New Life – The art and science of a warehouse conversion. In conversation with Emil Eve Architects.

Winner of a Surface Design Award, a RIBA London Award, the International Design Competition, and AJ Specification Awards, and with a long list of other awards and nominations, Emil Eve work with design-focused homeowners and creatively driven developers and commercial clients. Their mastery of historic and contemporary architecture has produced an impressive body of work across housing, cultural buildings, workspace, hospitality and exhibition design.

Like any London estate agent with a pulse, we get seriously excited by seeing master architects and designers convert industrial buildings into residential space and it was this facet of the studio’s work that we discussed with Emil Eve’s founders, Ross and Emma Perkin. Here are some of their observations.

Ross and Emma Perkin, founders of Emil Eve

Buildings with more lives than a Cat

Warehouses in London have usually gone through numerous different lives before we get to work with them. It’s that opportunity to strip them back and see what’s still there and what the story is that we love, and then what we want to add to them and how to approach that.

The type of warehouse or light industrial buildings we have worked on have wonderful structures because they were built for heavy machinery, making them very flexible spaces with high ceilings, big windows and often a minimal number of steel columns. Structurally speaking, they’re a dream because they’re so open. It gives you loads of exciting opportunities.


We find that we are talking to clients about the small details right from the start of the project as well as the big picture of converting a large industrial space. You’re constantly zooming in and out from the grand scale to the minutiae as you get a feeling for how the history of the building will be included, how to embrace the space and, at the same time, talk to the client about how they live, cook, entertain, sleep. We want to be led by things that they love and find joy in.

This zooming in and out thing is essential, and instinctive, because we’ll start with lots of different ideas and concepts around volumes and spaces and layouts, and will also know, from the outset, that we want a specific door handle. We work and rework until we meet in the middle between those things.

St John Street, Clerkenwell. Photograph copyright Mariell Lind Hansen

Sustaining the unsustainable

We see ourselves as the next guardians of a building. We’re not letting it continue to decay, we’re taking action to keep it at, or return it to, its best. These buildings have a rich story already, but part of our job is to start its narrative of sustainability. A lot of energy and carbon went into building these massive concrete steel brick buildings and there is something that fundamentally works about them. They were not sustainably built, so saving them, repurposing and preserving them is what begins to allow that building to pay things forward. What is sustainable is the gift of just how well these buildings were made, so we don’t need to demolish and replace them. Our job lies in giving them new life, seeing as the work of creating them has already been done.

Being there

Turning industrial and office spaces into beautiful homes cannot be done on a computer. We must be there in the space with the builder, creating and solving. Converting space is all about working it out on-site.

St John Street, Clerkenwell. Photograph copyright Mariell Lind Hansen

When you enter the library in our St John Street conversion, you come into an oak-lined space from where you access all the other spaces. We worked hard to make that feel calm and calibrated, with every piece equally spaced and aligned with the floor. When you open the cupboards, each one is a different depth and they contain everything from the boiler to the bikes. We made every inch work and adapted to every quirk of the building to achieve a balanced tranquility that came purely from working closely with the joiners and builders on-site, responding to things as they arose and tuning in to the building itself.

People want to get excited by the industrial spectacle of these spaces and, at the same time, enjoy the beauty and functionality of them as their home.

Ageing gracefully

We studiously avoid trends and go to what works with the building and its specific spaces. Choosing materials and finishes is about joining the ongoing narrative of this long-standing industrial building, not imposing a new, temporary trend on it.

We use a lot of different species of timber. We like it for all its structural, sustainable, tactile, and poetic reasons, but also because it doesn’t ever age. We don’t use veneers or thin coatings that lack substance and depth. We like materials you can maintain or repaint. Timber cladding can be reoiled and it looks like new.


Charlotte Road, Shoreditch. Photograph copyright Mariell Lind Hansen  

It’s common, for warehouse conversions to look shabby after a few years. We are constantly looking at the science and craft that answers the question, ‘How can we make sure that this is still going to look great in thirty years’ time?’ We love stainless steel for example, because it scratches and gets a pattern and is robust. It’s about materials that age gracefully rather than taint.


Emil Eve studio space, Regent Studios, E8

London’s golden opportunity

There needs to be affordable, good quality housing in London for young people. Commercial post-war buildings offer London exactly that opportunity.

We see massive potential for turning unwanted post-pandemic office space into residential, especially the slightly later, second-half-of-the-20th-century buildings like our own office, a modernist ’60s concrete block. They’re not quite so celebrated as Victorian warehouses but, architecturally, they’re perfect.

London is good at reinventing itself. We need to help it do so by getting away from conventional ideas for the sorts of commercial buildings that are suitable for housing and to look again at other kinds of typologies and re-think how they could be.

For more information about Emil Eve’s work visit emilevearchitects