Catrina Stewart (CS) and Hugh McEwen (HM) are the founding duo behind Office S&M. Their creative practice is a vibrant and thoughtful celebration of colour and materials.
‘Salmen House’, a new build-to-let project, is one you would probably remember seeing in the architectural and design press. Beyond its perfectly matched hues of pink and green, its interior spaces are a testament to the inventive joy and generosity Catrina and Hugh bring to every project.
Other projects, past and present, include Valetta House, Putnoe House and the InHarmony masterplan in Cumbria, all of which consistently tell rich and memorable narratives through design.
We met up with Catrina and Hugh in their Dalston studio.
Pastries: Sponge cake slice
Tell me about an ideal day for you.
CS: A long cycle through the park followed by a coffee and a pastry, I find this incredibly therapeutic and a great way to clear the head before the start of a day!
The best days in the office are always spent designing, working on that special drawing or that model that’s been in your head for a while.
What do you like to listen to while working?
HM: Each other. We tend not to have music in the office, not from a draconian anti-headphones rule, but because it’s much better to be able to quickly talk about things.
We teach, write, and do lectures alongside the practice, so it’s important to have conversations about what we think about architecture.
And as a young practice, we are developing our language by reflecting on the projects we have recently completed, such as Valetta House and Salmen House.
"It just takes a little search, a check on Mimoa, Galinsky or the Architecture Foundation app, and suddenly you realise you have been walking to university every day this year one block away from a really exciting project!"
You have the homepage of Dezeen for the day. You can put up any message you want. What would it be?
HM: I would encourage visitors to put down their phone for the day, and get out and visit more local buildings.
We are concerned our students see so few built pieces of work, and are far more engaged with other students' work instead.
We know that they are under such immense financial pressure, so there is no way they can do “grand tours” or whatever the contemporary equivalent is. But there are so many good projects on your doorstep.
It just takes a little search, a check on Mimoa, Galinsky or the Architecture Foundation app, and suddenly you realise you have been walking to university every day this year one block away from a really exciting project!
"I’d love to invite Ettore Sottsass and Carlo Mollino, if they were still alive.
I’d also invite Gaetano Pesce, three of my favourite Italian designers."
What tool, digital or analogue, can you not live without?
HM: My eyes. There are so many tools that do similar things in different ways, but the point of these tools is translate something we see in our head into something we can experience in the real world.
Looking, and being critical of what we see, is the most essential part of this. At the same time, I suppose I am very aware that my parents have worn glasses for as long as I can remember (not that wearing glasses means that you can't see!) and I'm very aware of how our senses change over time.
Who would you like to invite to dinner?
CS: I'd have a few people on my list.
I’d love to invite Ettore Sottsass and Carlo Mollino, if they were still alive. I’d also invite Gaetano Pesce, three of my favourite Italian designers.
I’d like to invite Lara Maiklem, a well known Mudlarker in London, she would have some great stories to tell!
Kristin Baybars would get in invite too - she’s the owner of my favourite toy shop in London and is a miniaturist by trade. She’s incredibly knowledgeable about everything mechanical and craft related.
And lastly, Bompass & Parr because they would throw the best party, and make the most spectacular meals!
What are you currently reading?
HM: ‘Shades of Grey’ by Jasper Fforde which is about a society where social status is based on what colours of the visible light spectrum you can see - and not to be confused with ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ by E. L. James.
The Fforde book is a slightly post-apocalyptic novel, where everything from marriage to medicine is tailored to the hues the characters can see. It’s a book I’ve had on my shelf for a while, and makes for an easy summer holiday read.
At the same time, it raises some interesting questions - about how we see and respond to colour quite differently from one another, and how colour is related to ideas of class. This notion of colour being lower class is something the artist David Batchelor writes about really thoroughly in his book ‘Chromaphobia', and we were lucky enough to be on a panel discussion with him at Hawkins/Brown a couple of months ago and talk around this topic.
Imagine it’s a late night and you have deadline. What’s the takeaway craving? (We are not promoting working late.)
HM: We don't do late nights, but if we did, the snacks would have to be from ‘Far Out Food’, who design menus of food that will scientifically make you feel happier. They’re based in Dalston Roof Park, which is on top of the building our office is in at Bootstrap. They make a great tenant’s lunch every Friday, with things like woodchip smoked halloumi, sauerkraut salad, and turmeric ginger lemonade.
"I always have my best ideas when I’m bored, because this is when you really start to look at what is in front of you."
Is there a new habit, belief or behaviour that has most improved your life?
CS: Cycling. It’s a great way to get around the city and a perfect way to get lost too! I cycle into work every day and I see, and discover, something new each time, even when I’m taking the same route.
Especially if you’re not from London, it’s a great way to get to know the city.
Any advice for a younger self or for someone entering the field?
CS: Keep looking. In an age where everything is fast moving and momentary, we never get bored anymore. I think this can be hugely detrimental to our creative output. I always have my best ideas when I’m bored, because this is when you really start to look at what is in front of you.
Any friends of yours that you think I should visit next?
CS: Anna Mill - She’s an architectural illustrator who has just completed seven years of writing and illustrating a graphic novel called Square Eyes (out in October), which she co-wrote with Luke Jones. Her drawings are exquisite and her studio is a treasure-trove of models and card automatons, I’m sure you will have great time there!