Michael Place on the challenges of moving design studio Build out of London

Miriam Rayman’s piece From Shoreditch to the Shires, which examined the consequences of creatives abandoning London, has sparked a huge amount of debate here on CR. We’re following up with a series of interviews with creatives who have made the move. Here we speak to Build’s Michael Place, who has swapped Walthamstow for Leeds

Michael and Nicky Place made a move from Walthamstow to Otley in Yorkshire in search of a better way of life. Here we speak to Michael about living in God’s Own County and running their business out of Leeds

Michael and Nicky Place

Creative Review: Tell us a little bit about your journey away from London. How did you end up where you are now? 

Michael Place: We decided to move back up North in 2015, it took us a further year to make that a reality. Selling our house in Walthamstow, packing up everything from the studio (also in Walthamstow), finding somewhere to rent whilst we find a house to buy. Moving the studio contents into storage, moving everything in our home into storage too…was a complete logistical nightmare! We hired a Phil & Kirsty-type house hunter to find us a house which was invaluable as we were still in London and needed someone ‘on-the-ground’ with good local knowledge. We ended up renting in a place called Burley-in-Wharfedale for six months, working out of a room on the ground floor.

Then we bought a beautiful detached Victorian Gothic house in Otley which needed a LOT of work, we stupidly thought we would have the renovations done in the six months we were renting…how wrong we were! All the while working on projects, we then rented a small space in Otley and worked out of there for about a year. It was OK and was intended to be a stop gap solution, we hired Ellie and worked from this tiny space. Once we moved into our house (with work still going on around us, no central heating, no kitchen etc). Once the house was habitable and we had chance to catch our breath we decided to rent a studio space in Leeds, which is where we are now. So, we live in Otley which is nine miles outside of Leeds in the breathtaking scenery of the Wharfe Valley and run the studio from Leeds where we have three staff (five in total including Nicky and I).

CR: Safe to say it was a challenge?

MP:  It was absolutely mental for about two years solid, super stressful.

CR: What prompted the move?

MP: We moved for a number of reasons, the big one being I wanted to be nearer my family (all in Yorkshire) which thankfully Nicky was happy to do that. And we felt that the studio would be able to exist happily/financially outside of London. We also wanted to get a taste of this work-life balance people bang on about.

I do believe the North of England will become an even more important part of the country in terms of creativity

CR: Has collaborating with other creatives or employing people been harder since you moved away from London? 

MP: I’m not going to lie, it is a very different landscape up here…but it is getting better. Collaboration has been no problem, in fact it’s a lot easier. We have met some amazing people and businesses who are very open and not secretive which I think the London scene can be. It’s a cliché but people are genuinely more friendly here…I will add though that I’m not saying all people in London are rude. We loved our time in London, and still enjoy going there for meetings and events etc. We know that London will always be seen as the design capital of England…but I do believe the North of England will become an even more important part of the country in terms of creativity. On that note the scene in Manchester is absolutely brilliant, it’s like a mini-London (but with a different attitude). Leeds isn’t far behind and is getting better all the time.

CR: Have you achieved that work-life balance you were after? 

MP: Its been great, we get to see my family a lot more which is super important for me. My parents are getting old and I really wanted to make sure I am around more to be with them. When we lived in London I would be lucky if I saw my parents more than 4 times in a year. Now we get to see them pretty much every week. Work-life balance has been a bit hard as we had taken on a lot in terms of our house, we severely underestimated how much time and energy that has taken out of us. We hopefully can see the light at the end of the tunnel though on that and look forward to really enjoying what we have on our doorstep.

CR: Since you started living in Otley have you noticed any changes there? Gentrification? The ex-urban dwellers bringing change?

MP: Otley hasn’t really changed that much in the time we have lived there. It’s a funny place, we really love it. It is a small market town with about 12 pubs within about half a square mile! Since we moved there been a few new cooler cafes and a bar opening, I suppose you could call it gentrification…just not on the scale of what we saw in Walthamstow before we left. Things just move a bit slower up here…

CR: Do you think you would have been able to launch a career from a smaller town? Do you think having experience and contacts in London is an important stepping stone? 

MP: I’m not sure to be honest. When we started Build I did it from London as I thought it would definitely be easier. There were and are plenty of agencies throughout the North of England that have always been here doing great work. We made the leap because we felt that the studio had a good name and we had good clients. We knew that a lot of our clients aren’t UK based and they were more than happy to conduct business in a more modern way. It felt great to get work from the likes of Nike and Google whilst we had not been long back up North. It might sound silly, but it felt like a validation in some respect. I hear from more and more designers now, good designers saying they are moving out of the city which is really good. The more people do move out of the city/London, the better the scene will be.


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