Absolutely Sussex

09 August 2023 by Simon Drayson

Simon Darren Contemporary Architecture George James Sussex

We were thrilled to be interviewed for the August edition of Absolutely Sussex Magazine, the glossy lifestyle publication for our local area. 

For those who haven't been able to find a copy, the online edition can be found here or continue reading for a transcript of the article. 

Q: How did you two first meet? 

A, Simon: We met whilst at Portsmouth University, where we were both studying architecture – you could say our eyes met across the drawing boards!

Q: Pre-George & James, what were your backgrounds in the design industry? 

A, Simon: Between us we have over 40 years’ experience in architecture, on everything from the York Theatre Royal, the café at Westminster Abbey, to houses that are everything their owners ever dreamed of. I worked in London on some interesting projects that varied across sectors and size, from new Mews Houses for the Cadogan Estate in Chelsea, a refurbishment of a Michael Kors retail store and concepts for a Grade II Listed theatre in York.

A, Darren: Previously I worked for design practices such as Panter Hudspith and Allies and Morrison. I was part of the design team on projects such as a new Synagogue in north London, redevelopment plans for Winchester city centre and a contemporary new home in the South Downs National Park.

Q: What inspired you to join forces and launch George & James? 

A, Darren: We're partners in life, and to us it made sense to become partners in work as well. Architecture is not something that can be left on the drawing board, it is something we live and breathe.

After several years working for larger practices, we were keen to leave behind the more bureaucratic, sometimes cumbersome elements of those studios, to launch George & James. Now we relish the freedom it brings us, to work on the projects that really excite us.

Q: From day one, what did you want to offer? 

A, Simon: We have a simple mission: to create a place that starts with you. We believe that the places where we live, work and play should be healthy and happy - filled with natural light, connected with nature, giving us everything we need to thrive, on every project we strive to bring these elements into the design.

Q: Is there anything that you believe makes you different? 

A, Darren: We are a very friendly and creative team, we like to build personal relationships to really understand what our clients need from the design, and to seamlessly deliver their project. We always start each project by listening intently, to understand what is important to our clients rather than arriving with preconceived ideas of what they might like.

As a team our different perspectives bring a great deal to the studio, and we love bouncing ideas off each other and putting our heads together when a problem is particularly knotty. 

Q: Is there a particular ethos behind your approach to design? 

A, Simon: Our approach is as much about listening carefully, thinking deeply and being human as it is about jumping through hoops and getting your project to the finish line.

Q: How do you like to work with clients? 

A, Darren: We listen to our clients before we do anything else. We come to each architectural project with open eyes and ears, and with honesty, curiosity and care. To this we add our professional architectural design knowledge and experience, all of which inspire us and pushing us a little further.

We like to follow a clear process; to give us an easy way of keeping things on track, keeping to budget, and bringing every element of your project to a beautifully choreographed conclusion. It also gives our client, an easy-to-grasp handle on what’s happening right now as well as what’s going to happen next.

Q: Why did you move and set up in Sussex? 

A, Simon: The move to Sussex was a personal one for us; after years enjoying the London lifestyle it was time for us to move out of the capital to be closer to our family. It also gave us more space and idyllic rural surroundings, the perfect place to raise our own family. There are also plenty of walks for our whippet Archi!

Q: Tell us about where your studio is based - and do your surroundings inspire you? 

A, Darren: We are lucky to work from a refurbished cow shed on a former dairy farm just outside Midhurst, right in the heart of the South Downs National Park. After many years based in central London we really love having our design studio in such a beautiful rural location. We take inspiration from the landscape, wildlife and vernacular architecture that makes the South Downs so special.

Contemporary Farmhouse architecture and landscaping South Downs National Park

The Farmhouse, Bury

Located on a stunning site, deep within the rolling hills of the South Downs National Park, the project comprises the building of a new farmhouse to create a characterful family home. The house has been completed with landscaped terraced gardens, swimming pool and refurbished outbuildings.

The design is inspired by the local agricultural vernacular, embracing the rural aesthetic but with a more modern take on the design. We celebrated local materials, using traditional handmade clay tiles and stone walls, balanced with the contemporary painted larch cladding, generous glazing and some contemporary zinc roofing. To reduce the massing different kinds of timber cladding were installed, a simple and effective design detail which adds a beautiful changing texture as the shadow’s changes throughout the day.

The project was a collaboration, we worked with the owner, Graham Morrison (an architect himself), furniture makers (and our studio neighbour) Fisher Morrison and landscape architect Tom Stuart-Smith.

Remodelling of an Edwardian detached house in Bexhill On Sea

Woodville Road, Bexhill-on-Sea

This project was actually for Simon's parents, so it is a personal favourite as it is one that we get to enjoy staying in. The dilapidated Edwardian house was in need of love, attention and a strong vision for a successful refurbishment.

We made much-needed connections between previously disconnected spaces, brought back the Edwardian grandeur which previous owners had smothered with dubious interventions, and chose a vibrant colour for the kitchen which spoke of the seaside surroundings (and pushed our clients beyond their comfort zone). The house is now a beauty, both inside and out, and a very happy place to gather for family celebrations.

Arundel House Contemporary extension

Crossbush Lane, Arundel

As is so often the case with heritage buildings, this Grade II Listed home was picture perfect on the outside but just did not work on the inside. Internally it feels cramped, with a badly constructed, draughty 1970’s additions that didn’t flow into the home.

The owners wanted a comfortable, warm home, with improved living spaces the whole family could use together. Our concept reuses the old extensions footprint, but with an improved circulation that maximises the space and fits the lifestyle needs. Rotating around the existing courtyard, the extension appears as an organic cluster of rural buildings. Coming soon…

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