—just a few weeks—for Alex Holloway and Na Li, cofounders of London-based hospitality design studio Holloway Li, to develop the creative direction for a project that could stretch on for months. After six years in business, the twosome has found a recipe for baking innovation into the process from start to finish: Take a basic material like cement or metal and elevate it into something beyond recognition, either through physical means or a cocktail of chemicals. “We’re interested in playing with distortion, reflection, and light to achieve unexpected, abstract results,” says Li. Leaving guests abuzz at the stores, restaurants, and hotels the duo works on is the primary goal, of course, but it’s about more than aesthetics. It’s about sustainability.
Determined to break the U.K.’s (and in their wildest dreams, the world’s) vicious cycle of stripping a place down to begin from scratch every five to eight years, Holloway and Li challenge their clients to go beyond the standard renewable cork and reclaimed wood and consider materials that would be otherwise wasted. Think: concrete test cubes originally created to assess the strength of the material on construction sites, now in action at the cafe and bar of Bermonds Locke hotel in London. Just like these four creations, they’re still going strong.
Design duo Alex Holloway and Na Li are masters
of material manipulation.
Words by Morgan Bulman
Design by Alison Yousefi
For one of their first residential new builds, in Pembrokeshire, West Wales, Holloway and Li sourced slate from three different quarries, hunting for slabs unique to the area to clad the exterior of this 1960s Norwegian flat-pack’s extension. Instead of just the usual dark gray, many of the resulting bricks look as if they were stained shades of rose, mint, and tangerine. “There’s a purple and a gold that occurs through an oxidation process of this slate’s heavy iron-ore content,” explains Holloway, who had the rarer pieces placed cut-side-out to accentuate the distinct pigments in a patchwork-like pattern. “It makes you stop and think: Is that brick or rock?”
We’re interested in
playing with distortion, reflection, and light ...
to achieve unexpected, abstract results,” says Li.
When Holloway and Li were tasked with transforming an empty office building into Bermonds Locke, the client’s request was to channel their recent trip to California’s Joshua Tree. The designers’ answer: iridescent zinc–clad walls, doors, and countertops that mimic the streaks of blue,
green, and pink found in the national park’s night sky. Surprisingly
enough, it was Holloway’s passivated bike chain (passivation is a finishing process that protects metal from corroding) that inspired the project’s
core material. “Instead of using passivation as an industrial process,
we use it decoratively, testing out different techniques to get the colors
we want,” explains Li.
If you make something beautiful enough ...
then it won’t find
its way into a landfill,” says Holloway.
While searching for other lustrous materials to bring into the guest rooms at Bermonds Locke, Holloway and Li stumbled across dichroic film, a translucent, colored filter. By sandwiching the Polaroid-like layers in between two pieces of fluted glass, the duo created light-altering sliding doors, which now divide the living spaces from the bedrooms. “If the sun is behind it, you get this very vivid blue,” says Holloway. “But if you’re looking at it from the other side, it has a lot more orangey depth to it, adding a really crazy element to the rooms.”
It looks like food, but also a polished wall,” says Li.
The pair’s latest experiment? Reimaging resin for Davroc, a luxury bathroom distributor, into a traditional heritage display for its newest showroom.
The studio crafted intricate wall trim and millwork synonymous with classic English design, but in candy-red resin instead of wood. “It looks like food, but also a polished wall,” says Li, who called on Polkima, a Turkey-based automotive manufacturer, to help with the finished product. It’s not sustainable in the traditional sense—the epoxy resin is a type of plastic,
after all—but Holloway argues it’s worth keeping around. In their eyes, calculating the predicted length of an item’s life cycle should include its preciousness—how rare or intricate it is. “If you make something beautiful enough, then it won’t find its way into a landfill,” says Holloway. “If it looks like a piece of art, no one will throw it away.”
There's only a tiny window of time
Cecilia Di Paolo
Portrait: Cecilia Di Paolo; Slate: Holloway Li; Zinc, Polaroid Glass: Edmund Dabney; Jelly Resin: Sophie Percival