Interview: Andrew Murray of Morpheus on the craft of luxury design & development

By PrimeResi Journal

After starting out over 20 years ago as a joinery and cabinet maker, Andrew Murray has cut a swathe through the crowded field of luxury resi with his London-based firm, Morpheus; here, he explains how his first major project came about, where he looks for inspiration, and why clients are increasingly valuing the story behind the scheme...  

After starting out over 20 years ago as a joinery and cabinet maker, Andrew Murray has cut a swathe through the crowded field of luxury resi with his London-based firm, Morpheus; here, he explains how his first major project came about, where he looks for inspiration, and why clients are increasingly valuing the story behind the scheme…

You started out as a joinery and cabinet maker; how much emphasis do today’s clients place on genuine craftsmanship (over, say, brand names or price), and has this changed in recent years?

Murray remains involved in all Morpheus projects

Years ago, clients would be more likely to select a piece of furniture based on its aesthetic and value. Now days the story of craftmanship is really important, they want to understand the pieces’ heritage, the design process and how it was made; it has become less and less materialistic.

Morpheus’ offering to our clients, whether private, developers or hospitality, is centred around bespoke furniture design and manufacturing and for this reason and we work with our clients to incorporate all the elements that are important to them.

Which was your first major residential project, and what were the big lessons you learned early on in your career?

Avenfield House on Park Lane I would consider our first major residential project. Here, we created two duplex penthouses by adding an additional floor to a 1920’s residential block. The most important lessons learnt back then were the importance of having proactive project management & leadership. More and more I see projects’ creativity and commerciality threatened by a lack of ownership and accountability and overcomplicated by a plethora of ‘specialists’.

What do you enjoy most about your role now?

I still love the challenges of a new project, as much as ever, and enjoy seeing our designers embrace those challenges. I’ve always been a control freak so will often join a project workshop to understand how a particular design is evolving and, unreservedly, challenge its direction when I feel required. I’m a practical person so, as mentioned before, over complication is something to be thwarted collectively.

How much influence do current design trends have on your work (e.g. en vogue materials or colour palettes), and how do you ensure your designs will stand the test of time?

As a company, I like to think Morpheus has remained at the forefront of design trends in terms of awareness. However, I wouldn’t say our designs are trend driven, in fact we are very careful to make sure we blend all of the unique influences of a project to create both individuality and timelessness – to be trend orientated would corrode the essence of who we are.

Morpheus London is now firmly established as one of the top luxury design houses in the UK; how involved do you remain on each project?

I am involved in all of the projects, but I believe it is important that the creative leads on each project have the autonomy and creative space to work with their client and be able to offer something unique. Where I like to get involved is the functionality and practicality of design – I cannot help myself, and this is where an upbringing in joinery has given me the experience to know how things work and can be applied to a project.

Your team recently worked on the Six Senses Residences in Courchevel; what particular challenges do alpine projects present, and which other international endeavours are in the pipeline?

It has been a phenomenal project for us, not only working with the developer and Six Senses but also to get the experience to design and manage a multi-unit development in The Alps. As you can imagine, in 1850 there are various challenges on the logistical side including weather, the environment within the building, logistics within the resort – all which haven’t been easy, but we created, from the outset, a process that foresaw the potential challenges and put in place a solution.

Six Senses Residences in Courchevel

Morpheus projects have appeared in a diverse range of architectural styles – from Art Deco in The Oceanic to Brutalism in Centre Point and Modernism in Nova SW1; how does working in a building with a strong pre-existing style affect your approach to designing interior spaces?

I think it’s a very important influence and I believe one of our specialities is the recurring ability to blend the architectural vernacular with the other influences of the developments. In all three of your examples, we have created something completely unique which has been a fusion of the local environment, our clients’ brands, and their commercial objectives. In each case we have delivered schemes that are unique and resonate the holistic impact of a development.

Which is the most challenging/rewarding project you have worked on to date?

I would have to say Ashberg House in the heart of Kensington & Chelsea. This was a rare opportunity for Morpheus to develop a new build house in an area notorious for stucco-fronted traditional properties. We developed the land with permission for an 8,400 square foot property and over the five floors, we designed the most incredible interiors that complemented the unique voluminous architecture  and ensured that the aesthetic was rich in design but, as importantly, was also desirable for the audience.

The 8,400 square foot Ashberg House project in Chelsea was a rare opportunity to develop a new-build residence in an area known for its stucco-fronted traditional properties

How hard is it to find talented designers and artisans at the current time; and are you seeing or expecting any changes to your business as a result of Brexit?

