Tuesday, 14 March 2017

London Architecture - Michelin House

Michelin House at 81 Fulham Road, Chelsea, London, was constructed as the first permanent UK headquarters and tyre depot for the Michelin Tyre Company Ltd. The building opened for business on 20 January 1911.

Currently The Bibendum Restaurant

Designed by one of Michelin's employees, François Espinasse, the building has three large stained-glass windows based on Michelin advertisements of the time, all featuring the Michelin Man "Bibendum". Around the front of the original building at street level there is a number of decorative tiles showing famous racing cars of the time that used Michelin tyres. More tiles can be found inside the front of the building, which was originally a tyre-fitting bay for passing motorists. People walking into the reception area of the building are still greeted by a mosaic on the floor showing Bibendum holding aloft a glass of nuts, bolts and other hazards, proclaiming "Nunc Est Bibendum" (Latin for "Now is the time to drink"). The reception area also features more decorative tiles around its walls. Two glass cupolas, which look like piles of tyres, frame either side of the front of the building. The Michelin company's close association with road maps and tourism is represented by a number of etchings of the streets of Paris on some of the first-floor windows.
Michelin moved out of the building in 1985, when it was purchased by the late publisher Paul Hamlyn and the restaurateur/retailer Sir Terence Conran, who shared a love for the building. They embarked on a major redevelopment that included the restoration of some the original features. The new development also featured offices for Hamlyn's company Octopus Publishing, as well as Conran's Bibendum Restaurant & Oyster Bar, and a Conran Shop. All three businesses opened in August 1987.

Making of the Michelin building

Patents owned by Dunlop prevented other manufacturers from selling their tyres in Britain, except under licence. The patents were due to expire in the autumn of 1904, and in anticipation of this, Michelin opened an office in Tavistock Place, South Kensington. Michelin sent four employees over from France to Britain to establish the new British branch of the company. Fourteen local staff were also recruited. In June 1905, the Michelin Tyre Company Limited was incorporated. Within a year, the staff had increased to over forty and the company moved into new premises in Sussex Place. When it soon became apparent that the company needed much larger premises, the search for a new site began. A number of different sites were looked into and the earliest plans for a purpose-built London Headquarters date from 1906 for a site on Vauxhall Bridge Road. In 1909, a site on Fulham Road was offered to the company. Fulham Road, one of the main routes into London was considered a great location. Later that same year, a piece of land bordered by Fulham Road, Sloane Avenue, Leader Street and Lucan Place was purchased freehold from Cadgan and Hans Estate Co. Work on a design for the building had already begun and on 4 April 1910, the final designs for Michelin House were completed. Shortly after, work began on the building's construction.