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In Conversation with Mark Dolan of Honeycomb | Location Agency Blog | 1st Option

In Conversation with Mark Dolan of Honeycomb

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Rob – “Today we are here with Mark Dolan talking about his amazing property Honeycomb, what his experiences were designing it, any positives and negatives from the experience and his favourite features within the home.” 

Rob“Hi Mark, how are you doing today? Do you want to give us a little insight into your incredible home?” 

Mark – “Hi yeah, really good thanks! So, diving straight in, what’s so unusual about our home is, lots of people in London have cybertone extensions that generally involve holding up old bits of the house and building out. However, we decided to demolish the whole rear and put in an entire three storey cross-laminated timber extension – which I do believe is only one of two in the whole of London. This for me makes it an incredibly unique building and the timber construction has some great environmental properties, as well as being the future of building in many countries.” 

“Also building in timber allowed us to do some funky things. So for example, we have an internal void that runs up between the kitchen and the first floor. This would have been slightly harder to do in concrete…”

“What we now have is a non-traditional build, with a non-traditional look, but at the same time, it doubles up perfectly as a family home.”  

Rob“Yeah for sure, that’s amazing, it’s such an interesting and unforgettable property. Would you say you had a particular design style in mind before you started?” 

Mark – “Yes, yes we did, I hesitate to use the word minimalism, as that’s slightly discredited. I’ll also try to avoid all the usual cliches, like clean and uncluttered, but I think broadly speaking it is modernist with a bit of alpine chalet thrown in (wink, wink). To be honest, it all came back to the construction method. In terms of our template, that was the starting point and then you begin researching what’s going to look good with this and what’s going to look good with that. It was then that we settled on a palette of timber, steel, concrete and black really aha.” 

Rob“So would you say you had any inspiration behind the build?” 

Mark – “Well that came from our architects in a way! When we first went to see them, they sort of just suggested this build method and the rest is history as they say. We wanted to be adventurous and as good a client as we possibly could be, so without too much forethought said yes and ran with it.”

“You know, I’m a filmmaker, so if a film is a record of the relationship between the filmmaker and subject, your building is a record of the relationship between the architect and the client. For us that relationship was key, it definitely was a collaborative relationship! Right throughout the process, we took care of the interior spec because of the budget and our eye for what we wanted and let them come up with architectural elements.” 

Rob“Would you say that relationship was the most important factor that went into the design then?” 

Mark – “Yeah, I think so. Without that harmony, you don’t have anything, but as a client it does depend on what your priorities are. I like to think we were open minded, with a strong idea of the way we wanted the building to go. Once we had settled on the construction method, we had a clear idea of what we wanted the end result to look like.”

Rob“Was this your first design project?”

Mark – “Certainly on this scale yes! I mean our previous property was a bog-standard two bedroom, ground floor flat, with a fairly standard makeover. So no, we had certainly never done anything with an architect before – nothing on this scale or with this budget, so we were definitely first timers.” 

“My family also comes from a construction background; I’ve grown up around construction and building my whole life, so that old maxim ‘a builders house is never finished’ applied to us with bells on. It took around 5 five years, from first meeting the architect to shutting the door on it, it was certainly a long process.”

Rob“Do you think you would take something of that magnitude on again?” 

Mark – “With trepidation ahah. Possibly not.” 

Rob“That takes me smoothly onto the next question – were there any negatives or setbacks you faced during the process and if so, how did you deal with them?” 

Mark – “There were a couple, I wouldn’t necessarily call them setbacks, but mentally they were challenging. When we demolished a third of the old house, suddenly we lost our third bedroom, bathroom and kitchen; we were left with a big hole in the ground. Until recently, if you went on google earth, where the rear of our house is, there was just an expanse of nothing. So that was exhilarating and challenging to know we had to start from the ground up (well actually, under the ground up).”

“And I guess the other big challenge was financial. Like most of these things, you know the rule of thumb, double the time, double the budget and add 20% and you won’t be far off.”

“We now want to share the design with whoever wants to use it for artistic and commercial reasons.” 

“The other thing is that when we set out on the project, part of our challenge – to ourselves, to the architects, to the builders – was to make a house that was worthy of being photographed, filmed and talked about. Not that I care about those things so much per se, but to use another film analogy: if you set out to make a Bafta-winning documentary, you’ve set the bar for yourself right at the start. Your aim has to be to meet that bar, the Bafta means less, it’s about achieving what you set out to do at the start.” 

