It had been reported recently that the cafe in St Marys Guildhall, Coventry is going to paint the ceiling to brighten the space. If you live in a Coventry terrace house I think that’s a reasonable solution. But St Marys is a beautiful historic building, described by the high-profile medieval historian Dr Jonathan Foyle as one the finest surviving medieval buildings in the country. It somehow seems even worse that the building is council owned in a city just crowned City of Culture. It made my eyes roll and my blood boil when I heard the news. After a deep breath and reminding myself generally people don’t set out to anger others; I realise it is most likely a decision made due to a lack of expertise in design combined with a desperation to find a cheap solution. I’m not saying that everyone should be an expert, but brilliantly you don’t need to be. They exist independently, and most of us very willing to have a conversation. If you need brain surgery you do not watch a couple of tv programs and a few youtube videos and attempt to do it yourself. Now, I’m certainly not comparing life saving medical treatment to design. Yet good design that considers how you want people to feel, how you want people to think and how you want them to use the space can have a profound effect on wellbeing. The spaces we occupy are important to our psyche. So it astounds me why people take advice from the telly that to brighten a space in a cost effective way you just need to white wash it.
Over the years I’ve designed many spaces; schools, homes, events in all manner of rooms big, small, old and new. I begin by asking the following of myself and my clients: H ow do I want people to feel? What do I want people to think? What do I want people to do in the space? In conjunction I look at the space in question. What is the history? What are the already existing features? Will it serve more than one purpose? If a space is of historical importance it is our duty as designers to respect and work with what we have inherited. It is a challenge that often comes with a few hairs being tugged out, but well worth it in the end. Whether for a permanent design, or one off event, it is crucial to ask these questions. Then we can dream, think big and work on finding a solution to fit the space and budget. If we limit our aspirations before we’ve even thought of the possibilities, like just painting a ceiling white, we limit the possible outcomes and will always look on with disappointment. We also set ourselves up for disappointment if we try and make something into what it is not. If you want a light and airy cafe, perhaps a location with a terrace might be more suitable? There are so many self help guides out there to make us value our own individuality, perhaps we should apply those same concepts to the spaces around us.
Vortex Girls love a challenge and are a dab hand at finding creative solutions for all manner of spaces. We’ve sent off a few emails to see if we might offer an alternative solution to a tin of white paint. We’ll keep you posted. In the mean time, a petition has been posted here if you feel as passionately as we do that painting it white is not the solution.
Put the paint brush down, and back away…..