The best creatives–artists, interior designers, writers–often are credited with thinking outside of the box. That ethos couldn’t be clearer in this office space in southeast England. Creative agency Steele & Stovell had long been on the hunt for a new headquarters, and Creative Director Becky Stovell was discouraged after touring so many lackluster office buildings. (Fluorescent lights, anyone?!) Eventually, they were tipped off about an old bakery needing new tenants. It was in disrepair, but Becky had a vision. Much like what Steele & Stovell does for their client’s brands, they began the process of giving the space new life. The studio is now warm and welcoming, full of plants, curiosities, books, tactile materials and artwork. We were inspired by their vision and wanted to know more.
Hi Becky! Tell us about Steele & Stovell. What kind of work do you do?
Steele & Stovell is a design agency dedicated to helping brands with heritage tell their stories. We believe that a soulful approach to design has the power to encourage positive change in the world, so we craft brand identities that are more than a glossy veneer – they have real depth and narrative and help to communicate the good work our clients are doing. We are a really creative bunch, so our projects cover brand, digital, print, interiors, photography, and illustration.
What is the history of the company? When did you launch?
I founded Steele & Stovell with my husband Ewan after we met studying illustration at uni. When we left uni we couldn’t find an agency we wanted to work for. All of them had such a corporate structure that was really unappealing – designers worked ridiculously long hours, everything was very competitive, and most studios were in busy city centers. We wanted something different. A more sustainable pace of life, and a work environment that would make us really happy. Finding out we were expecting our first child was the nudge we needed to take the leap and set up on our own. We launched Steele & Stovell in 2014 when our daughter was a couple of weeks old, taking turns to work or letting her play in a playpen while we had meetings. It meant so much to us that we were both able to be home with her for those first few years.
Tell us about a few of your clients. Any projects you recently completed that you particularly love?
We’re lucky to work with some wonderful people. Our clients have such fascinating businesses and are all striving to do something ‘good’ – they want to make a positive difference in the world somehow which I think is really admirable. One of the most exciting projects from this year has been Scent + Remedy, a new online florist whose flowers are arranged with aromatherapy properties so that they genuinely change your mood by uplifting, calming, etc. Inclusivity has been right at the heart of the brand, encouraging people to gift flowers to men as well as women.
You recently moved into an old bakery in Surrey. How did you find the space?
We relocated to Surrey from Herefordshire about 3 years ago, and it took us 18 months to find a building here that felt right for us. All we kept coming across were serviced offices with polystyrene ceilings and strip lighting. Why is that still the norm for most office buildings? Eventually someone tipped me off about a building for rent behind the parade of shops in a neighboring village. It was being used as a storage space for a charity shop, so it took a lot of imagination to see what it could be turned into, but I fell in love with it as soon as I saw it.
What condition was the studio in when you moved in? Did you have to renovate? What were some of the main changes you made to the space?
When we viewed the Old Bakery for the first time it was in such a state – grotty blue carpets, magnolia walls, a damp little bathroom and a very depressing ‘kitchen’ (a couple of cupboards in the corner of a long thin room). But there were some beautiful original features – the old bread oven, exposed brick, and a really pretty slate roof. So, we took on the lease and completely renovated the whole building from top to bottom. We wanted to bring back the character of an old bakery, so we ripped out all the doors and any gloss-painted woodwork and hid all the radiators with bespoke timber covers. We added in beams, textured parquet, and lots of custom furniture, and clad the whole of the outside with timber.
What do you love most about the space?
I love the feeling of the space. It was so important to me to create an environment that our team find inspiring and comfortable, and that we all enjoy being in. People are in work for such a huge percentage of their lives, why don’t we make workplaces more beautiful? The studio has a real sense of peace and calm to it. It’s also very satisfying to have squished so much into such a small building, largely because we made most things ourselves to maximize every inch of space.
What is a typical day like in the office?
We’re a small but extremely busy agency so every day is different. We regularly use the larger meeting space for photoshoots, the creative space upstairs doubles up as a print room, and someone is always cooking in the kitchen. There’s nothing nicer than a bustling studio.