C larke & Reilly would choose to describe themselves, if pressed, as interveners rather than designers. The atelier tries to avoid pigeonholes and convention, deftly treading the borderland between art, design and curation. From a summer guest slot reimagining the galleries at Sotheby’s London to time with the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, to launching a new furniture collection or shaping residential spaces, common threads include an enduring love of collaboration combined with taking a clear but considered lead on the creative direction of any project.
“A specialist we are working with on the Sotheby’s project said that he really loved how we intervene with things and we said, ‘yes, that is exactly what we do: it’s intervention rather than rebirth’,” says Bridget Dwyer, one half of Clarke & Reilly, along with her partner in work and life David Grocott. “Sotheby’s wanted us to be part of the team for its summer programme; its specialists and us curating the galleries together in terms of what they look like and bringing them to life. David and I collaborate with one another constantly so there’s already that layer, but we will often add one or two other people into the mix so that we have something with many different layers.”
Dwyer and Grocott met at department store Liberty London, where she was a fashion consultant and he had a concession selling his own reinterpretations of antique furniture. They shared a love of craftsmanship, textiles and interiors, founding Clarke & Reilly in 2006, using their mothers’ maiden names to christen the studio. They soon discovered that their skills and their different backgrounds – Dwyer in Connecticut and the English south coast for Grocott – complemented one another.
“We have opposite competencies,” says Dwyer. “Objects or furniture and what needs to happen to them and how we want to see them presented – that’s driven by David.
“My role is about creative direction, putting a team together and working out what’s needed to move our vision towards fruition.”
The couple’s base is now a Georgian townhouse in Somerset. As well as creating their own home, they have had many commissions from clients for residential “interventions”.
“It’s not so much us saying ‘this is what your house could look like’ but more of a conversation, getting them to a point where each object tells a story”
“We try to create their vision rather than designing the house for them,” says Grocott. “It’s really something personal that we are trying to pull out and bring to life. It’s not so much us saying ‘this is what your house could look like’ but more of a conversation, getting them to a point where each object tells a story. And that object could be anything within a space that brings it to life: a chair, a sofa, but also floors, walls, ceilings.”
Furniture remains a constant presence within the Clarke & Reilly portfolio, with recent collections exploring character provided by a unique combination of past provenance and fresh elements of texture, patina and materiality.
For Sotheby’s, Grocott and Dwyer are thinking of just one or two pieces of furniture combined with freshly painted walls, using an oak leaf motif inspired by a pattern on the Queen’s coronation gown.
Reinterpreted via collaborations with both a fine artist and street artists, the leaves will make their mark on Sotheby’s walls along with another collaborative venture: a film exploring a journey through England, from Stourhead in Wiltshire through to the London borough of Tower Hamlets.
“It is multi-layered,” says Grocott. “We like to take the artists and filmmakers out of their comfort zones a little bit, because we usually get something interesting when we do that. We will drive the vision but there’s a lot of process, detail and references.
“Subtlety is also key and, with Sotheby’s, we are not creating a theatre set,” he continues. “The work exhibited within the galleries still has to be the most important thing, so we have to respect the objects and give them space. Our biggest challenge is to keep things quiet.”
Clarke & Reilly – www.clarkeandreilly.com
Cover image: Clarke & Reilly, 8 Chairs, 2013 – a selection of eight chairs reimagined and installed on a Peckham rooftop. Photo: Billy Boyd Cape. Image courtesy the artists