Reimagining Rapha

‘The original Brewer Street Clubhouse opened in 2012 so it’s one of our oldest locations. And with the Rapha head office just up the road, it’s a place that’s very important to all of us at Imperial Works.’

Tasked with delivering the redesign of Rapha’s flagship London clubhouse, now that the final finishing touches are complete and the doors once again open, Edwin Foote is feeling a huge sense of relief after weeks of back-to-back 12 hour days.

Responsible for the look and feel of Rapha’s physical locations in his role as Retail Design Manager, Foote works closely with the inhouse Visual Merchandising and Brand Design teams but also pulls from a range of design cues he records as and when inspiration strikes.

‘I have a single folder called ‘Image Bank’ where I keep everything from Instagram posts to photos taken around town. I also dedicate quite a lot of time to reading blogs and keeping up to date with fashion trends, interior design and architecture. And all these ideas go, unsorted, into this one folder. I did try organising it once but it just felt an impossible task. And if you are looking for inspiration, there’s a danger you’ll close off huge chunks of this visual library if it was too ordered.’

‘What I do isn’t necessarily that complicated. It’s matching forms with materials and neither of those things needs to be radical. There’s lots of small design touches that build together to create this refurbishment but it’s the balance of the overall space which is important rather than any one detail’

Modest as this self-appraisal of his role may be, what has become evident over the past decade is that Rapha clubhouses might share a recognisable look but all, equally, reflect elements of their location. And with this project an updating of an already well-loved physical space, Foote was conscious of leaving untouched what was seen to work well.

‘This wasn’t a case of starting from scratch so we knew what we wanted to change. The way it was quite industrial with exposed services and the desire for it to feel a little cosier and more comfortable. And when the adjacent unit to our original Clubhouse became available, it was too good an opportunity to miss.’

‘The old space was struggling to hold our growing product range and accommodate 30 or so riders and their bikes all arriving at the same time from Regent’s Park laps. This also meant we rarely had the space for events, activations and storytelling—key aspects of the Clubhouse experience that were being compromised due to a lack of space. So not only has expanding into the adjacent unit given us more shopfloor to play with, it also came with a basement which meant we could move our stockroom downstairs and free up even more space on the ground floor for customer-facing touchpoints.’

Having worked at Rapha for almost 5 years, it was clear to Foote that flexibility belonged at the heart of this refurbishment. With a variety of customer types – riders seeking refreshment to people shopping, watching racing or holding business meetings – the challenge was to implement the three pillars of content, community and commerce without the space feeling sterile or intimidating.

‘The original Clubhouse had an amazing energy to it. The café was always bustling and the shopfloor just on the right side of chaotic. So with the new refurbishment, we didn’t want to lose this personality. We want everyone who visits the Clubhouse to feel comfortable and at ease—to absorb our love of cycling, enjoy a coffee and maybe find a new piece of clothing for their cycling wardrobe.’

To help achieve this aim, pilot projects were introduced in the Copenhagen and San Francisco Clubhouses to trial ideas for the Soho concept. Simple design flourishes such as flexible shop fittings to allow a less rigid way of displaying product and easily taken down to open up the whole space for a movie night or guest speaker. A preparatory process that underpinned the project until it was finally time to knock through into the adjoining unit.

‘Joining the two spaces and raising the floor to a single level meant there were quite a few unknowns in the early stages of construction. Amazingly, the discoveries we made between our initial surveys and the finished build all worked out in our favour and we were fortunate not to hit any major roadblocks.’

‘One part of the project which did cause me a few sleepless nights were the custom tiles used on the cash desk that contain shreds of the signature pink Rapha Gazzetta tissue paper. These were made for us in Liverpool but needed to be posted to the Czech Republic where the counter was being manufactured. Delays caused by Brexit and thoughts of the tiles arriving in thousands of pieces were definitely a worry at the time but fortunately they all arrived safely and I could relax again.’

Describing the Clubhouse as almost unrecognisable, Foote believes the biggest change is how calm the new space feels. A characteristic he suggests is partly due to the material palette and the use of douglas fir timber which adds a level of warmth to the space. Likewise, above the eyeline, a framework spans the ceiling, wrapping the top half of the walls and covering all the electrical and air conditioning systems.

‘The focus is now on our products, staff and customers—not this huge industrial-looking room full of pipes and cables. Previously the café was busy and loud and this carried through to a slightly crowded retail area and a fitting room experience that wasn’t exactly luxurious. There was a single look and feel across the whole space and in the way that music has moments of both loud excitement and quiet contemplation, the same is needed in a physical environment. As you walk around the new Clubhouse there are subtle changes in mood prompted by lighting, audio, TV screens, imagery and product display.’

‘But what I’m most proud of, is the one-off items we’ve created which are totally unique to the London Clubhouse. As a nod to the original Citroën H Van, we took the signature fluted panels and wrapped them around the new cash desk. That’s where you’ll also see three custom-made pennants that were sewn by the Rapha Atelier department using recycled jerseys and fabrics. The flags celebrate the London RCC chapter as well as the Women’s 100 and A Day in Hell – two rides which started in London and are now popular across the world.’

‘These showpieces, and the many smaller touches, all add up to create a unique space which I think has Rapha’s signature all over it. And as the brand continues to appeal to more and more cyclists – providing them with the inspiration and clothing they need to get out on their bikes – I feel the new London Clubhouse is the perfect place to enjoy everything Rapha has to offer.’

Edwin Foote

Rapha London

Images with kind permission of Rapha UK