London’s iconic theatre and music venue KOKO has been brought back to life. KOKO’s Founder, CEO and Creative Director Olly Bengough, who worked closely with interior studio Pirajean Lees, shares his insight into the seven-year passion project.
A dramatic fire and global pandemic couldn’t stop the re-imagining and restoration of KOKO. For it’s Founder, Olly Bengough, it had been seven years in the making; seven years of dreaming about re-opening the iconic and historic theatre and music venue.
Here, Olly shares his insight into the ambitious project, which was a collaboration alongside multiple design professionals, including interior studio Pirajean Lees.
What made you choose Pirajean Lees as the interior studio to collaborate with?
Having met with a few different agencies originally, I felt that Pirajean Lees really understood the importance of the interiors being at one with the theatre in terms of its classic and timeless aesthetic. It was an intuitive design process from the very beginning, it was enjoyable and collaborative and that was also an extremely important part of for me on the journey with them.
Where does the conversation begin when taking on a project of this magnitude?
Our conversations throughout were inspired by the majestic, Victorian theatre itself which dates back to 1900. It has such a rich history and an exceptional legacy, which gave us the permission to imagine how a backstage theatre experience would have been during the Victorian era. What we were trying to achieve was something as magnificent as Spraug’s ambitious, original theatre design, over 120 years later.
Tell us about some of the new design features and how they work alongside the period features?
The interior design throughout the whole building has a classic, elegant and timeless feel running throughout, but with the addition of some eclectic features that nod to KOKO’s rock’n’roll past, dating back to the 70s and 80s when Iggy Pop, Grace jones, The Sex Pistols and The Clash all played. With Pirajean Lees, we made sure that that era was subtly laced into the design but in a very gentle way. For example dating back to the Victorian era we have stunning fireplaces on every floor, a warm and relaxing stage kitchen which brings the soul of the building together, whilst at the same time the roof garden with its beautiful plants and rich, textured upholstery is the perfect counterbalance to the dome’s dramatic, cathedral-like experience, which leaves you with a feeling that’s rare to capture.
How did you tackle issues surrounding sustainability?
Sustainability is a key part of KOKO’s ethos, as it is for Pirajean Lees. The studio was very good at sourcing ethical materials and we tried to make sure we prioritised locally manufactured products where possible.
What was the most challenging part about this project?
We have overcome a series of biblical challenges within the project – first a fire within the dome in January 2020 which was an enormous tragedy and set us back a great deal however actually, the dome rescued the theatre. The dome melted and inverted but in doing so, stopped the fire from spreading into the theatre so the damage there was the vast water damage which ripped through the theatre – followed by COVID – which obviously heightened the challenge of bringing back a theatre of this stature.
What are you most looking forward to when the venue re-opens?
I think just seeing people enjoy the space – it’s been fun seeing it all coming together after dreaming about it for seven years. It’s been a huge journey. In May we’re hosting 27 nights in a row and around 200 musicians performing to over 45,000 people. It’s exciting being able to bring KOKO back, contributing to London culture, giving it back to the people and the artists where it belongs.
Photography by Lesley Lau