All his own work

Architect-designer Lucho Brieva crafts striking home fittings out of every type of metal - and this talent is vividly displayed in his own live-work-play unit in north London. Nicole Swengley pays a visit
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The Independent Online

Lucho Brieva's home is his whole universe. Each floor of a converted Victorian railway depot in north London houses a different slice of his life. There's the metal workshop and gallery on the ground floor that anyone interested in his work can visit by appointment. His peaceful loft-style apartment occupies the second level while the top-floor is given over to a recording studio, hired out to professional musicians, or used for Brieva's collaborations with former Roxy Music guitarist, Phil Manzanera (their first album will be released this spring).

It's here in this three-storey brick building that the 38-year-old architect-designer lives, eats, sleeps, plays music, meditates and exercises (there's even a punch-bag hanging in the gallery where Brieva, previously a martial arts champion in his native Colombia, works out). It's also where he makes the lighting, furniture and architectural components for which he is gaining a fan-base much wider than his rock-star circle of friends. "When I was married to Chrissie Hynde we moved house every year for six years," he says. "It was too much. Now I prefer to have one manageable space. It's very liberating."

The Kensal Rise building was in a poor state when Brieva bought it. Having gutted the interior, he set about stamping his own personality on the property. The ground floor was transformed into a light, airy gallery with blond wooden floorboards and pale walls. Industrial machinery was installed in the adjacent metal workshop while the recording studio was kitted out with all the latest electronic wizardry. Then he turned his attentions to the middle layer of the sandwich: his home.

Brieva is no slouch at hands-on hard labour. He used a special varnish to deepen the colour of the original wooden floor-boards, installed chunky French radiators bought at an architectural salvage yard and created a stone-and-wood chequerboard floor for the kitchen space. He made copper-fronted kitchen cabinets and sapele worktops. He divided the bedroom from the living area with painted medium-density fibreboard wardrobes and screened the bathroom with frosted polycarbonate panels. "They are much lighter and safer than glass screens and I like the pattern of light they let through," he says.

Light is a big theme in Brieva's universe. Tiny red bulbs create ruby pools below his glass-topped dining table. A white circular limestone basin sits on a square red light-box that glows like an altar in the bathroom. Moroccan lanterns throw shadow-patterns on the walls around his bed. His decorative steel torcheres soften the beam of electric spot-lights on the walls while fairy-lights inside a pair of blue-glass Indian bell-jars add a magical glow.

"I love the symbolic aspect of light," says Brieva. "For me, it works on many different levels. It makes a room look more sensual and mysterious - and bigger. Think of cathedral interiors."

Brieva came to London in 1988 to finish the architectural training he had started in Colombia. Once qualified, he worked for a large architectural practice but quickly tired of designing offices. He began creating sculptural pieces and spent several months working with the designer, Mark Brazier-Jones, learning the technicalities of welding and other metalwork skills.

His studies with the architectural luminary, Professor Keith Crichlow, led to a project designing a temple and hospital complex in India. He then joined forces with an interior designer specialising in installations for cruise liners. Having decided to move away from corporate work he has now started accepting private commissions for interior and exterior projects for residential properties.

His own apartment is full of the kind of pieces he makes downstairs - from steel-legged, slate-topped tables and spindly steel hi-fi speaker stands to the building's decorative exterior balconies. "I can make virtually anything in metal," he promises.

Clients have taken him at his word and ordered chandeliers, wall lights, dining tables and chairs, balustrades, balconies and kitchen and bathroom fittings. One client in Kensington ordered a staircase in marble, glass and stainless-steel. Another commissioned a mirror, lighting and bathroom fixtures. Given the labour-intensive nature of his work, it does not seem unduly expensive. Torcheres cost around £300, coffee tables £600 and dining tables with interior lights, £2,000.

As a showcase for his talents, the building couldn't work better. Nearly every fixture or furnishing has been made by Brieva. What is particularly striking is an almost tangible feeling of peace pervading the apartment. Unwinding a gear or two happens automatically as you walk around it. Brieva will tell you that it's all to do with the "sacred geometry" of his work. Circles - symbolic of heaven - sitting on squares (earth). The metal crosses of his torcheres bearing a trinity of spikes. Illuminated red Venetian glass creating a church-like stained-glass effect. And so on. It matters little whether or not you go along with this philosophy. It's the clean-cut yet decorative style of Brieva's work and its self-confident presence that appeals to his clients.

"I like to create an additional perspective through symbolism," he persists. "I want the response to my pieces to come from the heart rather than the mind." When I ask why he replies: "Because my work is all about creating a centre of the universe - a home - for people."

Just like the cosmos he has created at his own all-in-one property.

Lucho Brieva's workshop/gallery can be visited by appointment (020-8960 2794)