waffle slab beneath. This unique dimension to the scheme has now been made the most of with exposed services, celebrating its raw look.
“The technical side of this project – co-ordinating and integrating services – was a challenge on this project, as it was a live building throughout with numerous high-level services to be installed in the new open-plan café and reception space’, Sarah Dodsworth commented. ‘A lot of consideration was needed to strike the right balance between being controlled and organised, whilst respecting a raw and exposed aesthetic.”
The lighting scheme, designed to SpaceInvader’s vision by Enigma Lighting, including the sourcing & bespoke manufacturing of fittings, is mostly in black with a slick look, interspersed with the odd exposed bulb and clusters of large-scale hoop pendants. Freestanding furniture includes sideboards by Allermuir, coffee and incidental tables from Naughtone and more substantial tables for eating and working from Deadgood, Brunner and Frovi. Loose chairs include the Muuto Fibre armchair, the Devorm Nook lounge chair and the Allermuir Folk chair.
A long row of high tables for co-working is arranged opposite the main entrance, with a lounge area to the rear of the space, featuring clusters of furniture, that links to external seating just beyond.
“There was already a raised deck area outside with a single pass door from the former ground floor restaurant café’, Sarah Dodsworth explained. ‘A new bifold door now opens fully onto the external area, at exactly the same level to encourage easy passing between the two. In good weather, two whole elevations can now be opened – one 10m in length and one 4m, making a 14m foldable area in total.”
External landscaping to the building’s central courtyard area included working around an existing pond and tree. There are now plenty of places for people to take a call, for example, whilst improved seating and lighting makes the outdoor space suitable for extensive fine weather use, with additional facilities including ping pong tables and external music speakers. Social events with barbeque catering have already been booked by tenants in anticipation of the summer. External furniture includes the Pedrali Tribeca lounge chair and sofa and the Pedrali Eliot table. The corridors that wrap round the courtyard also feature large-scale vinyl graphics, based on local landmarks and scenery.
Toilets and the lift core on the upper floors have also been refurbished, whilst the lower ground area, with cycle store and showers, is being completed in a second phase of the project.
Oliva Hughes, Investment Manager at CEG, said: “Central House is an incredibly popular office destination. SpaceInvader’s design will make it all the more appealing to businesses wanting space that will help to attract and retain the best talent. With occupant satisfaction and wellbeing acting as a key driver for the project, we have provided new facilities as well as innovative spaces which will encourage collaboration, where staff can eat, meet, drink and work in a healthy and productive environment.”