Andreas Christodoulou is the founder of House of dré, a London-based art and interior design studio. A fully qualified architect, Andreas has moved into a wider expanse of design, embracing art and interiors as part of his everyday practice. As a multidisciplinary creative, he believes that by creating an overlap between art and design, new and culturally relevant works can be created. We sat down with him to talk about his growth from a plucky start up that launched in 2020, to his emergence as a more established studio.
Lindsay Faller (LF): We start every interview with this question: why architecture and design?
Andreas Christodoulou (AC): Well, it’s quite a boring answer really. I guess it was just one of those things that I always wanted to do when I was younger, foolishly. But I guess I’m not really doing architecture and design now. I feel like I’m doing more art and design, as a broader overarching idea. I’ve done some art for various hotels and restaurants now. I’m also doing a private school in North London, which is interesting because it is bringing a bit of the hospitality industry into school design, which is quite fun.
LF: Why have you taken an art and architecture route, what is it about that combination that draws you to them?
AC: It’s design, but it’s also very social. It’s about people basically: I think I’m a people person and a people pleaser. It’s designing stuff for people which is more social. Engineers, for example, design but they’re not considering the social, more the practical. I think architecture and interiors is much more of a social act, which is the big draw for me. It is creating stuff for people to appreciate and for it to enhance their lives and their mood. That’s the part that I enjoy about it.
LF: Are you finding that, as you say, the architecture side is obviously outward facing, but the art side is feeding that creative itch that you have in a different way?
AC: Yes and no, only because I don’t think I’ve properly launched that side yet. And I haven’t had the time to just do it. There’re little pockets of it that I’m growing, and eventually it will get to a point where I can update the website, update Instagram, and start selling stuff.
I’ve got little projects with collaborations with different artists that I haven’t officially launched yet, like a print series that we’ve done off the back of the hotel. It just takes two, three, four times longer because a project will come in and you have to work on that and then the art goes on the backburner.
LF: Is the desire to create art to sell, and that’s not necessarily developed within projects that the studio is doing?
AC: Yes, it’s to become more of a traditional artist. It’s to make it and sell it rather than just about commissions. That’s the whole point of the art, eventually, is to do that. Bespoke commissioned art is really hard work and there’s more compromise required. I’ve had quite a lot of people asking me about collaborations, so I’m trying to lean in to the fact we’re more of a creative studio that does lots of things. It takes longer to build this identity, though.
LF: What was the catalyst for starting your studio?
AC: That is a good question. There aren’t many medium sized studios that do things in a creative way and in a non-commercial way in this industry. After losing a job that I enjoyed many of the aspects of, there was just a refusal to accept going to a normal corporate commercial design studio because it was not an inspiring environment to be in [Andreas was made redundant by his previous design studio during the pandemic]. I really think I started the studio from a place of denial because looking back it feels naïve to even think about doing it. It was crazy. It was a silly thing to do on paper, but here we are.
LF: I think that’s the thing with most people that find themselves creating a business. House of dré and Cloudfields have been going about the same time, and what I think we’ve both discovered is that the idea that you started out trying to build suddenly and surprisingly morphs as the path unfolds. Even when you feel like you had something of a plan of how it would happen. We realise that it must organically grow but recognize that it might take shape in a slightly different way than we anticipate. We are all naïve when we start out.
AC: Yes, totally. That’s where “be honest and act from integrity” came from [the first line of the architect’s code and core values of the studio]. I spent quite a while trying to think what I needed the studio to be and then I realised that you don’t really have much choice in what it will become.
You have as much choice about what your business should be about as what your face should look like. It’s just kind of written in the stars and you’re shepherding it. The whole thing was like as long as you’re honest, and act like it with integrity and you conduct yourself in a proper way, then, you’re probably going to be okay.
LF: What’s been the most surprising thing since you started the studio?
AC: How bad I am at business. I would say if you know, when you’re watching The Apprentice, and you’re like, “yeah, I can do that” [laughs].
LF: Can you say more about that?
