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Blank Canvas' newest property mixes the company’s love of an industrial space with privacy and high-tech specs. We had a snoop around Purple Door at Piccadilly just before it held its first event.
In the 1800s, this was the home of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours. More recently, in the 1980s, it was a nightclub called Xenon – famous for hosting Freddie Mercury’s 36th birthday party. Piccadilly’s newest event space has quite a history, then. Its most recent, and least glamorous, guise was as a Gala casino. When Industri took over the space 18 months ago, one of the first things it did was to remove the false ceiling, and the security cameras hidden behind it.
Sprawling beneath eight other properties – including the home of BAFTA – the subterranean venue offers organisers plenty of open space to work with. The main function room alone – picture exposed steel beams and brickwork, and a 14ft-high ceiling – covers 5,683sq ft. Then there’s the glut of smaller spaces, which can be used as green rooms, kitchens, dressing rooms and cloakrooms.
From Piccadilly, guests will enter the venue down its standout feature – the glass-panelled staircase. It can be lit to any hue organisers see fit. Industri has kept VIPs in mind, though, with a seperate private entrance where special guests can sneak in from Jermyn Street.
Its first event, held two days after we visited, was a private birthday party, which featured a 90-minute performance from Nile Rogers and Chic – lucky gits. Naturally, sound and volume are high on the priorities list for this sort of client. ‘The good thing about being in a basement, having such thick walls and no residential neighbours above us, is that the sound can be a bit louder,’ says Iain Smith, film and events manager for the venue. ‘We’ve got up to 103 decibels without anyone outside knowing that it was playing.’ The lack of noise disturbance also means that the venue can hold events until 2am.
So, what attracted the group to this particular building? ‘New venues in Piccadilly are rare, especially at this sort of size – we can fit 600 guests,’ says Smith. ‘There are hotels which do a great job of servicing the events industry, but they can be quite restrictive. You have to roll in and roll out and you only get 45 minutes to set up, so you’re quite limited to what you can do in terms of production.’
Purple Door is different and it’s not precious about the decor. Clients can paint, nail, lay down carpets and build staging – as long as it’s back to normal after the event. They’re also happy to help bookers save pennies if budgets are tight: using coloured gels over the lights is a thrifty way to change the space’s look and feel.
There’s a story behind the name too. Blank Canvas wanted a way of making the venue more visible, particularly seen as the entrance is so unassuming. It chose purple lights because of its association with royalty. The building’s owner is The Crown Estate, after all. This, combined with its discreet doorway, seems to have gone down well, creating an air of intrigue and exclusivity for people about it enter. ‘For clients who don’t like the purple door – it’s vinyl, and as with everything here, they can change it’.
This article was first publishd in Square Meal Venues & Events, autumn 2013.