Meet Architects Jeremy and Sybille

We interview Jeremy Diaper and Sybille Haefliger, architects at Elemental Architecture & Design Ltd.

With a career history featuring collaborations with renowned Sussex brands like Furna, Cin Cin, Good Noise, Designs Woodcraft, and Brighton & Hove Food Partnership, they have made a significant impact in hospitality architecture. Discover more about this hospitality-focused firm, their globe-trotting adventures, and insights into their ideal next project.

Cin Cin in Hove. Picture from Elemental Architecture & Design Ltd

What do you like about the hospitality scene in Brighton and tell us about your history with the city?

JD: I’ve lived in Brighton for 35 years and seen it through all the various ups and downs and enjoyed it all. The Brighton hospitality scene is vibrant and ever-changing, so there are places that have been here forever and new places popping up all the time. 

SH: I agree – I’ve only lived in Brighton for the last 10 years, but have seen it develop and improve significantly over that time.

The pebbles, the pier, the sea on Brighton seafront. Very blue sky

What do you do and who do you do it with? What’s your USP? 

We are co-founders of Elemental Architecture & Design, an architecture and interior design company focussed on designing welcoming spaces where you want to come and hang out.

Elemental has been going about 2 years, after we were both made redundant from our previous employers.

We design bars, restaurants, cafes, roasteries, shops, offices and some houses, but the passion is for great hospitality.

Working in Brighton often means working in refurbishing and converting historic buildings and this throws up various challenges to retain and celebrate the historic fabric of a place, but also add new life and future.

Tell us about your career journey?

JD: I came to Brighton to study Graphic Design specialising in Photography in 1989 and supplemented my student life working in Browns, then part-time in various pubs for over 10 years until I started working in Education, fast forward a few years and I had a career change and studied Architecture. I’m very good at graduating during a recession or credit crunch, so the path wasn’t always easy and finding work sometimes challenging.

However, I ended up working at Chalk Architecture for almost 10 years and got amazing experience in hospitality and commercial projects.

I did about 40 Oliver Bonas stores throughout the UK where I cut my teeth on fast turnaround projects with a brief time for design and a 5 or 6 week build time.

SH: I’m a bit of a nomad with a low boredom threshold, which luckily suits designing and working with buildings.

I’ve lived in Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand and worked on museums, hospitals, golf clubs and housing before settling in Brighton and focussing on hospitality projects.

What is exciting about designing restaurants?

JD: Designing restaurants is different every time, which is what appeals to me. We’ve worked in a few roll-out projects and it’s good to finesse an initial design and make the changes you couldn’t at first. You can also hone skills with each new site.

A one-off restaurant or bar is always varied and even with a repeat client, the design process is different.

We work closely with clients to fulfil the brief, but often it is with people who may not have run a restaurant before and although we don’t profess to be restaurant service provider experts, we have lots of experience with a range of budgets, styles, timescales and scale of projects, so hopefully help the process move along.

SH: I love designing restaurants as social spaces, to bring people together and enhance those positive feelings in the shared ritual of food and drink. As Jeremy said, I love that each brief is individual, creating space for high drama or relaxing calm to suit the restauranteur’s intent. The restaurant should enhance the experience of the menu – the environment should whet your appetite for the food to be served.

Furna. Picture from Elemental Architecture & Design Ltd

Do you get more exciting briefs around our city – what is your favourite spot to take inspiration from?

JD: We mainly work on the south coast and London but have worked further afield.

The briefs from Brighton are often a little more relaxed in that the design expectations reflect a fun vibrant city.

That’s not to say a subtle, dark and cosy design wouldn’t also fit the brief if necessary. 

SH: In terms of inspiration, it’s the sea – always there, but always different, changing with the seasons, it can be inviting, challenging or best viewed from indoors! I love how the cold water can reset you and in winter especially, everything else fades away when you’re immersed in the frigid water!

JD: Yes, we’re lucky to have the sea on our doorstep so you can ponder ideas looking out to the ocean – we also keep our eyes open when we’re in a new bar or restaurant – it’s great to see new designs that work well.

The Sussex Cricketer. Picture from Elemental Architecture & Design Ltd

What are the challenges of restaurant design & architecture – any oh no moments you can share with us? 

JD: It’s often time and budget – the old favourites. A clear budget is always good – even if it’s small (we’ve done work for charities like the Food Partnership and Team Domenica) but also allowing for a healthy contingency. Having a realistic timeframe is also invaluable – things always take longer than expected. Short build and design times can often be accommodated but require rigorous planning and can cost a tad more. 

SH: Logistics of construction can cause issues. Often clients want to open restaurants in former retail units in the historic city centre, and there’s not enough power available. Getting power upgrades can be a time consuming, costly and problematic – we’ve had openings with warm beer or even delayed significantly due as a consequence of power not being in place when it was expected.

JD: Another ‘oh no’ moment that can happen,  is that we spend time selecting a beautiful piece of furniture, get the cost and timescales for delivery, then get this signed off by the client, only to have it go out of stock the day before delivery (even though you reserved it), then having to scrap around to find an alternative that can be delivered in 5 hours…

Picture from Elemental Architecture & Design Ltd

Who have you worked with around Brighton & Hove & Sussex?

Locally we’ve worked with Furna, the Food Partnership, Indigo Pubs (The Sussex Cricketer, The Royal George, The Seven Stars, The Hare & Hounds to name a few), Cin Cin.

