Four former directors of collapsed fit-out group Churchfield are wary of making the same mistakes as their previous firm as they set up a new venture.
"It was a really strange experience. We were a successful company. Having those issues thrown at us – it was very peculiar."

The experience that so perplexed Bluu sales and marketing director Danny Green was the fall of fit-out group Churchfield. The group went into administration in February, taking with it subsidiary Churchfield Associates West, where Green and his three colleagues at Bluu were directors.

Last year, when the plight of financially troubled Churchfield worsened, the subsidiary had been forced to contribute £1.8m to City arm, Churchfield Associates.

"We had no control over payments and it was affecting our obligations as directors," explains Robb Simms-Davies, former managing director at the West End office.

Prompted to leave by the departure of Churchfield group managing director Martin Tidd in October 2000, as well as by the financial plight of the West End office, Peter Dornan led the exodus the same month, along with Steve Holt, construction head at Churchfield Associates West.

Dornan subsequently set up Bluu with Holt, who is now head of construction. "I found it untenable," says Dornan, who saw a chance to go it alone. "It seemed the right time in my life to do it."

The other three – Green, Simms-Davies and Gavin Gleave – stuck it out, mainly to keep existing clients happy and ensure that subcontractors were paid. "In November, we agreed to stay and complete projects for clients," explains Gleave. But by Christmas the three were convinced of Churchfield's upcoming demise and left. They took stock in January, then decided to join Dornan at Bluu.

By February the four had all left, frustrated by the financial state the parent group had left them in.

What made it worse for Simms-Davies was that he felt he had turned round the operation since joining Churchfield Associates West in summer 1999. "What made me more upset was that after rescuing something that was underperforming, it was taken away from us," he says.

After rescuing something that was underperforming, it was taken away from us

Peter Dornan, director of Bluu

Unsurprisingly the new set-up led to industry speculation over the personnel and beginnings of the operation, coming so soon after the collapse of Churchfield. The team is philosophical about the rumours, but claims they have had no serious effect on business.

"We were not naive enough to think that people wouldn't throw mud at us," says Simms-Davies.

"But the people who want to do business with us are doing so."

Green adds that the firm has been very open with the market about events, pointing out that he and Gleave were the only former Churchfield employees who turned up at last month's creditors' meeting.

In any case, the quartet has been firmly focused on the new set-up, which they hope will hit sales of £12m this year. The firm is now split into three operations: Bluu Interiors, Bluu Construct and an umbrella holding group, Bluu International, all housed in offices just north of Oxford Street. The former industrial warehouse space was fitted out by Bluu itself.

The four believe that Bluu does not have the feel of a new company, because they worked together previously. "Rather than just being a new firm we have a team here with its own dynamic," explains Green. Bluu already has a workforce of 40, about 10 of whom are former Churchfield Associates West staff, and is aiming to work for IT and media firms as well as financial institutions and professional services companies.

And Simms-Davies claims the mixed experience of the management team, from contracting, surveying and the property sector, is ideal for the fast-moving interior market. "The market intelligence is very good here. We have the best people from those backgrounds. We have a strong management team."