How did you get involved with Second Home?
José Selgas: Second Home partners Rohan Silva and Sam Aldenton called because they wanted to work with us on a new idea for an incubator space in London. They believe in the power of architecture to give a new feeling to people working in the space, and wanted to give the sense that you could work or live there. The name is pretty clear about that. A lot of people spend more time at work than at their own homes, so the idea was to improve the space where you pass a lot of time in your life.
It is a warm and inviting space, but also eclectic—it looks like it could be somebody’s living room.
The idea is that every piece in that space should be something you would also love to have in your home, something you can relate to. And it’s not the same chair everywhere—you can change. You can say, ‘I love that other chair, or I prefer that other chair,’ so you can try different things and engage with different things around you, not only the people. That was part of the philosophy from the very beginning, and the idea was to bring that feeling to the whole building.
Clearly color plays a big role.
We have always worked with color. Our palette is very wide, and it was clear from the beginning that the clients wanted something very bright. It’s important to have a big identity for the café, and to integrate the events, the floor, and the counter in one piece, and doing it with the orange was even stronger. The studio floors are painted yellow, with an epoxy paint, and we got all of the quantities of yellow paint in the whole of London. It’s very rare for people to use that color. The painter arrived and he said, “I’m sorry, this is the last tin of yellow paint in London, so please don’t waste it.”
Another predominant color is green—there seem to be more plants than people.
There are 1,000 plants inside, and they are completely integrated into the shelving. With those planters, we wanted two things: one is that we wanted people living with plants, because it’s clear that people love and need that feeling, and two, we wanted those plants to be like members of Second Home. They are alive, so you need to take care of them—there is this interaction with something alive in the architecture.
How does that energy manifest in the common spaces?
Members of Second Home can take advantage of events that are happening during the day and during the night. Some days they are doing yoga, some nights there are lectures or cinema, so it is a very alive building, and a very alive concept. In the event space, there is a big table that sits almost 40 people, but you can lift it up with motors in the ceiling, and have events underneath. It is a mixed space where you can organize whatever you want. The problem is that it is too alive. These guys are a bit crazy. They are doing so many events that they are going to destroy the building in a year. But when you are there, it’s fantastic the movement that you feel in every space.
Another thing that is a bit crazy is the number of types of chairs in this space. How did you source them?
We are working on two more floors in the same building, but now we have connections with a lot of people around the world collecting vintage, so it will be very easy to find the new space. If the furniture for the first project took us 100 hours (well, more like 500 hours) to find, on the next it will take one-tenth of that. We also want to think about how to build new chairs, but still have vintage. We like to work on those ideas from project to project, taking the things we learn and try to improve things.
You’ve clearly gotten a big bang out of a limited budget. Now that you’re getting more international recognition—because of Second Home, and the Serpentine Pavilion in London this summer—are you changing your approach?
Our vision has been clear since the beginning—we are not that young! We understand architecture, not just as drawings but as the relationship between construction, manufacturing, materials, and even with the people that are on site during the process. We learn a lot from those things. And clients are very happy that we are involved in the whole process. We try to do something very different and personal in every project.
But the only way to do that is to be very much in the studio. We avoid teaching and doing lectures—we try to be absolutely focused on the projects. We have offices in Madrid, Los Angeles, and Stockholm, but the studios in L.A. and Stockholm only have one person each. In Madrid, we have about 15 people. Our studio space is very small, and we can’t fit more people. It’s fantastic because the space is telling us our limits, and when we built it, we wanted something small where we could listen and consult. We have fantastic people and that’s the secret: Having good people and having fun in the things that we’re doing.