Fringe Box



Historic Building Lends Itself to Contemporary Furniture

Published on: 19 Mar, 2012
Updated on: 22 Apr, 2012

By David Rose

The former Constitutional Hall building at 170 High Street, Guildford, has a new occupant – a contemporary furniture company that has made excellent use of the building’s interesting interior.

Many will remember the building as the home of Thorp’s bookshop. That was a fascinating shop, crammed full of new and second-hand books. It had lots of dusty corners where all kinds of long-forgotten volumes could be found and purchased often at modest prices. It had a wonderful smell of a typical musty old shop – but perhaps an acquired taste for some!

In 2003, the Thorp family found that it could no longer compete in the local book trade, so closed the store.

The interior had a bit of a make over and was then re-occupied by a outdoor pursuits clothes store. Gone was all the dark decor – suddenly the inside appeared all white and light.

Furniture company New Heights then took over the building that had been given Grade II listed status by English Heritage back in 1998.

The borough council-owned building then hit the local news headlines following plans to relocate Guildford House Gallery there, and sell off that Grade I listed building further down the High Street.

After a good deal of debate, Guildford Borough Council officers finally decided that it would be too expensive to incorporate the gallery and a new tourist information centre in the then vacant 170 High Street.

The space inside the building is ideal for showing dwell’s range of furniture and accessories.

Guildford-based entrepreneur and film buff Mark Gudgin had fought to re-open the building as a cinema. Although he had much support, he could not secure the building.

In December 2011, Guildford Borough Council instructed commerical property agents Wadham & Isherwood to sell 170 High Street. The freehold was sold at auction for £1.23 million.

The investor who bought the property already had an occupant for the building – furniture company dwell.

The business was founded in November 2003 by Aamir Ahmad. Its in­house team designs its own furniture, over 90% of which is exclusive to dwell. All items, including furniture and upholstery, are held in stock and delivered nationwide within seven days by dwell’s own furniture delivery team. Its website states that their aim was “to create great furniture design that doesn’t cost a fortune”.

They appear to have made their business a success in a short space of time, as there are six dwell stores in London, plus 14 others around the UK.

A spokesman for dwell said: “We do everything in-house, our founder and MD Aamir Ahmad usually has a very specific vision of how he wants each store to look and our team of experts including the our retail project manager and merchandisers take this as a starting point and work up a viable plan for the store. It’s a fairly fluid process and things are evaluated and changed as we go depending on the space. Our Guildford store is housed in a great building so it gave us a lot of natural features to work with.

“We invested around £200,000 in launching this store, a significant investment – but it’s a great location and a great building so we’re expecting great things from it.

“It took four weeks to fit out the store, but we packed a lot into that time from building renovations, fixtures, fittings and decoration to laying out the furniture and completing the merchandising.”

Number 170 High Street is also known by its earlier name – Constitutional Hall. It origins go back as far as 1886, when it was purpose-built for the Conservative Party in Guildford. It could accommodate up to 400 people, with a speakers’ platform at the far end that is still in place with access to this day – courtesy of the shop fitters and designers for dwell.

The Tories used the hall for dances, concerts and dinners. In 1906 it became a cinema, and it is believed to have been among the first 100 cinemas in the UK.

Great designs for a dining or sitting room.

The floor area is some 4,500 sq ft. dwell has utilised it in a very clever way to show off its rage of contemporary furniture in authentic room sets.

Now opened up are parts of the building (nearest the High Street) on upper floors that were not accessible to shoppers at the time of Thorp’s bookshop.

Many original features remain, such as fireplaces, doors, wooden floors, and so on. These are perfect for complementing the modern furniture and the bright and bold designs which dwell appears to be becoming well known for.

Its eclectic collection offers stylish homewares for all areas of the house – from chic sofas, dining tables and lighting, to glamorous bedroom, bathroom accessories and anything else you might desire.

It’s an experience just to have a wander around the store. And if dwell’s range is to your taste, you might just find yourself ordering some items for your own home!

A peek inside one of the bedroom room sets.
Hard to image this was once Thorp’s bookshop or silent movies were shown here.

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Responses to Historic Building Lends Itself to Contemporary Furniture

  1. Dr Violet Lucas

    April 22, 2012 at 9:45 pm

    170 High Street does look very handsome, I agree. However, if it is to be genuinely ‘historic’ please can the metal plaque relating to its use as a cinema in 1909, be replaced.i wonder who has got it. yours Vi. Lucas

  2. Pauline Surrey

    April 24, 2012 at 10:18 pm

    Yes. Please can we have our plaque back?!