Interview: Directors of McLaren Excell

  • It’s rare to come across business partners who have known each other since the age of one. But maybe it’s that closeness that drives the London design firm McLaren Excell forward. Childhood friends and founding partners Luke McLaren and Rob Excell established their namesake studio eight years ago, as a standpoint of British craftsmanship. We first discovered their British charm in the Park Corner Barn, demonstrating an artisanal pride in using natural, tactile and hardwearing materials. And it’s that passion for material and texture that has made their work covetable from across the shores.

    Collectively, McLaren Excell strives towards changing conventional thinking. They are driven by a ‘total architecture’ approach— that is, integrating all of the functional elements of a building into the overall architecture. The firm are all about being holistic in the process, ensuring design isn’t there to look good, or accessorised by afterthoughts. In this fast-paced world, their dedication to detail is a welcome reprieve and an ever-important need. Echoing the timeless ethos we praise here at est, we were lucky to learn a bit more about these Londoners and where they go to admire the great design of the world.

    PHOTOGRAPHY Hannah J Taylor and Richard Leeney

    First things first; how did you both come to working with each other and what affirmed partnering to create a practice?

    McLaren Excell: We have known each other since the age of one! We have travelled together and shared a house after university, so we can say we know each other extremely well. We always discussed architecture and design, and often used each other as a sounding board for our own projects, or simply to talk about things we had seen that we found interesting.

    We both have a real passion to create environments that are rich in material and texture; not cold and without emotion. We focus a lot on light, volume and materials, but have always sought opportunities to change conventional thinking. We’re both interested in the idea of a ‘total architecture’ – by which we mean the integration of all the functional elements of a building into the overall architecture, so that a design doesn’t feel accessorised by a number of necessary afterthoughts.

    We both have experience across different sectors and this also made it appealing to collaborate. Our shared perspective and experiences really helped form our professional partnership.

    What have been your biggest learnings since establishing your practice eight years ago?

    McLaren Excell: Stay true to what we believe in, but learn to make this adaptable to different situations. 

    What do you think makes your work indicative of British design?

    McLaren Excell: This is a difficult question to answer, as we feel our approach is what defines us, rather than our nationality. Having said that, there is a long tradition of craftsmanship in Britain, and we hope our work continues in that vein.

    When furnishing a home, what do you think is key to mixing the antique and contemporary?

    McLaren Excell: The most important factor is to always have a connection to the pieces, whether antique or contemporary, you must feel that they are right for you. If there is a consistent line of interest, or a set of recurrent themes, then old and new can sit happily site by side. In the end it comes down to your eye and judgement and like most things, this develops and improves over time.

    What do you think is the secret to creating lived-in spaces?

    McLaren Excell: A home is for living in, and our clients’ specific needs are always central to our work. This means creating spaces which flow and work hard for their intended use, whether for a busy young family, or a couple building their ideal home. Once the space planning is complete, the lived-in part takes care of itself and evolves naturally. 

    What do you think is most consistent across all of your projects – what materials do you rely on most?

    McLaren Excell: We love working with materials that are natural, tactile and have great wearing properties. We use a lot of concrete and timber for these reasons, and enjoy the additional layer of detail that metal fabrications can bring to a design.

    How does your approach to commercial and residential projects differ?

    McLaren Excell: We don’t agree with redesigning the wheel, but we like to challenge ourselves and our clients. We want our spaces to feel different and inspiring, whether in residential or a commercial environment.

    What are you both looking forward to in 2018?

    McLaren Excell: This year is already proving to be a busy time, which is great for us and the practice. We are completing some new residences, which is always exciting, and we’re looking forward to our first new-build project going on site this summer which feels like an important step for the practice.

    Finally, your quick designer insider guide:

    Favourite local designers and studios in London?

    McLaren Excell: London is a hive of small-to-medium design companies. There is so much brilliant creative work that continues to be produced that it’s hard to pin one or two down!

    Favourite designer stores?

    McLaren Excell: In London, you might catch us in TwentyTwentyOne or 2 Columbia Road.

    Favourite galleries or spaces?

    McLaren Excell: The Soane Museum is a great place to escape into the past, with beautifully-lit interiors and idiosyncratic detailing that was very Avant-garde in its day. The South London Gallery is an engaging place too – a set of rooms across various buildings that deal with the process of re-use very nicely.

    Where do you go to look at great design?

    McLaren Excell: We look at good design everywhere – we might spot a detail while out and about, a corner alignment, a light fitting, a window niche – we are always open to the things around us. Good designers tend to be highly observant people, and you have to take an interest in the world around you if you hope to have some influence on it in return.


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