AC: I guess the most surprising thing is how I’ve managed to stumble through and make it to three years. You think “fuck, that was lucky”, and then after you realise there is something here – a “if you build it, they will come” kind of thing. And that now I’m entering a period where people actually do see and think of me as a design studio, which is really exciting, and leads to more interesting projects. Work starts coming from random places that you weren’t expecting it to come from.
LF: Is the work that’s coming though the kind of work that you want the studio to be doing?
AC: I’m not saying I want to do everything but I was really quite a young designer when I started the studio. There’s a lot of things that I’m working out anyway, a lot of new experiences that I’m figuring out. I’m young and don’t have too many things holding me back. I can be quite agile and turn my hand to a lot of different things. It’s still the first five years, so I’m still working out what the business is, what makes money, what I’m good at, and what I enjoy.
I still think it’s so early and I’ve had so many unexpected good experiences from doing random shit, that at this point, unless it’s something really shit like detailing the inside of an execution chamber or something. You know, unless it’s something like, you know, I can’t bring value as a designer, then I don’t want to do it. Because then for me, it’s a waste of time.
LF: Yes, it’s important to approach a business within the first five years with a mindset of curiosity, right? It’s not about necessarily niching down at this stage; it’s not being super specific on what work you will do and won’t do. You want to do well, and you have to say yes to quite a lot of things because of practical reasons, but also because you want to try stuff and see what actually sticks; what gets your creative juices going.
AC: It depends on the type of business, I think. If you’re setting up a brand and you’ve got an investment and to be hyper focused.
LF: Right, if it’s a product; but a studio at early stages isn’t a product.
AC: No, exactly. I’m still building and investing in the business during this period. It’s germinating. Everything I do really has an element of sacrifice in it, whether it’s like money or time.
I’m still heavily investing in the business in terms of how much money I could be getting paid versus if I was working for someone else. That gap is getting smaller, which is good, though not as quickly as I’d like it to. I am still in the investment phase, then the idea is to get it floating once it’s built. It’s still a few years off.
LF: I think there’s so many people I talk to that are so worried about running out of time and wanting things to happen faster than they are. How do you feel about knowing that you’re probably a few years away from that point?
AC: It’s very frustrating. Especially right now with inflation. I put my wage up recently and it’s not a step forward. It feels like you’re walking the wrong way up the escalator. You’re just standing still and working really hard. It feels like everything’s against you.
Small businesses especially are feeling it hard. But, I really try to keep my options open. I could decide to just pack it all in and get a really good job in a few months’ time. For some people that’s a dirty thought. But I think you must keep your options open and not be too precious about the business because otherwise it’ll just ruin your life.
Ultimately, it’s my own personal choice to do this. It’s costing me money that I could be earning if I had a job. I can probably jump off the horse at any point, so it’s my own personal choice.
LF: That’s a really important point, because I think sometimes, people complain about how hard it is when you run your own thing. But you are making the choice to do it. And there’s a choice that you get up every day and work, knowing that you will have shitty days, and great days, but mostly you have average days.
What have been some of the biggest highlights so far in House of dré?
AC: Nailing the hotel pitch [for newly opened Ember Locke, Kensington] has been a highlight, because that is a huge job for us. It’s a job that we really had no right to get so being early on in our careers, and we know other studios that have taken much longer to get that calibre of project.
And just also the fact that it was a collaboration between two different studios, Atelier Ochre and House of dré, and it just worked seamlessly. It was exactly what you would want it to be in terms of a collaboration. It was better than it would have been if one of us did it by ourselves.
The whole project was enhanced by the collaborative element, which is what I really want the studio to be about. It keeps things interesting and provides an incredible amount of learning from collaborating with each other. The client was supportive and understood that a collaboration could be something special; they saw it really before we built it. They saw the potential before it made sense and were willing to take a risk with us, a calculated one. They were a great client.
It’s great to see clients like that taking a risk with younger studios or just the younger designers and then reaping the benefits of it. It’s a game changer for us because it gives us real credibility and only just proves what we already knew that we could do. And I think with the budgets and the timeline, we really aced it.