With our design team we have been very lucky in building a very creative pool of differing skill sets, influences and nationalities which form the core of our creativity and originality. This energy has always supported us in recruiting new designers. However, I would be naïve to think that Brexit won’t impact our business in the future; amidst the uncertainty we must continue to strive to be original and offer unique experiences and outcomes to our clients. More importantly than ever, we continue to grow our international presence so as not to be reliant on one market.

And in the light of recent events, how is your client base feeling about London as a place to live, work and invest?

I’m doing this interview from Hong Kong and have asked this question of my various hosts a few times; consistently, regardless of their nationalities, they feel London will weather any storm, price fluctuations aside. Amongst many things, they all cite education, multi-culturalism and the fact that we continue to be at the forefront of design and development creativity as being what will continue to make us desirable to a global audience.

The Spa floor at Ashberg House contains a critically acclaimed swimming pool influenced by Richard Wilson’s installation ’20:50’ at London’s Saatchi Gallery.

Delivering top-end projects for demanding, discerning clients can be a stressful business; what do you do to relax?

Actually, we are blessed with great clients, but put much of the stress on ourselves – we always want to achieve the unexpected and therefore we, as a team, seem to push ourselves harder and harder. My current escapism is renovating a houseboat in Chelsea which, with a fair wind, I’ll be living in soon. When not in London, I spend much of my time in Sussex where I treasure the space to reflect and plan, as well enjoying local pursuits.

Are there any resi schemes over the last 30 years that you’ve particularly admired, or wished you’d been a part of?

I would say I am pretty happy with my job-lot but, amongst a few developments, have always been impressed with 199 Knightsbridge where our sister company, Icon 1992, have undertaken a number of refurbishment projects. It exudes a subtle confidence in how super prime developments should be executed and managed. In the past, the original Northacre developments at the The Bromptons, The Phillimores and The Lancasters were also inspirations to me and, retrospectively, i would have loved to have been involved in these as my career evolved.

Northacre’s The Lancasters

The hotel and resi sectors share a number of characteristics, but which is currently leading the way in terms of design? Are there any stand-out examples of design innovations that have caught your eye?

The hotel and residential sectors are increasingly bed-fellows and now, more than ever, it’s hard to differentiate who influences who. Morpheus’ clients will more often than not refer to experiences they’ve had at hotels and on holidays and, as a result, the ‘experiential’ becomes an increasing influence on desirability and a benchmark of what they want to achieve with their projects. For instance, through our involvement with Six Senses we have seen an increasing importance of ‘wellness’ in design.  We need to explore and a more holistic solution, and design, for a growing amount of clients.

Which world city/enclave seems to be out in front with the new ideas right now?

I don’t think anywhere in particular leads this; everywhere that I come across seems to be at the forefront of their game and the leading designers are those that can realise and blend these varying nuances to complement and challenge their current designs. Developers have to be savvy in an ever increasingly competitive market and this means they have to look to their horizons to differentiate their offerings – this is definitely not a time for a complacency.

Morpheus designed a duplex penthouse at the iconic Oceanic House in St James’s

Are there any particularly unusual places you look for inspiration?

I have the privilege of travelling internationally with my role and this lends itself to experience many cultures, environments and local influences. Every country has its individual characteristics and ways of approaching design and its delivery. Whether the evolution of their heritage, or the freedom of trail blazing architecture and design, there is always something, somewhere, to be explored. Recently for Morpheus, it has been the dynamism of the Far East (apparently this is a dated term, as often I’m scorned at) and their influence on both the modern and traditional vernacular or the hybrid of the two. I am often mesmerised by their simplicity in executing a project and we always have a lot to learn and embrace from all cultures.

What’s your best advice for making sure a luxury scheme gets delivered on time – and on budget?

I think the principles of any project delivery remain the same – keep it simple. Simplicity isn’t detrimental to the finesse and originality of design and execution; I think where mistakes can arise is specifying over and beyond the value of the property and over designing. Clients want their dream property and investors in property want their return, it is important that a balance is found to ensure both are delivered. Originality is not a product of over-complicating.

A two-bedroom show apartment designed by Morpheus at Almacantar’s Centre Point scheme in the West End

Main image: The Spa floor at Ashberg House includes a critically acclaimed swimming pool influenced by Richard Wilson’s installation ’20:50’at London’s Saatchi Gallery.