Goddard Littlefair

Posted in People on 24 June, 2023

Bringing different but complementary skill sets to the drawing board, design duo Martin Goddard and Jo Littlefair co-founded their eponymous studio in 2012. A decade on, they discuss their approach to design, the importance of storytelling and how it all began.

Back in March, as the South of England was ‘gripped’ by the lightest flurry of snow – as in blink and you’ll miss it – I embarked on what should have been an easy train ride to London’s Clerkenwell. Ha! I hear you say. In short, it was pure determination over and above a failing rail network that got me to the Barbican studio of Goddard Littlefair. Arriving half an hour late, I wasn’t altogether confident about the reception I was going to receive.

But my worries soon dissolved as Martin and Jo welcomed me into the studio’s new premises with good humour and great coffee. Still giving off the aroma of fresh paint and new carpets, the converted warehouse is everything you would want and expect of a design studio, and a fitting base for the prolific husband-and-wife duo.

The Hilton Imperial, Dubrovnik, Croatia

Having recently celebrated a decade in design, we begin our conversation by reflecting on some of the projects that have been completed since their launch in 2012. The studio’s portfolio is a mix of residential and hospitality (which interestingly, they view as being very similar) and wellness projects. Their hotel designs include London’s Mayfair Townhouse, Villa Copenhagen, Gleneagles in Scotland, The Hilton Imperial, Dubrovnik and most recently Four Seasons Sultanahmet in Istanbul. As the conversation moves on, before long, their well-documented ‘design chemistry’ comes to the fore, and I ask them how this translates when working together on a project. They both pause and look at each other.

“Gosh, I need to think about that,” says Jo, and Martin begins. “It’s hard to answer, because it all happens naturally, by osmosis. We don’t sit down and go “right I’m going to do my bit, what do you think?” We start every project by simply talking about it, whether it’s across the breakfast table, or sitting on the train – it doesn’t matter. It’s funny, we’ll go and see a project, and when we share our thoughts, it’s amazing how similar they are, because we’ll have both picked up on the same vibe.” Turning to Jo, he checks if she agrees.

“I do agree, but I think there’s more context to this. We both studied different aspects of design and started out with different skill sets – in fact, I didn’t even realise I was studying towards interior design. I thought I was going to do textiles. At school I was far more arts-led – communication and languages. I was always fascinated by interior design, but I’m from the Northeast of England,” she adds, “where the people I knew didn’t really pay for that kind of service. I didn’t have any connections and I certainly
didn’t know how you would get into it.”

The Lowry River Restaurant. Bar

On completion of her textiles degree, and unsure of what to do next, Jo packed her bags and set off travelling. Needing to support herself along the way, she took a job on a super-yacht in the Mediterranean which had been interior designed, and that, she says, was the “penny-drop” moment. “I just looked around, and thought, someone has been paid to do this, there is a world where this furniture has been designed, this fabric has been chosen, and all these things have come together. So, I packed my bag, came back to London, and looked for a job. I ended up working as a Furniture, Fixtures and Equipment (FF&E) assistant, and that was my route in.”

In comparison, Martin’s route was far more direct. Following an art foundation course, he gravitated towards interior design, going on to study at Middlesex University. “It was quite an architectural course and we weren’t really encouraged to think commercially, so my real introduction to what we now do was a work placement at Richmond International. At that time, we were all working at drawing boards and I just loved the freedom. It was all hospitality design, which is so creative, and I was just fascinated by the concept that you could literally draw anything and someone would make it!”

Their paths crossed in 2005 at the GA Group. “We were working on the Kingsley Hotel in Cork, Ireland and we just clicked.” says Jo. “Although our backgrounds were very different, the aesthetic language that we both bought into just fitted – which meant we weren’t fighting against each other. I had come from Areen Design, where I had been sourcing antiques and working on palaces and Martin had been at Richmond, working on Four Seasons, Gresham Palace – so we both had to soften those design languages to fit in with the GA mould, which at the time had its own very definite style.”

Despite working well together, their worlds took off in different directions. As Jo took time out to start a family, before setting up on her own, Martin crossed continents for a landscaping role on the Four Seasons in Toronto. On his return, he went back to GA Group and began work on the St Pancras development and The Corinthia hotel in London, both of which proved instrumental in his career path. “Until that point, most of my work had been international, so I hadn’t had much exposure in London in terms of who I’d worked with and who I knew,” Martin explained. “So, that tranche of work was really interesting, and I made a lot of connections, particularly on the Corinthia where there were so many people advising – from estate agents to development partners, through to F&B operators. I was front and centre on that project and it gave me the shot in the arm I needed to set something up on my own.”

