Interview: Charlotte Robb of Lawson Robb on becoming part of London’s largest resi design practice

In conversation with the boss of Chelsea-based design firm Lawson Robb, the latest addition to the Rigby Group’s powerful new multi-brand stable, Allect

As revealed by PrimeResi this week, the Rigby Group, one of the UK’s top 25 privately-owned companies, has brought together three of the capital’s most successful luxury design firms under its all-new Allect banner. Here, Charlotte Robb, co-founder of the latest firm to join the fold, gives us the inside track on becoming part of London’s largest resi design practice…

Lawson Robb has made its name as a highly successful boutique design house; how will being part of a £2.4bn corporate powerhouse affect your approach to business and design?

Lawson Robb co-founder Charlotte Robb

In terms of the business, we will each have devoutly independent boutique brands, design teams and identities, but we can centralise many elements allowing us to invest in specialists and infrastructure that would otherwise be out of viable reach. Board advisories, marketing, business development, procurement, ecommerce, IT, developing design and client integration software that doesn’t currently exist in this specialist market.

The access to these elements will excel growth and raise the bar across all areas of the business. Our buying power as a collective is now significantly stronger than our competitors, with huge scope to push even further. We will set up a dedicated procurement company to develop even stronger relationships with factories, quarries & artisans globally. Our clients will have access to this buying power with the same exceptional quality.

There will be cost efficiencies too, which will allow us to either be more competitive or invest more in design time, talent and research.

We want to be designing for our clients’ children

Service is key to repeat clients, we want to be designing for our clients’ children.

Our approach to service and design is highly coutured to each client with a recognisable forward thinking, arty style and militant delivery. We have so many ideas to raise our game the we are now able to invest in to create a new level of service that would rival even a top–starred hotel. No one in the industry is really absolutely renowned for outstanding service & delivery. That is our aim.

Allect will have unrivalled access and buying power only a collaborating design collective can achieve. With an expansive pool of resources across the design teams – specialisms, inspiration – there will be many opportunities for us to explore.

Can you talk us through how the deal come about?

A competitive market drives the need to look deeper and not float along presuming what got you there will take you forward. Exploring our “edges” is what made us see that Lawson Robb needed to remain a boutique design house but be “bigger”. To do so meant that I needed to go out and find a partner and investment to realise some of our ideas to create edge and growth in a flat market.

Buying power was a key appeal

Buying power was a key appeal. Being able to add more justification to a client’s design fee investment by bringing savings to product and furniture, with no compromise on quality or options is extremely attractive.

For our Middle Eastern clients we already design hundreds of thousands square foot of bespoke, contemporary and exceptional quality furnishings, and supply as directly from quarries, factories and artisans as possible. It is harder to bring the same savings to more ‘normal’ sized projects, i.e. in Central London.

Rigby Group’s Allect, with Helen Green Design and Rigby & Rigby were the perfect fit to drive the opportunity to create more clout with specialised global factories, share freight, translators & middle men, quality control procedures etc. and create a different offering to that of our competitors.

How will Allect brands work together and differentiate their offerings whilst remaining part of the same umbrella group?

We already are known for slightly different design styles, markets and services. One of the first things we will do in coming weeks is to further define our profiles, styles, our differing strengths and services and ensure that our positioning & communication translates our differing identities clearly. It will be more obvious which projects suit which brand but some competition will be healthy!

As it stands, Rigby & Rigby are architects, development managers, construction and interior design – a turnkey service delivering contemporary architectural designs & known for exceptional quality and delivery.

Helen Green are known for London and British Colonial interior design delivered internationally. Lawson Robb are more international in design style and historically known more for interior architecture as well as interior design. Both design and supply furnishings.

This is the third brand to join Rigby plc’s Allect family; what is the group’s ambition in the prime residential sector, and are more acquisitions on the cards?

With a “buy and build” strategy we will be looking to expand our interior led product, franchise and hospitality interests, but no acquisitions planned for the next year.

Lawson Robb was founded back in 2003; what are some of the standout projects that epitomise the practice’s approach to design?

The Lancasters in Hyde Park was probably the highest profile project to date that we are allowed to disclose. This project epitomised our approach to design, the design has remained timeless but our approach, along with an inherent passion for design, is strategic, commercial yet forward thinking, and highly coutured to the client or market.

We were heralded by Lucian Cook as ‘the pioneers of a new international design style’

We were heralded by Lucian Cook (director of residential research, Savills) as “the pioneers of a new international design style”. Obviously the key is never stagnating, always pushing design, looking further afield and looking to the future.

Rigby & Rigby has recently moved into major commercial projects; is Lawson Robb planning to branch out in similar fashion?

We plan to expand into hospitality, F&B and high end commercial projects.

What changes will your clients notice as a result of the move?

They will have access to unrivalled buying power and resources. Our service consistency from inception to delivery, after care etc. will be developed in thinking with Four Seasons and other famous operators.

As one of the UK’s top 25 privately owned businesses, Rigby Group has an impressive global reach and a broad range of interests, from aviation to computing and luxury hotels; how will this help shape and drive Lawson Robb’s ambitions?

The group is extremely ambitious and this will reflect in the support for the strategy and growth direction for the group of design brands – the world is their oyster at this size, anything is possible, and it’s very exciting to now be part of that drive.

The resources available to us, evident already even in our first week of completing, is extraordinary – from IT to HR, we’re already running smoother!

Can you give us a flavour of the projects you are working on at the moment?

We have just won a 60m superyacht, being built by Royal Huisman – it will be revolutionary for the superyacht industry- the first of this length to be built under 500 Gross tonnes, avoiding the need for steel hull and stringent regulations that double the build cost. This will give us the long awaited opportunity to expand in to the “fort knox” world of superyacht design. Budge up big five!

We have two fabulous projects in Palma – one a multiple unit development the other a private residence – and we are working with four of the Middle Eastern royal families on various residences in London and in Middle East. Recently we completed three beach houses in Bahrain.

We have just completed a stunning house in St James’s, eight storeys of all-singing, all –dancing prime mega-pad. The design is totally unique.

We have various other central London projects for private clients and – under NDA – for some high-profile developments; we hope to be able to announce in the not too distant future!

In Pictures: Lawson Robb Project portfolio