LF: What do you attribute that to though, because as we both know, architects and designers are very well known for going over time and over budget? So how did you and Atelier Ochre address this?
AC: Unfortunately, it’s more that architects and interior designers are getting blamed for things going over budget, but it never really comes from that end. You know, it’s like architects and interior designers don’t have much power when it comes to the programme and budget that comes from clients. So, I would deflect the credit to Eden Locke because they had the experience to understand where the sacrifices would need to be made on this project because of the difference compared to our budgets on other projects.
They protected and promoted the design and ring-fenced budgets; they fought for things. They were brilliant. It made it easy. It was a perfect project, really.
LF: That’s so good to hear.
What challenges have you faced within your business and how have you overcome them?
AC: Obviously, a big challenge has been getting the work. You have to ask for work.
LF: You can’t assume people are just going to come to you, right?
AC: Exactly. Going out and finding it and talking and trying to get work scares me. I don’t enjoy this and it’s not why I got into design. It involves a lot of skill in sales and for me, it’s frustrating because I know I can do a great job so why do I have to convince someone? I look forward to hopefully one day having a bit more of a passive flow that comes into the studio from a reputation or a portfolio. Right now, it can be frustrating.
LF: How do you balance creativity and business?
AC: Haven’t worked that one out yet, to be honest with you. I think it’s a mindset again. I think people get precious and they create barriers for themselves.
It’s not about you. It’s about how you can contribute your ideas as a designer to the client and make something better. That is what design is as a practice, as a human thing that we’ve done forever.
Maybe mine’s a bit more of a commercial thing, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t do really deep, thought-provoking work with proper commercial art. Many artists in history have done that. It’s the same with design. I think the whole point of being creative is that you can position your mind to think about things in different ways. You’ve backed yourself into a corner if you’ve got this thing of creativity versus business. As a creative you should be thinking creatively about business.
LF: You and I both know that the business side of creativity can be troubling for a lot of creative entrepreneurs. They really struggle with building a business. I would put both of us in that category. It’s still hard. But why this polarisation of these ideas? Often the business side is treated as if it’s like the thing that pulls down the creativity, but they’ve got to work together otherwise each part will suffer. This is why Cloudfields exists, right? To address this issue.
AC: I think in those moments, you’ve got to sit down and think “I’m a creative person, what’s a creative solution to the fact that I don’t enjoy selling myself?” I ask myself if there’s a way that I can do it that’s more authentically me. It’s an opportunity to come up with a creative solution to that problem that you are happy with, as a creative person; a solution that ties in with your identity. It’s not you with a clipboard and a shirt, a blue shirt, going around knocking on people’s doors asking for work.
LF: “Hello, do you need a designer?”
AC: Although I love that idea.
LF: Last question is what does success look like for you?
AC: This is something I’ve been grappling with for ages. It sounds really fucking traditional, but to me success would to be able to have this business in whatever form it is and have it be able to sustain the things that I want, that are not outrageous things: a house, a family and kids and maybe a car and a dog. I really don’t need or want riches out of it, if I can sustain those things comfortably.
Then it would be amazing because it’s going to be getting so many great experiences from the business. I’ve got loads of friends who are going on gap year things and travelling and doing loads of interesting things, and I always think, this is my interesting thing; this is my wild experience that I’m doing.
In the long term, I’d love to be the studio this thing that people see as a place to go for creative ideas, that we’re for a different take and a different way of approaching problem solving. I’d like to finish the project of building a brand and prove that it works and prove that I am a big concept ideas person that’s not afraid to think about things in different ways.
I’d love to have a proper studio. That would be great. I think that’s always been a dream just to have a studio space, a creative space/semi workshop space that’s just sort of like a Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory of design projects that I can bring clients to. We could do different things and experiment, test and prototype.
LF: That’s the beauty of what you’re doing: the opportunities are massive for you. You can do whatever you want with your business. You don’t have to follow a strict trajectory, but can find what works now, and make the next best choice for you based on where you are.
Thanks Andreas, it’s been so great speaking with you.
AC: Thank you, it’s been great.