One to Watch in 2019: Studio L, London

We speak to Laura Marino, the founder of young interior design studio, Studio L, London, to find out more about her unique practice.

Founded by Laura Marino in 2016, Studio L, London is an interior design firm that has completed a number of stunning projects across the UK’s capital. Having spent the last 20 years working with an extensive portfolio of prime central London developments, Marino began Studio L with the aim of creating discerning buildings and spaces that tell a story, and that have perfect cohesion.

Approaching its projects through research and experimentation, the studio prefers to create personal, authentic spaces rather than having a signature style. Studio L prides itself on working with a range of clients, whether that be designing the interiors for a private client or creating a bespoke show home for a developer. To find out more about her exciting new design studio, we spoke to Marino and uncovered why Studio L is one to watch in 2019...

Tell us more about how Studio L London began?

It happened organically. I’m the co-founder and creative director of a boutique, design-led development management company called Alchemi Group; my role in the overall design of our developments grew from creating the concept and choosing the right architects, to CGI direction and staging bespoke show homes.

[From there], purchasers in our developments and people who had seen our projects started asking me to do private client work, so I decided to open a separate company. Studio L, London encompasses all of my 20 years’ experience and offers my broad skill set and creativity to a wider market.

CGI styled by Studio L London and rendered by V1

What inspires your designs?

Everything – from the most mundane to the obvious. I love finding new ways to be inspired. Ultimately though, my sheer imagination, empathy and adventurousness fuel my designs and concepts. I always start with a concept. Manifesting a cohesive design and ambience to our work is critical. If it’s a private client, I latch on to their concept and a piece of art – I usually pick an essential piece to help focus everyone and work everything around that to achieve the idea.  

Favourite part of the design process?

My favourite part is creating the vision and putting it all together. It’s about hunting for the perfect piece to enhance a room; be it a material, furniture or art. Collaborating with a team and the clients is also an enjoyable part of the process; when a team is energised and everyone is gelling, it’s exhilarating. Lastly, it’s the client sign offs; it’s always such a relief seeing the end product come together exactly as you envisioned it or even better, and the client being pleased with the result.

Image: Nick Rochowski

Most challenging part?

There are so many moving parts, it’s unbelievable. I think there's a common misconception about interior design being glamorous and frivolous, when actually the majority of the time we’re in trainers and site gear! There's a massive amount of critical thinking about the logical order of a job. It sounds simple but anticipating, sourcing and supplying quotes, as well as all the paperwork that goes along with it (invoicing etc.), is certainly not for the faint of heart. 

The art of putting the rooms together is scientifically complicated, because you have to think about how people will actually live in the space. This is then followed by providing the client with the right design solutions that resonate with their desires and aesthetics – plus, you’re in the hands of contractors and suppliers, which can be tricky to coordinate.

It’s also important to leave yourself enough room for a contingency plan within the programme; if that runs over – especially for reasons outside your control – it can be challenging on yourself and the client. You have to try and manage that as best as possible. I think there is a challenge when determining the balance of how much you protect the client from everything that's going on behind the scenes. 

The industry is tough, and there are the natural dramas that happen on any given day, so a significant part of the job is to protect the client from any unforeseen circumstances, deal with it, and carry on. I have been on both sides and what I’ve learnt is that there is a balance. As a designer, you have to assess when to pull the client into the project, in order to make firm decisions and [so that they can] be more involved in fulfilling and executing the interior design plan.

Westminster Fire Station project

Why do you think it is important to include a narrative in your interiors?

A narrative helps to sharpen your focus of the concept and allows you to maintain design integrity throughout.

Any trends you expect to see in 2019?

I expect to see bold, graphic kitchen splash backs; Italian modernist furniture, which will continue to be sought after; and porcelain tile replicating terrazzo. I expect the popularity of various shades of yellow and rust (like mustard, gold, burnt orange, umber etc.) will increase. I also think there will be a continued emphasis on furniture and folk art to have craftsmanship and authenticity, for a sense of nostalgia.

Do you prefer to go with trends or stay away from them?

On the larger developments I’ve designed, by the time they’ve launched – sometimes after a few years – I have happened to be bang on trend, but it’s not intentional. I just listen to my instinct and specify what I love, and what I think is right for the concept or project.

I get tired of trends quickly, especially when mass manufacturers pick them up, which then oversaturates the market. It’s at this point you know the trend has reached its tipping point.

Leinster Square project. Image: Nick Rochowski

What are the differences or similarities in designing for private clients and developers?

Large scale is easier in many ways. As a development manager with a JV partner (funder) and a larger design team all working towards the same goal, there are many hands to help pull all of this highly complex work together – and, of course, your budgets are much larger so you have economies of scale. The business plan dictates when every goal of the project has to be achieved, from timelines for planning and construction to project completion.

All these are measurable and commercially sensitive, so on large developments I’m able to make very quick decisions on the concept and interiors without too much client interference. First, I present the design to the client and make recommendations, but following that there aren’t as many small steps to get to the end goal; you have to be fast, commercial and yet also have flair. With private clients, although the steps are a condensed version of the above, it’s much more involved and sensitive.

You partly play the role of a psychologist, figuring out what people truly want, convincing them that you know what will ultimately be best in their home, and delivering what they didn’t realise they wanted. It’s a nuanced skill set that’s completely unlike most large-scale commercial developments. In both instances you have to know how to present with confidence, challenge, communicate and report.

Westminster Fire Station

What makes Studio L , London stand out?

What makes Studio L stand out is our use of colour, pattern, texture and scale; we’re fun and take risks and it shows in the work, especially on developments and the show homes we’ve created. Most of all, each home has a narrative and is unique – there isn’t a set look for all projects. It’s so important to experiment, and push the design boundaries (especially in the development industry); although we always keep the taste level high, I’m not indulgent.

What’s next for the studio?

Well, we have the launch of the Westminster Fire Station show apartment in 2019 – this is our exciting new project in Victoria. Alchemi Group, along with Far East Orchard, are restoring a former fire station into a collection of 17 boutique homes across the original building and newly built ‘Station House’. It’s been a really fun project because all the apartments are totally unique.We’re also on the tail end of finishing up a bachelor’s loft in Farringdon, and we’ve just been hired by a private client to decorate the interiors of a town house in Leinster Square. 

In the future, I would really love to design hotels and restaurants – I know we’d be excellent at it. Whenever we’ve taken people around our developments, they always comment that it feels like a boutique hotel. My husband and I travel often, and stay at the latest hotels when we do. I love, love, love hotels and fantastic restaurant design. To create a home away from home, or an environment you love to be in and bring others into, is definitely something on my bucket list!

Feature image: Nick Rochowski

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