Morphing the Medieval

by GERRIE LIM on Jan 6, 2012 in Architecture , Interiors
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 Prolific perfectionist Keith Griffiths, founder and chairman of Aedas, channels his drive to create into the restoration of three historic properties in his native Wales

A man’s home is his castle, and Keith Griffiths should know. The founder and chairman of Aedas, the Hong Kong-based firm that now employs 2,500 architects across 18 countries, has launched a new venture, Retreats Group, which acquires and then retrofits old buildings as corporate retreats, for board meetings and offsite gatherings, even the odd wedding party or private revelry.

The first of these comprise an intriguing trio: the flagship Roch Castle, the nearby Penrhiw Priory, and the Twy Y Felin hotel, all located in the tranquil Welsh countryside near Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire, where Griffiths grew up. The castle, officially opening next month (March), has six rooms; while the priory, open since last July, has seven. The hotel, which will offer 22 rooms, is being rebuilt and will open in 2013.

Appearances can be deceptive, since all the rough-hewn exteriors obscure luscious modern interiors. Not for nothing did Griffiths name his mothership Aedas (derived from ‘edifice’, itself from the Latin ‘to build’) and he talks to Persective about why this project is for him, at age 57, the next level — a highly personal statement set against the backdrop of his professional life.

Why did you opt for a modern design style for the interiors?

I’m interested in the insertion of modernity into an old fabric. The furniture was designed by Aedas and manufactured in Shenzhen by Channels, a company making hand-built craftsman furniture for the five-star bespoke market. We not only restore these old buildings but also imbue them with new design characteristics, with beautiful furniture and modern conveniences and central heating, so you can bring them into the modern day. And, by doing that, you can now command far more income for that property, which means that property has a new lease of life.

You seem to be going for simplicity and spareness, even austerity — somewhat opposite to what you’ve done at Aedas.

Aedas has become a huge and complex organisation, but it’s successful because it’s driven through simplicity. Right from the start, I took away the complexity and redesigned it to be simple — reduce, reduce, reduce, distill to the essence — so the starting point for Retreats Group was that the buildings would be simple, direct, and fitted with a timeless elegance that is enduring. 

 Read the full story in the February 2012 issue of Perspective magazine!