The Spanish designer Patricia Urquiola has been notching up the awards in recent years, from being granted the Order of Isabella the Catholic by the Spanish king, in recognition of services to her country, to being named Wallpaper Designer of the Year – for the second time – last year.
She is now being fêted as the new darling of Lake Como (step aside, George Clooney), having designed the interiors of Il Sereno, the hotel credited with bringing a new era of style and luxury to the Italian lakes. Il Sereno’s reputation was instantly cemented soon after it opened this summer, when Spotify founder Daniel Elk held his wedding party there, with guests including Mark Zuckerberg and Bruno Mars.
Barcelona has similarly benefited from the Urquiola touch. Her playful, sensual design of the interiors at the Mandarin Oriental – including a floating “catwalk” to the lobby, a wall of safety deposit boxes in the Banker’s Bar and Asian-inspired screens that let the sunlight flood in – has seen the hotel pave the way for branded luxury in the Catalan capital. Its prices are stratospheric (not least the Urquiola-designed €10,000-a-night presidential suite) and the occupancy rates unprecedented.
So, Lake Como – tick; Barcelona – tick. Now to London, where Urquiola has undertaken her first residential project at Lincoln Square, a new development of 202 luxury apartments costing from £900,000 for a studio flat up to multi-million pound, 3,200 sq ft penthouses, set among Holborn’s law courts and university colleges.
The development – which overlooks the Royal Courts of Justice and is seconds away from London’s biggest public garden square, Lincoln’s Inn Fields – also marks the London debut of the Lodha Group, India’s largest property developer.
This is a high-end development, with the expected five-star facilities. Urquiola has designed the scheme’s huge amount of communal and amenity space, including the private dining rooms, cinema and hotel-style lobby. There are concierge services by Rhodium (which is part-owned by the Monaco royal family) and gardens landscaped by Gustafson Porter, best known for the Diana, Princess of Wales memorial garden. The apartments have marble entrance halls and Crestron home automation.
But this is not Mayfair. Lincoln Square – strapline, “Where great minds live” – is set in the heart of academic and legal London. Instead of a members’ bar, residents have their own elegant library. Buyers so far have strong ties, past or present, to the LSE or the law courts. As Gabriel York, the co-head of Lodha UK, comments, if you are taking home £2 million a year as a QC, “it’s all about being as close to work as possible”.
Some parents are buying for their student offspring. One 50-something male barrister has bought so he can pop home for a nap after client lunches. He likes the fact that it feels part hotel, part sports club. A younger female barrister also sees Lincoln Square as offering her the chance to nip home on work days, so she gets to continue her career and still see her young children.
In other words, it’s something a bit different, in an area of central London where luxury new developments are thin on the ground. “We’re not trying to drag Mayfair into Midtown and, as it’s our first project in London, we don’t have a Berkeley-style template which we slot in to a new space. Our buyers are almost exclusively erudite and cultured and we spent a lot of time thinking about how to design an environment created with that person in mind,” says York.
Rather than recruit one of the handful of designers who do the rounds of luxury prime central London schemes, Lodha approached who they considered the world’s top dozen designers – and chose Patricia Urquiola. “Perhaps we underestimated her fanbase as we are seeing a number of enquiries – particularly since Il Sereno opened – from people who love her work,” York says.
As the American design entrepreneur Murray Moss has commented of Urquiola, she “doesn’t stamp her work with a given signature”. But her designs – of products as much as interiors – are known for their fun, humour, energy and their play with textures and colours, all with a mid-century flavour.
Mixing materials is something she is particularly fond of. “Our aim was to create a variety of beautiful yet unique spaces which have their own individual character, but unified by subtle elements and themes,” says Urquiola of Lincoln Square.
“We tried to transmit the classic luxury feeling of London through a modern interpretation of the materials and design shapes,” she adds. “The interior is characterised by a mix of coloured glasses, timber woods, marbles and bronze metals, creating a colourful and warm atmosphere and a strong sense of materiality.”
“Understated” is a word often used to describe Urquiola’s style – but at Lincoln Square it is understatement in a subtly opulent and joyful way, whether that’s in the recurring use of bronze mesh, from the chandeliers in the lobby to the swimming pool ceiling or her own pieces of furniture. Her Nub chairs – which residents can buy or, by separate arrangement, they could possibly commission her to design their whole apartment – are inspired by memories of playing with her grandmother’s lace-making bobbins as a child. “Objects must communicate. There must be a hint of irony, humour or sensuality,” Urquiola has said of her work.
Buyers so far at Lincoln Square have been quite particular about their view. Some want to gaze at the library of their old alma mater. Some like the architecture – and memories – of the law courts, or the tranquillity of overlooking the courtyard gardens. For others, it won’t be about what’s outside at all. It will be all about the opportunity to admire their own little piece of Urquiola.