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by Sarah Finnan
20th Jun 2024

In Dublin city centre, a handsome Georgian building is refurbished with contemporary touches to create an inviting workspace, more like a high-end home than a bland office.

In this new post-Covid era, priorities have changed – particularly where the professional world is concerned. For many, hybrid working has become the new normal; a reality that interlaces career and home life, creating its own set of complications.

Will “hotelification” – a trend that sees residential, retail and office spaces repositioned as more luxe versions of themselves – draw employees back to the office? It’s a question employers have been pondering more and more of late. While its success rate still remains to be seen, it certainly makes for beautiful spaces, and the newly refurbished offices of MJF Interiors on Pembroke Road, in central Dublin, is a prime example.

Luca Architecture, the firm behind the building’s tasteful and exquisite makeover, doesn’t see it as “hotelification” so much as “homeification”. “People who have been working from home want to come into working spaces that feel comfortable, informal and less like traditional offices,” says architect Catherine Crowe, co-founder of Luca Architects. “This is reflected in everything from the lighting to the furniture, to the way working and meeting spaces are set up and used. It makes for a much more humane and holistic working environment and also presents some really interesting opportunities for office design now.”

The property – also used as offices in its former life – was in reasonable condition before renovation works commenced, but it was nothing more than a very functional, utilitarian space. In Crowe’s own words, it was “very bland”. “It really felt like so many offices shoehorned into Georgian buildings around the area that completely ignore the fact that they are in an amazing period building. While nothing was wrong with it – nothing was right with it either.”

The client’s brief was simple: MJF Interiors wanted an office space that would inhabit the house, using it to its full potential while doubling as a place for them to showcase their furniture. The building offered the perfect backdrop to exhibit their products, lead architect Lucy Rainey agrees, and only a few minor changes and interventions were implemented to enhance the space. The challenge was to create a working space that was both functional and appealing.

Based on a European model of a hybrid showroom/office, the client didn’t want the final product to feel contrived or too like an exhibition room, so the furniture and the finishes had to work for them in reality and not just as showpieces. The space may resemble a high-end home more than a traditional office space, but function was firmly at the forefront of all decisions.

Incorporating aspects of a standard work space with office desks and furniture and a conference room, the space is also reflective of its origin as a house, too. It’s welcoming and inviting, with spaces to move between relaxing, focused work, and meetings, which is particularly conducive to the way we work today.

The design involved looking at how a Georgian house could work as a contemporary office space. Rather than adding lots of new ingredients to the mix, the team’s approach was more about highlighting existing features and removing things that were detracting from it. Any new pieces – the kitchen, for example – are contemporary rather than pastiche. That way, there’s a clear contrast between old and new, but one that marries the two together as opposed to creating a divide.

“The interior colour scheme was carefully selected to be warm, but neutral and sympathetic to the Georgian rooms and proportions,” Lucy explains.

“The contemporary furniture, although eclectic, was also carefully curated in terms of style and colour so it would complement the space. The client wanted the main living and dining space to have a more homely feel. The dining table was a bespoke oak table made by MJF Interiors themselves and this, coupled with the dining chairs, adds to the informal aesthetic.”

All previous additions and elements that were not original to the building were removed. This included replacing heavy glass doors with lighter, taller steel doors in the hallways, opening back up sealed double doors in various reception rooms and removing old fixtures and fittings. A completely new layout for each room was devised and the lighting, finishes and furniture followed soon after.

Working with old buildings means that a few challenges are bound to arise along the way, and getting the giant moon pendants in the building was quite a task. “We had to take out the rear sash window and hoist the large fitting up through it with 2mm to spare,” director of MJF Interiors, Columb Casey recalls. Getting electrics in for new desk layouts without ruining walls and floors also proved difficult, as did designing a lighting scheme that is both appropriate to the building and to an office/informal gathering area.

“There’s no reason why the rest of the fittings and fixtures can’t be really dramatic, but also sympathetic to the original period features. It’s those pieces and the art that elevate the rooms past your normal office set-up,” Catherine says of the inspiration behind the refurbishment.

“Also the quality of what went in, in terms of the office furniture brands we used, makes a huge difference. The informal breakout space and meeting area upstairs are no different from a conventional office, but we just chose a layout that suits both the house and the client, and then pieces that complement the rooms and features. All of it is commercial grade so it’s not domestic in any way, but it’s the manner in which the pieces are put together and this striking Georgian setting that makes it unique.”

“The design and finish does make the project feel like a high-end home and we are delighted that it looks and feels that way out of respect to the original building,” Columb, of MJF Interiors, concurs.

But what constitutes a “typical office space” these days anyway? With the way we work changed irrevocably, perhaps it’s time we change what we perceive to be “a typical office” too.

Photography: Donal Murphy

This feature originally appeared in the spring/summer 2023 issue of IMAGE Interiors. Have you thought about becoming a subscriber? Find out more, and sign up here

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