Manchester University Staff Room project

A few months ago I was asked by a previous client if I would be interested in designing a new staff room for the nutrition and fashion staff at Manchester University. My former client, had previously owned a very successful restaurant but was now working as a food consultant and had become involved with the University who were working with some of their students on an earth to plate project, which Jamie Oliver was also involved with.

The brief from the head of nutrition, who was to become my point of contact with the University, the lovely Haleh Moravej, wanted to bring elements of this project into the design of the staff room, the budget for the re-design was small, as the University are due to move premises from their current site within about 18 months, and the timescale was short, as they wanted to maximize the time they had left to use the room before the move. So the challenge was set.

Here’s the finished result, I have added some before and after pictures, which are always interesting to look at and the feedback from all the staff has been fantastic. Elements of the outside have been brought in, although subtly, with designs such as the bespoke bookshelves, in the shape of trees. The table in the meeting room, off the main staff room, was also a bespoke design both superbly executed to my brief by Marco Merlini . The tree in the centre of the table will continue to flourish with the light from the large window in the room and the flooring by Harvey Maria, which looks like grass brings elements of the outside in.

Other hints of the outdoors were brought in by the use of colours on the walls and furniture, which were all tones of blues, greens and purple, echoing the herbs and lavender in the indoor planters, which were provided by Jules my original client and contact. More plants were added by using re-cycled rubber hanging bags at the windows.


Urban garden planters

As a designer  I am always conscious of using as much re-cycled material as I can and always try to seek out sustainable designers and products and use local or British companies when ever possible. All the flooring used was British and was made using FSC wood. The pebble dining chairs and stools are by British designer Benjamin Hubert, who has won many new designer awards. All his products are made using re-cycled materials, these chairs and the matching stools, were made from recycled plastic. 

I was originally going to use wall stickers as a cost effective way to add art work to the walls but eventually it was decided that having the inspirational quotes I had suggested to my client, printed onto canvas would enable them to be taken to their new home. The canvases are all bespoke and were printed and hung by Feel Creative in Didsbury Manchester, who are able to liase with you on any project and work quickly and professionally. I also worked with them on the frosting for the large reception area window, which added privacy to the room.The lined etching of the Hollings building, known locally as the toast rack,is the present site of the University and I think they’ve made an amazing job of this. 

When I first met with Haleh at the University, she told me that I was the third interior designer they had approached, as the previous two had all presented them with designs which were, commercial and corporate, in short boring. I think this is a huge oversite by some consultants, that they perseve anything to do with education or the authorities has to be corporate. As long as the materials used for the job are suitable and the flooring and furniture are durable and practical enough to withstand heavy traffic, it does not have to be contract supplied. Interior design should be free from as many rules as is practically possible. An interior space should make you want to linger, it should be enjoyable and uplifting, relaxing or stimulating. In short it should make you feel something!

I’m so glad that the staff of MMU will continue to use and enjoy their space for the next 18 months and that all the furniture and artwork supplied will travel with them to their next address and continue to be used and enjoyed for many years to come.


This was the depressing room that had been given to the staff to use as their rest and relaxation room between lectures. The challenge was on, but let’s be honest anything had to be better than this!


Some of the many design boards that I created for the University. I split the room into various zones to include, reading, TV, dining, food preparation and meeting room, which was re-named the genus room.


Calming colours, comfy seating and lots of areas for relaxing.



The table and bookshelves I designed, which were beautifully made by Marco. 

The floor lamps below were approved by the University but sadly couldn’t be made in time for the deadline as each one is bespoke, made from recycled oak and reclaimed industrial shades. They will hopefully make it into the staff room at the new premises.


1 Comment

  1. 12 June, 2012 / 4:24 pm

    This room looks fantastic Karen. Hopefully other faculties will see it and it will bring in more work. I love the tree book shelf and the frosted window.

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