The Royal York

Having made the decision to go it alone, his first commission was to design a branded spa, ESPA for the Corinthia Hotel in Prague. Securing someone to do the drawings for him, albeit from New Zealand, he soon realised there was a big gap on the FF&E side of the project and reached out to Jo on LinkedIn.

“Until that point, I had been working on my own – and I had had to teach myself a lot of things,” says Jo, picking up the story. “It was hard. I had two small kids, and when Martin got in touch my first thought was ‘great! I’ll have someone to partner in all this’, and that’s how we started.”

Working all hours, fitting it in around her children’s bedtimes, and putting together schemes from borrowed desks in Chelsea Harbour, they successfully completed the vast 4,000 square metre spa. Gaining interest from developers along the way, their next commission came from Berkeley Homes, for a residential development in Belgravia. Smiling as he reflects on how they pitched for the work, Martin tells me; “We literally turned up at the site with carrier bags of samples and a bunch of sketches, but fortunately we just clicked and secured the contract.”

With a background in hospitality, I wonder if the transition into residential was hard. “Not really,” Martin says. “Because of the work I had done at the Corinthia, I understood space planning, what the market demands at the very high end, and the level of finish that was required. Our way of thinking has always been quite residential in that our designs are quite layered.”


The Lowry Presidential Suite and The Principle hotel in York

Gaining recognition on the international design stage, they formalised their professional partnership with the launch of Goddard Littlefair. Since then, there has been a heady flow of high-profile projects dotted across the globe. Their design language is fluent and although there is a recognisable handwriting, which comes across in subtle ways, they have deliberately avoided creating a studio ‘look’. Their projects span genres and locations and I ask them what makes an exciting project.

Taking the lead, Jo begins. “You know, I think we are such positive people – and I don’t want that to sound precocious or overly confident, but that means we see opportunity wherever it presents itself. If it’s a new build, you seek to create an authentic spirit, whereas a neglected building in London has a history and will always pull at your heart strings.”

Assuming a restoration project would be their preferred option, Martin quickly corrects me. “Not necessarily,” he begins. “Creating something from nothing is in itself an exciting challenge. You need to delve deep to get the storytelling going in a way that works culturally for that market whilst also working for the brand, which I really enjoy. The challenge with older buildings – whether it’s Victorian or Brutalist – is you’ve obviously got the existing bones to work with, which can be difficult.”

This last observation brings us neatly round to their most recently completed project, The Four Seasons Sultanahmet, in Istanbul. A converted prison in Turkey may not scream luxury hotel, but the first images that arrive in my inbox certainly do. It’s a grand affair and their passion for the project is palpable.

“It’s located in such an interesting part of Istanbul.” Martin begins. “It really is special, with quite literally many layers of history. As a culture, instead of knocking things down, they build on top. So, there’s the remains from Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires, right under your feet, and as you work it’s all there to see. It’s quite amazing.”

Above and below: The Four Seasons Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey

With so much to take on board with a project that comes with such heritage, I ask what the starting point was. “History was certainly an important starting point,” Jo begins. “But there was also the location and the brand. There were so many elements which needed to be brought together and filtered through into something that didn’t end up being a pastiche of a building at the other end. It had to speak to people now and deliver triggers to make guests stop and think.”  Agreeing, Martin continues, “We had team members really looking hard at the history, referencing, and contemporizing different aspects before applying them to the design of the furniture and the lighting. We wanted to make sure that everything we did had a reason for being there – none of it was a style choice, it had to be part of the story.”

With more than 28 live projects, a design team of 60 working from their new premises in Clerkenwell, and a further 20 from their design studio in Porto, Goddard Littlefair have come a long way since their launch in 2012. But there is a complete absence of complacency or arrogance as they talk about their achievements. Given the size and scale of many of their projects, I close the interview by asking them if they have nerves of steel. “No!” they say in unison. There is a quiet pause before Jo adds; “We have each other.”


The Astor, London
Four Seasons Sultanahmet, Istanbul


Four Seasons Sultanahmet, Istanbul

Guerlain Spa and Pillar Wellbeing,
Raffles London at The OWO
(opening summer 2023)


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