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Andrée Cooke's King Alfred School Project
15th December 2017

Making Room: Andrée Cooke's School Project

For an interiors consultant and former gallerist known for shaping the style of high-impact art exhibitions and high-end commercial spaces around the world, reviving a neglected school common room might seem like small fry, but for contemporary design and art expert – and parent – Andrée Cooke, it was an opportunity too tempting to ignore. And for King Alfred School in North London – a bastion of liberal education for over a century – the chance to have one of the world’s leading design authorities at the helm the refurb is hardly one to miss.

But the reinvention of social space for King Alfred’s Year 7–10 students has involved more than a lick of paint and a bunch of new chairs; Cooke and the King Alfred’s staff team have turned it into a term-long learning experience. Since the beginning of September, 15 design-inclined students, aged 12–14, have been attending weekly afternoon workshops with furniture designer and master of reinvention Michael Marriott, who has shown them how to use the ideas, tools and materials they need to do the job themselves.

Andrée Cooke's King Alfred School Project

Working with reclaimed woods, bits of the room’s old furniture and a stash of recycled plastics, the kids have been cutting, sawing, sanding and joining their way to the creation of a new social space – at a fraction of the cost of a professional refurbishment and with the added bonus of a lifelong educational experience thrown in.

And when the new room is finished next month, King Alfred’s students won’t just have a new shared space to hang out in; they’ll have the buzz that comes with knowing they designed and built it themselves. And – who knows? – maybe some of them are now on the road to becoming the Michael Marriotts of tomorrow…

Over to Andrée to explain how this rather special little project came about…

‘I saw the old common room at the school and noticed that there was very little room for children to hang out indoors. The room didn’t appear to have a clear function and was mostly used as a corridor to get from one part of the building to another. There were kids’ lockers there, a redundant pinball machine and some tired furniture.

Andrée Cooke's King Alfred School Project

I thought how amazing it could be to get the kids to work with a contemporary designer and find a way to take back the space and design it so that they felt a sense of ownership. I approached Michael Marriott as I very much admire his work, and felt that a designer who is very skilled at making apparently ‘simple’ constructed pieces, and who has an interest in recycled materials and a localised approach to making in terms of materials, would be a real gift to the school. My ambition was to offer the kids an experience that inspired them to think about designing or making as a career, and to give them practical experience of thinking about how to create an environment and then physically building it from scratch.

The group of 15 children involved (ages 12–14) are the design and delivery team. They worked initially for two days on what the purpose and function of the room should be, and what they needed to design there to make that possible. This term they have worked on every aspect of learning to make all the furniture themselves, with our guidance. Michael and Chris from the DT department have shown them how to make jigs, how to use the drills properly, how to measure and saw the wood, how to plain, sand and finish it; how to construct the benches, chairs and tables. They have worked on all aspects of the redevelopment – this is their project. Michael is a mentor, inspirer and the designer who has been able to realise with them an environment that they will, I hope, love and cherish. The whole experience has been brilliant.’

Andrée Cooke's King Alfred School Project
Read the press release on the design powerhouses Andrée Cooke and Michael Marriott's project for King Alfred School.

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