We also worked with local artisans and makers including Designs Woodcraft, Lucien at Didafab metal-work, Nik the Brush and DavePop. 

Peter and Steve at Good Noise hospitality branding agency in Brighton.

Pictured: Good Noise Design

Currently, we are looking forward to Taith in Lewes opening imminently (after a seriously frustrating delay with a power upgrade!)

How long does your part of the process take?

It varies, depending on the scale of what’s required. The initial concept design process can be relatively quick – a few weeks or so – but working up the details for statutory consents and costing can take many months, and that’s before the construction starts on site.

It is easy to get carried away with the design process as we love creativity, but deadlines are set and agreed so we plan our time accordingly. 

It’s important to get on well with the client, as we’ll be together for a while, often during a stressful period when there’s a lot of money being spent and not much coming in.

Furna. Picture from Elemental Architecture and Design Ltd

What’s your favourite part of your job?

Variety. Our job is rarely the same each day, there are lots of different tasks to do, people to meet and things to research & learn. It keeps things fresh and exciting. 

Favourite project and why?

JD: Ricordi Restaurant in Stockholm. This was a wonderful experience for a few reasons, the client was excited about the design process and although had a clear brief for a modern take on an Italian food offer – we had a lot of free rein. We also worked with a great interior designer, Lucy Potter and it was exciting to collaborate. The restaurant is in Sweden, so I got to visit quite a few times and explore a little of the city and surrounding area.

The only downside was completing the fitout during lockdown, so travel became hard but calls and video meetings saved the day.

SH: Alterations to Awaroa Lodge in the Abel Tasman, New Zealand. Awaroa Lodge is a four-star hotel and spa complex in the middle of national park land, without direct road access. The company I was working with at the time had built the original complex and we were working on alterations – building materials had to be man handled (i.e carried by hand) from the beach or from the closest road two miles away – which was only feasible at low tide. I loved thinking about how to create beautiful hospitality buildings in a bucolic setting out of small pieces that could easily be carried and repaired in a remote location.

Royal George. Picture from Elemental Architecture & Design Ltd

Dream Project?

JD: My dream project would probably be to convert an industrial building or old chapel into a home.

I’m fascinated by historic buildings and the re-use of our existing building stock, so this would tick the boxes.

SH: A project that combines buildings with landscaping, art and sustainability. It would be great to design a holistic experience inside and out, from roof to furniture and push buttons, artwork and music – obviously with a team of talented individuals alongside.

When you go out in Brighton, where are your favourite places for breakfast, lunch and dinner? 

JD: For breakfast I love going to Wolfox on St James Street, it has great food and is close to home!

For lunch I love Lost in the Lanes (pictured below) – again, fantastic food offer and a well-designed restaurant.

Lost in The Lanes Cafe

Pictured: LOST in the Lanes

For dinner, I’m a little biased, but I would treat myself to Furna as the food and service are sublime – plus the design isn’t bad either!

SH: Yes – dinner at Furna !- I eat with my eyes before I taste, and the space, the branding (by Good Noise), presentation bowls (nod to Designs Woodcraft) all enhance the delicious food (Dave Mothersill and talented team).

Pictured: Designs Woodcraft

Lunch – I’m not a big lunch eater, so I love The Permit Room for the variety of smaller dishes to work with my appetite set in a great series of rooms which keep me visually occupied.

Pictured: Permit Room

Breakfast – Soho house for the relaxed start and incredible sea / pier view. I really know I’m in Brighton.

Where would you like to go and eat next? 

JD There are lots of places in Brighton & Hove I’d like to try and although I’m not vegetarian, I love veggie and vegan food so would like to try Bonsai in Baker Street. I have also never been to the English’s so that’s on my list as well.

SH I have Palmito on my list.

Bonsai Plant Kitchen - Winners of Best vegan Food - Brighton Restaurant Awards 2024

Pictured: Double BRAVO award winning Bonsai Plant Kitchen

Where do you like to take a tipple?

JD My favourite pub is the Fallen Angel in Kemptown, great atmosphere and a lovely cosy feel – again, close to home so swayed by location. In town I like New Road and it can be fun sitting outside any of the bars there on a warm evening.

SH I enjoy the friendly vibes and design at the Sussex Cricketer (biased!) and the garden at The Urchin is great for warm summer evenings.

Pictured: Shellfish at The Urchin

What is the best thing about what you do?

JD It’s a cliché, but I enjoy what I do (most of the time). The variety and scope of work can be challenging, but you work in lots of areas and locations and get to meet some talented creatives & restaurateurs along the way.

SH When our work finishes, the restauranteur work begins – it’s great coming back to see how the space is working and feels once its open.  

Is sustainability part of your ethos at Elemental? Why is that important to you? 

Definitely – it’s an ever-growing part of what we do at Elemental. There can be a huge amount of waste in construction and a re-fit could happen every few years, so it makes sense to retain and reuse elements where you can. We always encourage clients to use what they already have, we try to specify sustainable and ethical options, and look to design for disassembly. The intent is to minimise what ends up in landfill.

It’s even better when that approach is also incorporated in the restaurant philosophy strengthening the story of restaurant through the build, it’s a very good sign for future customers.

Royal George. Picture from Elemental Architecture & Design Ltd


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