KLC final header.png
Interviews

Kia Stanford and Jenny Gibbs on bringing a brand to life through interior design.

Kia Designs and KLC teach us a lesson about the importance of curiosity, listening and partnership, in bringing a design and brand to life.

Many of us know of KLC, one of the leading interior design schools in the UK. When the time came to breathe new life into its reception and communal spaces, Jenny Gibbs, Founder, Principal, and recently announced recipient of an OBE, looked no further than Kia Designs.

Founded by Kia Stanford, Kia Designs are well-known for their colourful and creative interior schemes. With a couple of KLC alumni working within the studio; just one of the synergies between the pairing that became apparent throughout the project.

The brief

But first, let's find out a bit more about the brief. Jenny and the team wanted to refresh the social spaces of the school, from reception to the coffee area.

It wasn't a large project but it was crucial to get right as the first experience a guest gets of the school, and just with any reception space, it is one of the essential areas to convey your brand.

As Kia recalled, "They wanted the space to still feel like KLC."

Kia continued, "So one thing we wanted to achieve was that the new design looked right in time. With so many spaces running off it, like the hallway and studios that we weren't touching, we had to be careful not to make the rest of the space look dated."

KLC large reception

As you might expect from the Principal of a design school, Jenny's brief was very detailed. "Looking back on it, I tried to give Kia a feel of why and what was important to us but in a very factual way, and then let Kia interpret it as she saw fit."

The foundation of a successful project is the client brief, which is why Kia explored her curiosity, looking beyond the brief provided.

"We took the time to speak with the receptionists, who told us about the struggle to sell more books and stationery, as it wasn't clear students could buy them there."

Kia continued, "but the biggest learning was how crowded the area gets- these are the kind of insights that weren't picked up in the brief."

Design and brand

This research impacted what Kia and her team presented back to Jenny and KLC. They recommended extending the seating area within reception- in the hope that it would de-crowd the actual desk area.

Their second thoughts went to wayfinding and graphics, that made reading the space simpler. Especially relevant given the audience, as Kia explained: "It's such a fast-paced school with many students coming in for short courses. People who are here for three months don't have time to waste they need to know where they're going instantly."

KLC Library entrance
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When it comes to design inspiration for the scheme, Kia and the team took a lot of influence from the KLC brand, including their values and logo as Kia explains:

"The breaking of the K in their logo says to me, 'room for growth'. Which, in turn, felt synonymous with the project and the sense of adding to what already existed." Kia continued, "their logo is also very architectural, you can see we played with straight lines and sharp angles that reflected this throughout."

But that wasn't the only source of inspiration, anyone who knows KLC is aware of its broad colour palette, which Kia loved. "It was brilliant to work with a colour palette so wide and varied. I think there are eight colours and between five and six different tones within each of those."

KLC kitchen.
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The use of colour is clear to see, from the shards of magenta and orange that frame the reception area to the bold teal splashback that lines the kitchen, colour is the DNA of this design.

It's also clear that Kia's take on the KLC brand was a hit with Jenny, in particular the redesign of the kitchen breakout space. "This is one of the changes that all the students rave about. The coffee area has suddenly transformed from this drab little place into a rather sexy little hotspot where students can meet up and chat."

The partnership

But what was the designer-client dynamic like, as Jenny, herself is an interior designer, business owner and the Principal of a design school? Well, she's the first to admit that having Kia on board was both necessary and a "delight".

"Funnily enough, it's quite hard to do when it's your own. We don't always make the best decisions because we're too close to it, and we haven't been particularly effective in some of the little bits we've done."

And Kia has nothing but praise for the team's approach to the project, "KLC were willing to make concessions between themselves, then come back to us with a definitive answer."

To which Jenny acknowledges that having a third party questioning them gave the team food for thought. "It's good for somebody to take a hard look at you and say, actually, that's not working very well. It makes you stop and think."

KLC hallway

The learnings

So were there any challenging moments within the project? The answer is a definitive no from both, "Kia and the team did a presentation in response to the brief, for which we gave feedback, and a few changes were made, but the process was straightforward from beginning to end."

Kia couldn't agree more, "there's a belief in the industry that the first ideas you come up with are fully formed and perfect. That is just not true, it's all part of a process."

Kia continued, "Jenny and the team were great about coming back with learnings from previous experiences that changed some of our thinking. A great example linear wall designs within the entrance should be done with paint, vinyl was used previously and it didn't wear well."

Consideration was of course given to specifying sustainable materials such as the cork wall in the coffee area.
Consideration was of course given to specifying sustainable materials such as the cork wall in the coffee area.

The reflections

So now the project is complete, what's the verdict? We asked Jenny and Kia what their favourite elements are within the design and the conclusion was unanimous as Jenny explains.

"We thought the idea of more seating was very sensible and loved the very smart black bench that was selected. But what we hadn't considered is that this would create more of a community area, which in turn it has."

Kia elaborated "Now when people come in, or are stepping away from their desk they can sit and be comfortable. It feels like a beautifully grown-up space befitting of the often older KLC student, on their second, third or fourth career, which is fabulous."

Bench seating by Modus alongside wallpaper designs and cushions by Timorous Beasties.
Bench seating by Modus alongside wallpaper designs and cushions by Timorous Beasties.

And for both the stroke of genius is the ever-changing shelving unit above the seating. Jenny and the KLC team have big plans for the display. "We want to start a materials library and change how it looks regularly moving forward. It injects a bit of fun."

And again Kia agrees but notes the benefits of the shelving area goes beyond a continually evolving space. "Education is the foundation of our industry, so being able to have different suppliers come in to share their knowledge and inspire students as part of themed curations is excellent."

The conclusion

Has the project been a success? You probably won't be surprised to hear that for both the answer is a resounding yes.

"Frankly, it's absolutely done what we wanted, the spaces are more cohesive with the brand, and they're working much more effectively. Plus it looks a touch more like a design school when people arrived than it did before."

With lessons learnt all-round, it sounds like success to us.

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