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An entrepreneurial approach helped LIND Studio out of the starting blocks

Pamela Buxton

Working with her contractor/developer partner helped Emma Lindblom, founder of LIND Studio, to hit the ground running in Cumbria

Emma Lindblom, founder of LIND Studio.
Emma Lindblom, founder of LIND Studio. Credit: Daniel Hopkinson Architectural Photography

A year ago, Emma Lindblom swapped the busy city life of Manchester for the edge-of-Lake District town of Ulverston in Cumbria. Her new home, and current workspace, is an apartment within one of her own projects, a conversion of the listed Ford House, a project which has seen her practice LIND Studio shortlisted for a biannual prize for up-and-coming Swedish architects.

It’s a bit drizzly when I visit, but Lindblom – a self-confessed outdoors type who sees no need to own an umbrella – assures me that you can see the sea (Morecambe Bay) from the communal garden on a clear day. Perhaps thanks to her background growing up in the north of Sweden, she is clearly unfazed by a bit of inclement Lake District weather – although she’d rather have snow – and is even, along with fiancé and business partner Richard Frain, contemplating a winter camping weekend in freezing conditions when I visit.

Her move to the Lakes, where she hopes to grow a rural architectural practice, is not her first big relocation. In 2012, after meeting Richard during a year out travelling, she followed her heart and moved with him back to Scotland. It was only then that she decided to study architecture, training initially at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen.

‘I’d always loved art and I love maths. I like both the rational and artistic side of things. So it felt like a good fit,’ she says. 

Lindblom’s Part 1 years demonstrated an entrepreneurial approach that has continued, with her student loan going towards buying a flat to renovate. By the end of her degree, she had gained invaluable built experience from four small residential projects, all in collaboration with Frain, who co-founded a small development and contracting company, Reform Developments. 

The pair moved to Manchester where Lindblom studied for her Part 2 at the Manchester School of Architecture, and continued to work together on larger and larger projects, including the multi-unit conversion of a derelict grade II-listed rectory in Salford. By the time she took her Part 3, her case study project was, rather impressively, a seven-storey newbuild residential development (Spear Building) in the city centre’s Northern Quarter, again for Reform. Constructed on an ultra-tight conservation area site, the project delivered a duplex and four studio apartments above a ground floor office, where Lindblom had her studio.

By the time she took her Part 3, her case study project was a seven-storey newbuild residential development

Since setting up her practice in 2018, Lindblom has worked on some 64 projects, initially for Reform but also for other developers and private clients as well. The early projects with Reform were clearly an important learning curve for both.

‘It was good to have a client you felt very comfortable with,’ she says.

Almost all her projects have been residential, ranging from multi-unit urban conversions to one-off new houses and barn conversions in picturesque rural settings. Recent completions include the conversion of a 19th century co-operative store in the village of Compstall near Stockport into seven apartments for developer Restore. Fortunately, given how hard it can be to break into new sectors, Lindblom loves this ‘very interesting and rewarding’ typology.

She describes her approach as contextual – ‘really understanding the site and locale and looking into the history’ for inspiration. Aesthetically, the practice – perhaps not surprisingly – looks to Scandinavian design principles of simplicity, functionality and craftsmanship, and Lindblom says that the work of greats such as Lewerentz, Aalto and Asplund must be a subconscious influence. She is also drawn to a ‘Japandi’ style fusing Japanese and Scandinavian aesthetics – as per an as-yet unrealised scheme for a yoga studio in the Lakes, and ongoing interior designs for a newbuild lakeside house at Crook. Here, the interiors will be contemporary with warm, natural materials that reference those of the exterior. 

‘I don’t like fully minimal. It needs to have a bit more atmosphere,’ says Lindblom.

Rural Homestead, a cluster of new dwellings proposed for a former agricultural site in the Lake District.
Rural Homestead, a cluster of new dwellings proposed for a former agricultural site in the Lake District. Credit: LIND Studio

With several projects based in the Lakes – as well as friends and Frain’s family – the couple’s move there from Manchester was a logical step. One of their first projects was Ford House on the outskirts of Ulverston. There was already planning consent to convert, thermally upgrade and extend the private house-turned-school into multi-residential units when Reform took on the project. This was revisited in a Section 73 change to the planning permission, reconfiguring the interior layout and redesigning the side extension to give a more contemporary expression. Clad in limestone to reference the original house, this is separated from the listed main building by a stone and glass recess. The project won a Manchester Society of Architects Residential Retrofit Award last year, and led to the practice being one of four shortlisted for Swedish magazine Arkitektur’s bi-annual award for an architect under the age of 40.

In other Lakes projects however, LIND Studio has experienced the challenges of navigating planning approval for contemporary designs in such sensitive heritage and rural settings. Just a few minutes’ walk down the road from Ford House, the practice proposed what Lindblom calls a ‘quite exciting’ design with terracotta-coloured render and orange, terracotta roof tiles for a terrace of three new-build houses, an approach that picked up on hues in the site’s retaining wall. But after an initially favourable response from planners, it wasn’t to be, and the result, completed last year, features a more restrained palette of slate roof tiles and lime-washed render. 

Meanwhile, in Troutbeck, LIND Studio’s proposals for a cluster of five new homes on a former agricultural site have twice been rejected, despite being inspired by the local vernacular. Undeterred, the practice is determined ‘to get there in the end’, says Lindblom, who points to Carmody Groarke’s Windermere Jetty Museum as a great local example of how contemporary reinterpretation of the traditional vernacular can complement the setting. 

Japandi-influenced proposal for a wellness suite in Cumbria.
Japandi-influenced proposal for a wellness suite in Cumbria. Credit: LIND Studio

‘Of course I think it’s important to work contextually and remain in keeping with the heritage setting, however I do believe there should be room for more contemporary expressions to sit alongside the historic, as this forms another layer to the continuous story of our shared built environment,’ she says.

Since moving to Ulverston, the pair has set up an ‘architecture-led development company’, North Projects, which will operate alongside LIND Studio and Frain’s contracting company. It’s something they are clearly excited about – the first project to start on site is the aforementioned newbuild house at Crook, and the aim is to establish North Projects in the high-end residential market. Lindblom is looking forward to the comparative freedom of being her own client, overseeing the design and architecture aspects of projects including early stage appraisals and defining project briefs.

‘North Projects will be exciting. We’ll see where it takes us,’ she says. 

With the new development company under way in addition to work for other clients, it’s clearly a busy time for Lindblom. She does, however, admit to missing interaction with architect colleagues – in Manchester she’d had an associate – and has hopes of expanding.

‘My dream would be to have a rural studio somewhere in the countryside and a small team. A design-oriented practice doing really design-led projects,’ she says.

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