The History of Michelin House
Michelin House, at 81 Fulham Road, is arguably one of the most instantly recognisable buildings in the capital. Opening in 1911, Michelin House was for a long time the British headquarters of the Michelin Tyre Company; in the present day, the building now houses the award-winning Bibendum restaurant and bar, and LEO’s newest luxury serviced office location. Its stunning stained glass windows and iconic Art Deco façade has made it one of the most photographed buildings in London, so to celebrate the addition of Michelin House to LEO’s serviced office portfolio, let’s explore the history of Michelin House, from its concept through its heyday to the present.
Before Michelin House
In 1904, the patents held by Dunlop Tyres expired. This meant that Michelin could begin selling their tyres in the UK without a licence, so Michelin sent four employees from their native France to found the British branch of the company. They first opened an office in Tavistock Place, and hired fourteen locals. By the next year, staff had increased to over forty and it was clear that they needed much larger premises. Work on a location and design for Michelin House began, and after these had been completed in April 1910, construction began on Fulham Road.
Michelin House has been lauded as a great example of several different architectural movements, including Art Nouveau, proto-Art-Deco, Secessionist Functionalism and geometrical Classicism. It is a difficult building to define, architecturally speaking: it was built towards the end of the Art Nouveau period, but stylistically is much more like an Art Deco building – a period that came twenty years later.
It was one of the first building to employ the ferro-concrete construction system, which allows open spaces without the need for supporting columns, as well as having fire resistant properties.
image credits: Michelin Tyre PLC (UK)
Michelin House was designed by François Espinasse, an engineer in the construction department of Michelin, and is known for its highly decorative features. He added three large stained glass windows all featuring the Michelin Man, Bibendum, in various situations.
1911 – 1985
In January of 1911, Michelin House officially opened. At the time, the building offered everything a motorist might need, from stock in the basement and fitting bays for speedy fittings to maps for planning journeys. Within a year, work had started on an extension to provide extra space and another floor. In 1927, Michelin built a factory in Stoke-on-Trent to produce tyres and, three years later, the company moved their headquarters there, leaving two thirds of Michelin House empty. It was leased out and used as a furniture warehouse. During the Second World War, the stained glass windows were removed to prevent damage from bombing; these were subsequently lost, though they were replaced in more recent years. After the war, Michelin moved its headquarters back to Michelin House. In 1985, Michelin decided to put the building up for sale – it was no longer meeting their needs.
Conran and Hamlyn
Lots of people bid on the building, but two friends, Sir Terence Conran (the restaurateur and retailer) and Paul Hamlyn (owner of the Octopus Publishing Group) unwittingly bid against each other. When this came to their attention, they formed a partnership and bought Michelin House together for £8 million. They made plans to develop a restaurant, bar and office space within it, and recreate the building’s original features such as its stained glass windows. Terence Conran was responsible for the interior design of the refurbished building, and his influence is evident throughout.
(image credit: Love Art Nouveau)