The Toybox / by 74

74 creates interiors for The Toybox – a new social and study space for student living in Birmingham

The Toybox

Manchester-based architects and interior designers 74 have created the new 355 sq m ground-floor social and study amenity spacewithin The Toybox, a new-build, 15-storey student accommodation blockby architectsCorstorphine + Wright, located on Bishopsgate Street in Birmingham. The client and project developer is Moorfield Group, for whom 74previously completedthe multi-award-winning Hox Haus, where a former Victorian gym wasexpanded and repurposed as a social and study clubhousefor students of Royal Holloway College.

The Toybox is a new glazed, green brick and zinc-clad blockin the Westside area of Birmingham, just south-west of the city centre, The interior is comprised of 290 new student apartments, with74 commissioned to create the dynamic series of communal spaces that make up the ground floor area, includinga reception, lounge, study area, gaming area, kitchenette, staff welfare space, toilets and fitness suite.

The design concept for the space was inspired by the location’s history and especially its industrial past, including the metalworking and the gold- and silver-smithing workshops Birmingham is famous for.Hinges, buttons, belt buckles and hooks are all examples of goods that were once considered “toys” and could be produced in metal, leather or glass, amongst others. The term toy was used in the 18th century or earlier to describe the industry in the English Midlands and changed to its modern form (“toy” as in plaything) years later. The metalworking legacy still exists in the form of Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter.

‘We drew on the concept of raw, industrial workshops and contrasted thatwith the decorative and ornate items produced that would have been produced there’, 74 Associate Bianca Yousefcommented. ‘This manifested as exposed ceilings and wall treatments, plus tarnished metals and metal tubing,along withlaser-cut and geometric patterns, dramatic feature lighting, button references and spindle detailing on the timber furniture.’

The Toybox

Design Walk-through:

Entrance, Reception& Lounge

Students enter the building beneath a cantilevered external canopy through two sets of double sliding doors, with an immediate vista revealed down a central circulation corridor with lounge seating to the left and co-working and fixed seating areasat the rear. To the right of the entrance lobbyis the reception, which wraps round the central inner wall to be visible also to those going straight to the lift lobby on the right and up to their rooms.

For the design of the reception, 74 worked with wallcovering specialists Newmorto develop a bespoke fretwork-style wallpaper pattern to sit behind adramatic 6m-long desk.This pattern is then repeated throughout the scheme. For example,the desk-front islaser-cut using the same pattern in blue-grey against a timber background, with a greylaminate desktop and a pale blue laminate base, lit along its entire length. Four clusters of three pendant lights above – the E2 3-light Brass Tube Pendant Clusterin brushed antiqued brass – introduce subtle spindle shapes into the scheme for the first time.

To the left, set against the ground floor glazing, is a series of small seating or waiting areas, featuringa variety of soft furnishings, from chairs and sofas to pouffs and small tables. Furniture here includes the Glow Sofa, Glow High Back Lounge Chair, Bolton Lounge Chair, Square Pouffand the button-likeAky Low Stool, plus the Grapevine Center Table, all supplied byTelegraph Contract Furniture. Upholstery colours are soft, subtle and welcoming, with a grey, mint green, pale blue, pink and caramel palette, whilst the walls are a moody dark grey to help create a sense of intimacy and enclosure.

Flooring along the central corridor is a timber-effect vinyl in a ‘block end’ style from Polyflor, whilst geometric-patterned grey carpeting from Shaw Carpetsis used for the lounge areas along the left. Directly over the lounge seating, three contemporary chandeliers create an eye-catching window display. These are theSan Mateo Modern Chandeliers from Mullan Lighting,whilst further architectural lighting on tracks adds additional light above reception to highlight the wallpaper rear wall and again to light the central walkway.A feature pale mint-green ceiling lifts the space and nods to the external use of green brick.

Semi-translucent blue fretwork panelsserve as vertical dividers to help zone the space, whilst ensuring visibility and sightlines are kept open, and are used again as decorative rafts within the ceiling. Vintage silverware and metalwork ‘toys’, further elements of the scheme’s design language, feature in artwork, the first examples of which are hung on the walls of the final section of this lounge space.

