city, houses

Living Sauve in Shoreditch

Elsa Young/Frank Features


Partners in life and work, Danish-born Nina Tolstrup and her Greek Cypriot husband Jack Mama are the design duo behind London-based Studiomama. ‘Recycling and reimagining are constant themes in our work,’ says Nina. ‘And we believe passionately in designing for the real world.’ This goes a long way to explain the timeless and unpretentious qualities of the studio’s work.

Jack standing on the landing on the first floor alongside a series of artworks by Maria Dubin Jack standing on the landing on the first floor alongside a series of artworks by Maria Dubin

A recent body of their work entitled Waste Not Want Not, commissioned by financial software and media giant, Bloomberg, saw them create unique furniture pieces and art installations made almost entirely from the company’s waste. Another recent design is the Routine shoehorn for Tokyo-based furniture label E&Y that was exhibited at the British Design Museum in September last year. Nina also collaborated with fashion designer Marc Jacobs on Life after Catwalk, where Marc by Marc Jacobs fabrics were used to upholster and give new life to recycled furniture modified by Nina.

A Danish friend of Nina’s; a view from the couple’s studio on the first floor onto the landing area.

Their desire for ‘design that originates from invention and reduction rather than the elaboration of a decoration style’ influences everything they do – not least their home, a former warehouse in London’s Shoreditch. Laid out over three floors, it’s a compact and clever inner-city space that Nina and Jack share with their two children – Otto, 15, and Lula, 13. The space is filled with their design prototypes that push the limits of material recycling and seek to extend product life with multipurpose functions and new forms of upcycling. The family occupies the top two floors while the bottom is a separate studio apartment.

‘The design of the space has always been deliberately fluid and open-plan,’ explains Nina. ‘And, of course, over the years it has changed according to our needs.’ So the top floor is given over to the open-plan living, dining and kitchen areas that lead out onto a narrow terrace that runs the length of the space. The couple’s main bedroom is also here, just off the kitchen. ‘Traditionally, this space would have been a TV room or even the dining room, but we turned it into our bedroom a few years ago and it’s been such a success.’

mama38 A Charles and Ray Eames LCW chair sits alongside a yellow occasional chair that was picked up from a secondhand shop and reworked and reupholstered to give it a new lease on life.

The areas are separated by a stand-alone pink Metamorphic wardrobe that the couple designed specifically for the space. The wardrobe opens out fully to afford total privacy and a clever burst of colour. It can easily fold back up again to allow a free flow of space between all the areas. The wardrobe is just one of the many designs that Jack and Nina have created with a focus on versatility and a desire to create longer life cycles for everyday objects. The mirror in their bedroom is another example – it can swing down into an ironing-board base when the need arises. Similarly, a wall-mounted table in the lounge can detach for another life as a stool.

mama8

On the lower level are the children’s bedrooms, along with Jack and Nina’s shared studio leading off a communal passageway where the walls double as storage cupboards. When the children were little, Jack and Nina designed their bedroom as a wooden ‘house within a house’, but when Otto and Lula became teenagers, they built more permanent rooms on the second floor of the house for privacy. ‘Well, now we need them to close their doors so that we don’t hear their loud music,’ laughs Jack. Set back from floor-to-ceiling windows that look out onto the street, their glass-fronted bedrooms maximise the amount of light that comes into the space.

With not a curtain or shutter in sight, and with both front and back glass frontage, it’s a brave move for a house so open to the neighbours, but one that the couple takes in their stride. ‘I do not mind if people can see us walking around in our living room,’ says Nina with a smile. ‘Most of our neighbours like to have all their windows boarded up with curtains anyway – so it works perfectly.’ studiomama.com

Originally published in HL October 2016