“We set the goals high, so in a way having people come to the house to film and photograph and hearing all the comments about the house is actually hugely rewarding in of itself. It really is so nice to hear people say how amazing your house is. It’s the fruits of our labour and if we’ve had a long week being in the house, tidying up after the children and largely getting used to living in it, having people see it with a fresh pair of eyes reminds us that we’ve done a good job and were lucky to live in a nice house.”

Rob“What would you say is your favourite element within the house?” 

Mark – “Definitely! I love my black kitchen, particularly the island; I always imagined it as this Anish Kapoor style black void, just a big black blob aha. We did the whole Pinterest thing, looking at a lot of similar kitchens and to be honest most of them were just renders. I had an image of exactly what we wanted in my head, but real kitchens often don’t look like they do in those renders. Nevertheless, it came out pretty much exactly how we wanted it to look.” 

“The Kitchen was very much our design, we worked with a local cabinet maker, who was incredible – he built it and tweaked it all for us, exactly to our design. Obviously kitchens are the biggest areas that production teams look at, so having that island with decent camera angles and runs on the other side makes it particularly suitable for kitchen demos.”

Rob“That brings me nicely to my next point – as a TV producer yourself, did you design the property with filming and photoshoots in mind?” 

Mark – “I don’t think so, I mean ultimately you have to design it as a family home. But at the same time, because I have a photographic mind (in a way), I’m aware of the way things will look from different angles. If they are aesthetically pleasing from many different angles as a homeowner, they will look great on camera as well. We didn’t design it as a shoot location, or as a home that will look good on camera or Instagram, but essentially as something that would be aesthetically pleasing – and they go hand in hand really.”

Rob“Digging into your job a bit more, have you found any difference between being on the production and the hosting side of things?” 

Mark – “My top tip for homeowners would be: don’t be in the house when the crew are there. Without meaning to, you are going to take on some of the worries of the crew – where are they going to put this, how are they going to cope with that etc. As a host, you don’t need to deal with any of that, leave it to the crew and get out the house, or at least take yourself away to a designated room. Don’t worry about what they are doing, they have a whole team for that.” 

“The crew are paying to inhabit and disrupt your space, so let them do that and they will put it all back. You don’t want to stress yourself out and you certainly don’t want to get on top of them.” 

“Another tip, be as welcoming and helpful as possible; welcome the client if they want to come along and recce and be as co-operative as possible. Explain everything to the client and try to accommodate any of their requests. Ultimately good feedback from the client is key, as this means you will get recommended for future shoots. If this means leaving out tea and biscuits, so be it. The key is to be as nice and hospitable as possible.”

Rob“You mentioned that you didn’t design the property purely to become a shoot location – what was your reason for registering with 1st Option?” 

Mark – “Well as I probably alluded to, after a long period of sustained investment into the house, it was time for the house to pay us back. I had also previously used 1st Option myself, so you guys were always going to be my 1st choice. I’ve found the communication has always been amazing and you’ve been so friendly and keen to promote the house – which can’t be said enough, how great that is. Genuinely, out of all the agencies, you guys have been the most proactive, communicative and the most enthusiastic. 1st Option is one of the biggest names in the industry after all.”

Rob“So you had your first big shoot the other week, what was your experience with it?” 

Mark – “We had a crew of forty, so a large crew for a house our size, but they were great – super friendly and enthusiastic about the house. They left the house how they found it, despite having to cope with awful weather conditions. Genuinely it was really enjoyable, the neighbours were curious, but again the crew were great with them. We were very happy and it certainly didn’t put us off. If anything it was the opposite; to be honest that’s probably about as big as it gets. Luckily it was the day the pubs opened, so we were able to take the kids for some pub tea. It was definitely a positive experience and we can’t wait to see the results!

Rob“Finally, if anyone was thinking of using Honeycomb, what would you want to tell them about the space, any special features or amenities?” 

Mark – “Well the house is completely unique in terms of its look and its construction; we have the double-height space in the kitchen and that could be used in a dramatic and fun way. The garden is also coming into full bloom now, so we have outdoor space for shooting. We also live in a low traffic neighbourhood (so it’s very good for sound, friendly neighbours, lots of space and welcoming home owners) what more could you ask for!”

“The crew we recently had round were also looking for some spillover space as a second unit base and they found a hostel down the road who were more than happy to let them use the space.”