Richard Parr Associates talks working with historic buildings and honouring tradition

Sleeper sat down with Richard Parr, founder of Richard Parr Associates, to discuss the studio’s “modern traditionalist” values, working with historic properties, and what luxury hospitality means to him.

You describe your design approach as “modern traditionalist” – tell us about this?

We need to know where we have come from in order to understand where we are going. I believe in design as a journey which doesn’t just start at the point where we begin a project. We learn from and use tradition – be it crafts, spirit and language – but we are contemporary in our thinking and approach to architecture. We see our buildings as legacies for the future, but the thinking began by learning from the past.

How do you balance honouring a property’s history alongside introducing more contemporary elements? 

We are rigorous in our analysis of the past and adventurous in what we add. What is important for us is to retain the spirit of the place or a building, and what we add is a layer or an intervention clearly defined – adding something of integrity and quality for the future. Creating a little tension is not a bad thing and clearly demarking the past from the present is essential in avoiding a pastiche recreation.

What challenges come with working with historic buildings and how do you navigate them?

The biggest challenge is taking everyone with us. This extends from establishing a strategy and position for the level and type of conservation through to gaining permissions. One of the biggest challenges is to incorporate the technology of today and meet environmental credentials – without sacrificing the quality of a history we are trying to retain. Incorporating and hiding services and infrastructure in historical fabric is also a challenge.

Farmyard at the Newt
Photography: © Rich Stapleton

And are the most challenging aspects of designing luxury hospitality spaces?

We very much design luxury without the capital “L”. Hiding the things that make the experience luxurious is key – creating something understated, comfortable and discreet. Invisible luxury is our end-goal, and we believe that the experience has to cosset and wrap around the visitor without them knowing it. Shouting luxury with design statements is the opposite of what we set out to do, so offering the comfort and rich experience quietly is one of the biggest challenges.

And which element of the design process is the most exciting?

The whole process is exciting but unfolding the brief and delivering the concepts to clients is a critical moment when both parties are full of anticipation and excitement.

Richard Parr Associates Studio
Photography: © Gilbert McCarragher

Tell us about the most memorable project you’ve worked on…

It’s difficult for me to rank projects as each and every building is memorable and stays with us for differing reasons. Our practice is about patient, crafted and careful architecture and we have a limit to the number of projects that we will take on. For that reason, we enjoy and remember each one.

If I had to pick one, it would be The Farmyard at The Newt. We began with neither a brief nor preconceptions, and the development of a hotel without parallel or compare – which is now winning global awards – keeps this live in our memory.

What can you share about any upcoming projects?

The practice is built on reputation, and we are embarking on a busy building period so there is plenty to share.

We are very interested in positioning our buildings in landscapes – as well as drawing from and recreating local vernaculars – so we have a series of new buildings in an extraordinary array of special sites across England on the horizon. Meanwhile, we also have two upcoming projects at The Newt, further developing its hospitality into different concepts.

Header image: © Rich Stapleton

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