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Interior Design Masters Episode 2 - Chester Zoo - Design Breakdown

The Brief

Chester Zoo isn't just a fun, family-friendly tourist attraction, it's a major wildlife charity, working to tackle the global extinction crisis through science-led conservation and education. The zoo plays host to groups of school children throughout the year in 3 large on-site activity centres.

Each activity centre is named after a different country: Madagascar, India and Brazil; 3 countries where the zoo focuses its conservation efforts, with numerous different species from each being resident at the zoo. The design for each room must be inspired by the animals of its country.

The activity centres are used by groups of up to 30 children aged between 5-16 and the spaces we designed needed to be engaging and multifunctional, facilitating play and learning alongside an indoor picnic area.

I was placed in a team with Roisin and Anthony which I was thrilled about because having already spent a week with all the contestants I knew this no-nonsense Scouse (my mum is Liverpudlian) trio would work like a dream.

I went for the purple envelope which held our fate - Team Madagascar! Our main challenge in this space would be the actual room, which was smaller and pokier than the other two and was covered in retail cladding that needed to be removed and patched up on the build day. The other challenge for us in Madagascar was the animals! The brief was very specific about focusing on the animals from the country that Chester Zoo worked hard to take care of and conserve. Madagascar has incredible wildlife that is endemic to the country, mostly small, tree dwelling animals like Lemurs and Indris. The issue from a design perspective is that they are all quite similar looking and are really little.

I knew straight away that I wanted the room to feel like you were in the environment that we were representing and trying to help conserve - the treetops of Madagascar. I wanted to use my textile expertise to create a giant leaf canopy in our slightly domed leaf and use dark and light greens in the room to reflect that. I also thought green would be a great colour in a children's space because it's calming and some children visiting the space would want less stimulation.

My rough plan for the space. I wanted to make sure there were games and activities all around the room to entertain the smaller children who I thought would love searching for and counting up the lemur tails in the room and answering the questions I had painted around the room.

I had designed a massive hessian flag for the ceiling which had a question for the older children about conserving Malagasy wildlife - which annoyingly ended up hidden because the flag had to be attached to the wall. I would have really liked to make more of the hessian signs as I felt they were more graphic and suited the older range of children coming into the space - however, those signs are extremely time consuming and the materials cost more than we had left of our budget so I didn't go for them.

I do HATE to make excuses but because of the cladding on our walls we also were set way behind schedule and on the second day I had really wanted to just focus on painted the murals and making sure they looked their best but they ended up really rushed in the afternoon on the second build day and I was never really happy with how they turned out.

My ceiling however, I was thrilled with. I spent hours cutting and threading those leaves out of thick felt and I felt like the impact of the domed roof, the darker green ceiling, the painted leaves and the 3D leaves made the space feel really immersive and special. I really felt that my vision of being in the treetops and, as I said on the show, 'be where the lemurs are' was realised.

It was amazing to hear the judges' response to what I had created in the space, I totally agreed that I hadn't hit the age range past maybe 11 years old, but I was so pleased with what my team put together at the end of a very long and stressful week!

I also thought we were really smart about our space because we wanted all of the furniture to be totally 'removable' all of the tables were not only height adjustable but could be totally packed away so that the entire room was clear, there were cupboards for chair storage and our cubby and coat storage could be wheeled to the side of the room so it was also out of the way. I felt like we really considered what schools need from a space like this and we know that Chester Zoo has kept our room exactly as we left it! Which is really lovely to know.


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