Duke Studios: 21st Century Making in a 19th Century Factory

Duke Studios is a flexible space for ‘creatives’ in a reused factory building on Sheaf Street, in Leeds. The desirable office development in a 19th century factory building has a long waiting-list of businesses wanting to secure space.

In 2011, Duke Studios started life in another underused building, Munro House, about half a mile away, in a bid for a space suitable for Leeds’ flourishing creative community. After out-growing the space, the creators of Duke Studios, James Abbott-Donnelly and Laura Wellington, moved to Sheaf Street in 2015.

The agile space of the two-storey large floor-plate is an important contributor to the success of repurposing this building within a conservation area. Repairs to the roof and external alterations, installing air con and ensuring DDA compliance were agreed with the local council. Inside the building, temporary structures are used to divide up the space into co-working space, desk-rental where you have a fixed, permanent space alongside other workers and studio spaces that vary in size. The former factory also has a ground floor café bar.

Temporary structures were installed to divide up the large space of the building
Temporary structures were installed to divide up the large space of the building © Duke Studios

Cost-saving solutions have been implemented but it is done with style, like the iPad that acts as a receptionist. The structures are improvised using simple materials like chipboard and plywood, but enhanced with 1970s garden wall tiles and vintage signage that sit well alongside the exposed red-brick walls.

Flexible studio spaces
Flexible studio spaces © Duke Studios

The team who run Duke Studios make it very clear that they and tenants appreciate the aesthetics of the place and that they can “feel the history in the building”. James describes the sense that they are continuing something worthwhile and that they feel the need to do justice to the history of the building. The space celebrates the factory heritage with exposed beams, brickwork and reuse of features like machinery as a splashback in the kitchen and leather remnants used as features on kitchen cupboards.

Desks in shared work space are separated by 1970s garden tiles
Desks in shared work space are separated by 1970s garden tiles © Duke Studios

Duke Studios houses 120 residents with 75 different businesses and is fully let. From one-person start-ups to established companies with high profile clients like Rabbit Hole, a brand strategy, design and web development studio who work with Coldplay and Lily Allen. Prospective tenants are screened to ensure their work and ethos are a good fit with existing residents.

Materials from the factory have been reused in the kitchen design
Materials from the factory have been reused in the kitchen design © Duke Studios

Duke Studios has a ‘pay it forward’ ethos and contribute to local events or charities. It is known across Leeds for bringing the world’s largest disco ball to the city in 2016. The disco ball, two and half times the size of a double decker bus, was suspended from a crane for people to dance beneath as part of Yorkshire Festival celebrations.

The team also secured the installation of a pedestrian crossing to keep visitors safe when arriving from the city centre across a busy two lane road. The crossing is distinctive - tarmac decorated by an artist commissioned by Leeds City Council that reflects Duke Studios colour branding. It brings a splash of fun and intrigue to the otherwise average highway running between the Tetley building and the studios. Activities like this embed the tenants in the local area.

Duke Studios offers a new model for property development - one where curating space within a building continually evolves to reflect the tenants’ needs and where the community within the building make a thoughtful and deliberate contribution to the area so they are an integral part of the community and local economy surrounding the building.

The loft space after conversion, with the circular window revealed
The loft space after conversion, with the circular window revealed, having been boarded up for years © Duke Studios
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