The Toybox

Fixed Seating Area

A raised, 6-person desk is situated at the end of the corridor space at a right angle, semi-enclosed between dark-grey-painted structural columns. The bespoke table here, designed by 74, features galvanised metal legs and a timber top, whilst the chairs are the Bolton High Stool with spindle-turned timber struts and leather-effect seat pads. Feature lighting here is a series of eightEGLO Avoltri Oak Wooden Spindle drop pendants, continuing the turned-timber theme.

The Toybox

Study Lounge

Beyond the fixed seating area is the Study Lounge, with a glazed front wall featuring an applied fret-cut manifestation pattern. This is a quieter, carpeted and more decorative area, featuringa variety of set-ups for study. These include eight central table seats (Tempest Side Chairs), upholstered in black, plus a further five raised Tempest High Stool seats at the timber and steel-tubing window table and a row of banquette booths and tables to the right,lit byAnglepoise wall lights. Metal steel tubing is used to form a decorative structure above the booths, which continues along the main wall to the rear of the room, allowing for mirrors, clocks and artwork to be displayed. The bespoke central table designfeatures cut-out sections, inspired by metalworkingtables, whilst steel tubing legs nodto the area’s industrial heritage.Lighting here is in the form of a series of Coral Pendants in an aqua finish by David Turnbridge.

Tea-Point, Kitchenette & Games Area

Following the space further around, students arrive at a vending machine and teapoint/kitchenette area, featuring a geometric-patterned laminate floor and glazed wall tiles in the pale blue‘leaf’series from Johnson Tiles. Just behind is a relaxed TV and gaming area, followed by a series of multi-use storage lockers.

Games Area and TV Lounge

The Games Area and TV Lounge display the same palette used in the rest of the scheme to create continuity. Endgrain woodblock timber flooring, geometric laminate flooring, pale mint-green colours, green wood pendants fromE2 Contract Lighting, fretwork-style patterned wallpaper and dark grey blue walls are all used to tie the spaces together.

Lift Lobby and Staff Welfare Space

Wrapping back towards reception is a lift lobby with dark walls and timber-effect flooring. Pendant lights over this whole corridor section are Anglepoise Giant Pendants. Directly opposite the lift lobby is a staff welfare area, including maintenance and cleaner storage, a kitchenette and meeting space.

Gym and Fitness Room

Finally, to the rear of the ground floor, are toilets and, opposite, the scheme’s 50 sq m gym and fitness room. The space has dark grey walls, continuing the design feel from the other areas, with the same geometric laminate flooring from Polyflor as used in the kitchen and games room areas. The ceiling features black acoustic panels and spotlights housed within a grid. The gym equipment layout, created and supplied by Pulse Fitness, includes exercise bikes, treadmill, rowing machine, weight machines, loose weights and a punchbag, with TV screens for entertainment whilst working out.

’74 demonstrated their usual design flair and attention to detail on this project, creating an engaging and inspiring scheme inspired by Birmingham’s history of manufacturing “toys”. They successfully combined relevant historic features with modernity to create what we think is now one of Birmingham’s leading PBSA schemes.’
(Sadie Malim, Head of Special Projects and Legal, Moorfield Group)

Photographer: Gu Shi Yin
Client Moorfield Group
Building Architect Corstorphine + Wright
Interior Designer (TOYBOX) 74
QS (client side) Quartz Project Services
Main Contractor / MEP Torsion Engineering
Fit-out Contractor / Joinery Project FF&E
Fire Safety Clark Banks
Furniture Supplier Telegraph Furniture
Lighting Supplier Enigma Lighting
Gym Equipment Pulse Fitness

About 74:

74 are architects, interior designers and placemakers,specialising in student living, workplace, hospitality and residential projects. The Manchester-based practice, named Commercial Interior Design Practice of the Year at the Northern Design Awards 2019, offers clients a design-led, commercial approach and a thoroughly integrated mix of disciplines. Clients include IQ Student Accommodation, Wyndham Hotel Group, Greystar, Ekistics, Brookfield, Westfield, Chelsea FC, UrbanSplash, Royalton Group and Moorfield Group.