The paddles in the Ping-Pong area aren’t just for show — guests can bring their own and padlock them to hooks, mimicking the practice of keeping one’s own tankard behind the bar. Rough-edged Douglas-fir cladding gives the room warmth, as do the curtains, which are made from various roll ends.

The Book Club, by Shai Akram and Andrew Haythornthwaite


As if they didn’t have enough to cry about, London’s young bankers lost a favorite watering hole this year — the seminal Shoreditch nightclub Home, whose hipster cachet had long faded since its opening in 1997. When local designers Andrew Haythornthwaite and Shai Akram were invited to help transform the space into The Book Club — where the activities include not just eating, drinking, and dancing but also more cerebral pursuits like poetry, storytelling, and workshops — it was a delicate transition. “We didn’t want it to feel like a brand-new bar,” says Haythornthwaite. “We wanted it to be one of those places that seems like it’s always been there but you just haven’t noticed it.”

The result is a kind of high-design rec room. The pair packed the space with elegant quirks, like a ceiling covered with 23,000 individually suspended lightbulbs. “There are so many amazing places around here,” Akram says of the Shoreditch neighborhood. “You need to have something that will set you apart.” Beyond the bulbs, the pair repeated simple elements throughout the interior. Just inside the entrance, the wall is peppered with houseplants, each mounted in its own terracotta pot. In the game room, a custom Ping-Pong table is accompanied by a wall of paddles, and one end of the reading room is stacked high with secondhand books.

For Haythornthwaite, design runs in the family. His father, an established New Zealand-born industrial designer, worked for Henry Dreyfuss in New York, and all four of his brothers also ended up in the field. Akram, his partner in work and life, traces her creative influence a generation further: Her grandparents moved to the UK from Pakistan in the 1960s, and her grandmother set up a dressmaking shop where Akram can remember pestering her for the chance to dress the window so as to tell a story rather than simply display the merchandise. The pair met at London’s Royal College of Art, where they both studied under Ron Arad, and they’ve worked together on and off ever since. They took us through the process of transforming The Book Club space.

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