When Ben Johnson, Camilla Clarke, Anthony Kooperman and Ottalie Stride came together to found Albion Nord in November 2017, they wanted an intriguingly ambiguous yet sophisticated name to encapsulate a fused sense of old and new, British and northern European. “Albion conjures up a lion and the historic majesty of Britain, with its rich culture, design and architecture to draw on,” says Johnson. “We also wanted to give a nod northward, to Europe and Anthony’s Swedish heritage without being bland, blond and Scandi.”
In under three years, the four young founders have captured the attention of the design world and undertaken projects that many established practices can only dream of. Johnson points out that they might be young, but their collective experience is deep; between them, they had worked with some of Britain’s most prestigious design houses, including Heatherwick Studio, Veere Grenney, and Colin Orchard.
Today, Albion Nord is a multi-disciplinary studio with a team of 12. Its portfolio includes flats in the Stanton Williams-designed South Bank Belvedere, a Marylebone town house, a Jacobean manor in Oxfordshire, a 60,000-square-foot private property in Beijing with a vast gallery, and recently, Benham Park, a 30,000-square-foot stately home in Berkshire.
Their success lies in their grasp of clients’ changing needs as they seek interiors with more warmth, colour and character. “The luxury interiors market had become sterile,” says Johnson. “Interiors all looked the same, without soul or character. People were crying out for a more sophisticated response.”
The luxury interiors market had become sterile. Interiors all looked the same, without soul or character. People were crying out for a more sophisticated response.Ben Johnson, Albion Nord co-founder
“There was just too much shiny, polished, grey, boring perfection around,” adds Clarke. “Covid has elevated that sense of wanting more from a home and for it to be somewhere to feel happy, well and safe in. People like things around them that mean something – antiques that tell a story, or furniture that’s a bit rough round the edges, showing that it’s pre-loved.”
Stride and Clarke source antiques from all over Europe. “We look for pieces that embody soul and craft,” says Clarke. “22 million pieces of furniture are thrown away every year, but we love discovering furniture and breathing new life into it. There’s such a value in rarity and knowing no-one else has the unique piece you’ve bought.” Johnson adds that social media has transmitted trends like Cottagecore and Granny Chic to huge new audiences, while vintage pieces are now readily available online, without having to go to an auction house.
People like things around them that mean something – antiques that tell a story, or furniture that’s a bit rough round the edgesCamilla Clarke, Albion Nord co-founder
If Albion Nord has a niche, it’s in historical layering. Its signature knack lies in how the team combines furniture, art and objects to enhance a house’s architectural heritage while keeping interiors functional, uncluttered, airy and contemporary. Conversely, they bring texture and rich historical accents into contemporary interiors, often using antique tapestries to add warmth and depth to stark, white walls. “Beautiful old tapestries with their greens and golds and scenes depicting idyllic arcadias or lovely ancient forests add charm and personality even to a plain box of a room,” says Clarke.
The English stately home Benham Park was built by Henry Holland in 1775, and comprises a garden and amphitheatre designed by Capability Brown. It became an army base and then languished as a call centre during the 1980s and early 1990s. When Albion Nord was commissioned to begin restoration, there were prefab office blocks to either side of the façade and just two functioning bathrooms. “We had to start from scratch and put in new bathrooms for the eleven suites. That was a big challenge with a Grade II listed building,” says Johnson. They were not allowed to touch the walls of the oval master bathroom, so their solution was a mirrored marble plinth in the centre, giving a contemporary feel while keeping the elegant curves of the room intact.
“We used a fresh, light palette to give a pared back look, so it doesn’t feel stuffy or traditional,” says Clarke. “We like paints by Edward Bulmer for their heritage colours and chalky consistency, or Little Greene.” The spacious, multi-functional basement was a damp, wet, concrete mess.
Now there is an airy gym and a games room with a massive cinema screen, pool table and bar, made stately and comfortable by sumptuous, custom-made sofas. They lovingly restored the original brick floor in the wine cellar, furnishing it with bespoke joinery and adding a statement hanging lamp from Jamb, so it’s now a room in which to linger and enjoy wine as well as to store it in.
“Increasingly, people are looking for serenity and calm, and we’ve made Benham Park lovely to wander around in, so it feels like a retreat,” says Clarke. “We also use plants and flowers to bring the outside in. A lovely fig tree in an unexpected corner or a palm as a focal point makes you feel good and as if you can breathe.”
Hotels are turning to Albion Nord to bring their magic touch to their residential experiences, though these projects are still under wraps. Meanwhile, in collaboration with craftsmen like Rory Stride and foundry Collier Webb, Albion Nord has designed an 11-piece collection of furniture for Chelsea Barracks, drawing on the barracks’ military history.
Finally – and you heard it here first – Albion Nord is opening an online shop, selling pieces from candlesticks to dressers and everything in between.
“When you work with important properties, people place their trust in you and that gives us a huge sense of responsibility,” says Johnson. “We handpick every object, so it serves a purpose and adds character, and it’s always enhanced by whatever we juxtapose it with. We combine all our pieces to create a magnificent jigsaw.”
Albion Nord’s signature skill lies in magically layering and putting disparate, eclectic pieces, both old and new, together to make a luxurious, desirable whole – a whole that reflects the client’s character and is soothing and joyous to live in. It’s alchemy of sorts, and we predict that ‘jigsaw’ could well become the word that defines their increasingly sought-after approach as we turn our backs on minimalist uniformity.
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