The designer behind many of the most iconic interiors of late – Sexy Fish, Annabel’s, Soho House Miami – spills some tips.
My mother was a stylist and my father was an engineer, so design was always part of my life. Sometimes, though, you don’t really see the wood for the trees, so it took me a little while to understand that design is a good way for me to express my creativity. A friend of mine from home in Stockholm went to London to study interior design and when he got back, I looked at what he’d done and I thought “Oh, I could do that too… or, in fact, I could do it better.” I’d always drawn and sketched, but sometimes you need a little bit of a push.
A hallmark of great design is when it’s done with great confidence. People can have a great idea, but how you make it reality? That’s where the genius lies. I mean, to have an eye is sort of important, but it’s about how you convert that idea, that’s what really makes great design. It’s a skill. Some people have great confidence but terrible taste.
You need to understand the space, you need to understand the space’s location within the neighborhood, and as part of the city, and understand the city and the country itself. Then you look at the building and the style of the building. Then you need to understand what the client is trying to do. What is the product? I always say I’m like a packaging designer.
Inspiration from the client is also crucial. After that, it’s a collaboration; it’s not about me telling them, “You’re having this…” The best products always results from a clear-cut collaboration between what we do and what they do, to create this incredible environment. At the end of the day, I’m designing and then I’m leaving, so it’s important that whoever is going to run it is part of that process and owns it, instead of having just bought into my whole idea.
For me, my breakthrough moments have been when a project has come along that defined my career at that point. The first is the restaurant Scott’s on Mount Street, in Mayfair, London. It gave me the opportunity to do a very high-end restaurant. The second one is Soho Beach House Miami, and the third is Annabel’s in Mayfair. These were the projects that afforded me an opportunity to redefine the scene. Sometimes a good product is not only about the design, it’s about the product you’re designing it around, and with these three projects, the stars were aligned to make them great; we got to redefine brasserie dining for London in a way that is classical but also, contemporary.
Regardless of the style though, I craft experiences for people, that’s really what I do. And there’s a sense of theater, because I think part of the joy of hospitality is escapism and feeling removed from your daily life. You want to be transported for a couple hours in a way that you might not want in your home.
I don’t really believe trends exist anymore. Not in the way they did when I was growing up, you know, where everyone was wearing burgundy corduroy trousers one season… So I don’t know what will happen with design, post-Covid, but I think we’ve already had every possible trend over the last century, from Modernism and Classicism to Minimalism and Maximalism. I dip my toe in everything as part of the creative process, depending on what’s suitable. Today, it’s more about doing whatever you want, whatever is right for the project.
I don’t go to design fairs to see what the ‘scene’ is. I have a very big team that does that, and we do a lot of custom designs too, so designers often come to us directly to show us what they’re doing. I’m interested in new materials and processes, so craftsmanship is something that I look for and support – without great craftsmen I can’t do my job. People who know how to craft glass, carve timber, or create beautiful wood finishes excite me more than designers do, honestly (don’t tell them that!).
Martin Brudnizki is a Swedish interior architect and product designer, based in both London and New York. Specialising in restaurants, bars, hotels, and private clubs, he is recognized as one of the most important interior designers working today.
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