‘I work with emotions’ - Belsize Park architect John Allsopp on setting up his own practice

John Allsopp has recently set up his own architecture practice in Belsize Park, having previously wo

John Allsopp has recently set up his own architecture practice in Belsize Park, having previously worked as project director at Kelly Hoppen. - Credit: Contributed

Former Kelly Hoppen project director John Allsopp has recently returned to his architectural roots, opening an independent studio in Belsize Park. He talks about his youth in Barbados, marrying interior styling with structural design and reveals the artistic visionaries he most admires.

“When you turn a house upside down, it’s all the things that don’t fall out,” explains John Allsopp, describing to me what he calls interior architecture – wardrobes, joinery, fittings.

From his new studio in Belsize Park, the former Kelly Hoppen project director marries knowledge of interior design with his 17 years of experience in architecture, offering his clients a holistic proposition that combines style with structure.

“I think if you are an architect or an interior designer you have two roles: you’re either a catalyst for your client, because you have experience, or you crystallise ideas. Because I have both architectural and interior experience I can look at the big picture of the two at the same time. The main benefit is symbiosis from the beginning; the look of the property is more harmonious.”

John’s interest in architecture and design was first ignited during his teenage years, growing up in Barbados. “My father was a linguist, but he was a hobbyist joiner –that’s how I got my intro to the craft of making things. I used to skate with my friends, and we made ramps. That led me directly to architecture; I was making things from my very early teens.”

From there, he attended The Caribbean School of Architecture, a vibrant, creative environment, where he thrived under the tutelage of external examiners such as renowned British architect Ivor Smith. “[It] was a very exciting place to be as it was a new school,” John explains. “Because it was in its formative years you had an extra level of excitement and the sense you were really creating something new.”

After that, in 1997, he came to London, where he continued his education at UCL. He has stayed here ever since, having fallen in love with the north west of the city. He first moved to Kentish Town, and now lives and works in Belsize Park.

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“I’ve always loved this part of London. It has a very domestic, village feel to it. I was seduced by the charm of the village. It’s not cookie cutter suburban; it still has that uniqueness, its own independent retail environment and a homely, welcoming atmosphere.”

It’s that atmosphere that John identifies as being a running theme in his work – a mood, rather than any particular style. “My design ethos is that I work deeply with context and with the client and their needs.

“I think that one of the most fundamental questions is how they define a successful project. That applies whether it’s an extension or a hotel developer doing 200 rooms. The answer to that question guides the entire project. It’s never just bricks and mortar. It might be emotional, family based.

“In terms of look, feel and how things are expressed I definitely go for warmth. I don’t like minimalism for the sake of minimalism, but also never using more than is necessary. I think warmth applies from the bedroom to the kitchen – that idea of having a sense of belonging and community.”

Combining his architectural practice with his knowledge of interiors, and making decisions that give equal footing to both, from the outset, is ultimately an exercise in maximising value, he explains. In doing so, he can also make things look like they “cost more than they do”.

“People always want more,” he says, “and you can have more, you can punch above your weight.”

His greatest inspirations outside of the industry are people who, rather than just creating products, build a cultural movement around their brand. “The thing that drives me is values. When you see how people express themselves you get a sense of what their values are.

“In technology it’s Steve Jobs. I think the main thing he did is that he built a strong sense of values and a culture around the products he was doing. As a direct result of that they have a cult following.

“Someone who’s done something similar in music is Miles Davis. In jazz he turned the music upside down more than once. Whether he was playing with an acoustic ensemble or an electric ensemble you had a strong sense of what he was trying to express. A strong sense of emotion.

“In fashion there are many. I’m going to say Hedi Slimane. He’s just about to start at Celine. What he has in common with both of them is that he doesn’t just create a jacket or a fragrance, he creates a holistic cultural movement and then he populates it with jackets, shoes, fragrances.”

Current projects include a set of eight cottages he is building on behalf of a British couple as luxury holiday lets. With that brief he drew on his knowledge of the country and its heritage, to create homes based on the 19th century timber Chattel Houses built there by ex-slaves.

“They couldn’t own the land they built them on,” he says, “so they were flat-pack houses built to Georgian style but from timber. It’s based on the architectural principles of those houses. That was something I proposed, they wanted something at the scale of a cottage.

“For them success was something homely, at human scale, that could be enjoyed inside and outside – comfortable without being too glamorous. The natural thing I looked at architecturally was Chattel Houses.”

He is also renovating a Grade I listed property in Regent’s Park, where the emphasis has been to work with the history of the building, while creating a completely new interior based on 21st century standards of beauty.

Summing up his practice he returns to the idea of mood: “I work with emotions, I work with feelings, and the look comes out of that.”