Studio Indigo’s chief executive Mike Fisher is the king of Kensington and Chelsea, an architect and designer known for his work in London’s best postcodes. His multidisciplinary practice, founded in 2005, combines vast experience with quality of design and attention to detail to create outstanding homes.
What makes your approach different?
I’m motivated by quality of space rather than quantity. So many houses in London look the same, and there’s an expectation that you’ll walk through and know exactly what the layout will be; it’s terribly conventional. But we try to do something unexpected, while keeping within the style of the building – for example, in a double-fronted house we might turn the staircase through 90 degrees, or open up the room on the right to make a double-height entrance hall. We’re trying get away from the narrowness of space you often find in London houses.
And then, having tried to make the house feel as big as possible, you then have the contradiction of saying, how do I make it as homely as possible? Big grand houses still need to feel homely, otherwise you find yourself living in the smallest room in the house because that’s the most comfortable.
What we won’t do is take a house and gut it, so it loses all its character and becomes rather bland and modern. We want it to have character.
Are there certain elements or features that you think require particular attention?
Interconnected space creates that sense of openness, not just within floors but between floors, so I think that entrances and staircases are particularly important. Beyond that it’s about create free-flowing space that feels very open, but is also flexible in that it can be broken up – into dining room, living room and kitchen, say.
For me it’s more about getting the basic architecture right. Spend the money on making sure it works, functionally and aesthetically – that it’s well balanced, well proportioned, and well lit – because the sofas and curtains can come later.
Do you have any advice for someone thinking about hiring an architect?
Building is never a stress-free business, so find someone you get along with. Things never go right: building work can be a nightmare; neighbourhood relationships can be a nightmare; planning legislation is a nightmare, and the successful, high-flying achievers we work with can find that difficult to deal with. So you need to appoint someone you have faith and confidence in to deal with those issues. Oh, and it helps be as nice as possible – you get more out of it.
Speaking of planning, your practice has a particular skill for securing permission for large, complex central London builds. What’s your secret?
Planning is probably the most challenging part of our work – it’s become much more bureaucratic and costly, and in central London, planning policy is pretty much geared against any kind of development. But I think we’ve become good at understanding what the policies are, and what the aspirations of the planners are. If we felt that a client was being unrealistic about something we would counsel them against it, but we would also try and find out how they can achieve what they want without necessarily building that great big extension.
The other thing I think we do well that most people don’t is a lot of consultation work with neighbours. When no one’s had the courtesy to tell local people what’s going on, their immediate reaction is to reject it. It’s about listening, understanding their concerns and trying to address them. We did a double basement in a house in Kensington and didn’t have a single letter of objection.
Also, by being good at what we do, we’ve built up a reputation. The planners know we’re good guys who always consult, and don’t break the rules. They give you the benefit of the doubt, and it helps enormously.
What’s the benefit of being both architect and interior designer on a project?
Over time architects have lost a certain degree of credibility in terms of design, especially in the domestic environment, and I want to take some of that back. I want to influence the way that houses are, right down to the way that we live and the look and the colour. So I have to be both to be able to do it. As both architect and interior designer you have a level of control over the whole project that you wouldn’t have if you were just the architect. There are economies of scale, too.
Having said that, I love being an interior designer working with an architect, and vice versa. I get inspired by the creative process of collaborating with others, whether that’s a furniture designer or specialist painter.
Do you have a favourite project?
I’ve got about 30 jobs on the go at the moment and their all my favourite… until they’re finished. I like the challenge of the design stage, but when it’s done, I like to move on.
What’s your house like?
It looks a bit like a dolls’ house. I gutted it completely, and it’s got everything I like – big huge spaces that are open-plan but compartmentalised; it’s got drama, it’s got unexpected elements. My dad says it’s the best house I’ve designed.
We also have a house in South Arica that’s very modern: acres of glass walls, very dramatic. But that look is very unforgiving – white walls and clean lines look fantastic when it is clean, but once it gets some wear and tear… you have to completely redo it every five or six years.
Do you have a favourite architect?
I love Edwin Lutyens, and I’m also inspired by John Soane. But I also like contemporary architects – Norman Foster’s Hong Kong Shanghai Bank is still an amazing building 30 years later. My passion, though, is Russian architecture and the foreign architects like Rastrelli who went there to work. That style’s quite over the top, though, so I can’t really use much of that in my work! Some of the more restrained neoclassical stuff works though – there’s a back staircase at the Pavlovsk Palace in St Petersburg that’s just one lantern hanging down after another, which I’ve been inspired by, for example.
Has the definition of luxury changed?
Luxury to me means time for yourself, and time with your family and friends. There’s no point building an amazing house if you can’t enjoy it. People want a better quality of life, and some privacy – that is a luxury these days.