James Parker spoke to an emerging young practice to find out how they got off the ground in Cornwall, including putting a focus on using virtual reality to give clients exactly what they want


ärraum Architects is an exciting new practice in fashionable Falmouth, Cornwall which has gone from to strength to strength in only a few years with some impressive residential renovations under its belt. Originally launched from German-born founder Michael Hormann’s spare room in 2011, the firm recently moved to new riverside premises he designed in Penryn, just outside the town.

The name Märraum is itself an interesting construction of Michael’s, to reflect the ethos of the firm – assembled from the German ‘Marchen’ folktales combined with the German word for space, ‘raum.’ As co-partner and architectural technician Adam Laskey says, “it’s the story of space, the creation of space.” ‘Mär’ also means sea, alluding to the firm’s HQ which helps inspire many of its designs.

The practice is headed up by three directors – Michael and

Adam, plus Adam’s wife, Daisy Sawle, who is responsible for the overall running of the practice, business development opportunities and finance. In addition there’s trainee technician Ed Piotrowski and Mina Booth, office coordinator and PA to the directors. Michael & Adam previously worked together at CAD Architects based not far away in Truro, and remained close friends when Michael was made redundant along with several other colleagues when the recession hit. Laskey comments: “Me, Daisy and Michael have all known each other since we were about 18, working together in different jobs locally, from bike hire to wedding catering to running a cafe.” He assures ADF that working closely with his spouse in the practice is actually a bonus: “We spend a lot of time together but we are one of those unusual couples that can tolerate each other 24 hours a day.”

New premises

With projects coming thick and fast, last September Märraum decided that, in Adam’s words, it was to time to “refine and reform” its offer. The firm decided to move next door to a space twice the size, and take on Mina. The decision to move partly came from the involvement of local accounting firm The Peloton which helped mentor the team, and encouraged them to expand. Says Laskey: “Gut instinct had got us from a sole trader to where we were, but was not going to take us to the next level.” The new building is a large unit in a former storage warehouse, with a central atrium as the key focus, containing a big communal dining table. As Laskey says, “in other developments you’d stick three or four more units in, but we wanted the space, and the sense of light.” He says Michael’s design, as well as the fairly idyllic setting, has led to reduced stress levels. This is also helped by other


amenities such as a comfortable area with sofas and a library, not to mention “the ability to open the back doors and dangle our legs over the water.”

The building has what is perhaps an even more important role when it comes to meeting clients, as the firm took the brave decision to not do initial ‘free of charge’ site visits – purely because the competition did it this way. Instead Märraum invites clients to come to Penryn to meet everyone that will be involved in their project, the new office providing the perfect setting. The firm believes that this is essential to communicating the benefits of its approach including a diligence in delivering exactly what a client requires.

Laskey admits that some clients do question the approach: “No- one does it, why are you?” But he adds: “as soon you explain the reasons, they are normally on board. People may say ‘I’m not coming to you, you’re 45 minutes away, but my reply is ‘exactly’. I can’t travel that far and get nothing from it, it goes both ways.” He says that establishing the initial confidence of the client having seen the whole team is important for the client as well as the practice. “It makes sense for them, because they’re making sure they’re employing the right team; it will never just be one person.”

Webbed wonder

Another “turning point” for the growing firm, says Laskey, was refining how it presented itself to the market. Initially Michael’s strong network enabled him to win jobs via word of mouth, but a difficult period following a scheme falling through led to an urgent discussion around how to improve the flow of new business. “We found our website was a weakness, it was not found on Google,” he says. “We made a big decision to make a large investment



Michael Hormann

Adam Laskey

Daisy Sawle

A major practical benefit of VR is that it enables clients to understand – and help make – design changes

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