Making spaces: In talks with interior designer Martin Brudnizki

Words by
Ben McCormack

27th July 2021

From Annabel’s to Sexy Fish, his eclectic style has lit up bars and restaurants across the world — but the in-demand talent puts his success down to a good seating plan

If you’ve ever eaten in a London restaurant, chances are that you’ve eaten in a restaurant designed by Martin Brudnizki. Yet despite being one of the most prolific interior designers in the world, the Swedish-born founder of Martin Brudnizki Design Studio doesn’t think that his creations are easy to identify.

“You need to be very conversant with design to recognise my work,” he says. “You see it, more than anywhere, if you understand floor plans.”

This is hardly the sexiest explanation for what makes some of London’s best-looking clubs and restaurants feel so alluring. Think of the floral extravaganza of Annabel’s or the sleek glamour of Scott’s; the curated clutter of Scarfes Bar or the Scandi chic of Aquavit. Or, for that matter, any number of A-list projects from Amman to Amsterdam, Los Angeles to Hong Kong.

Nonetheless, it’s all down to the seats, Brudnizki insists — and not just the signature banquettes that curve around 45 Jermyn St or The Ivy Chelsea Garden. “It’s about creating interesting dining so that every seat is a good seat. That is what we always aim for.”

None of us has had the luxury of being seated in a restaurant recently, but we can at least be seated by Martin Brudnizki at home. The newest collection of And Objects, Brudnizki’s made-to-order furniture brand, marks the first time that he and the Studio’s former design director, Nicholas Jeanes, have created a collection without the collaboration of an outside partner.

Making spaces: In talks with interior designer Martin Brudnizki
Part of the And Objects collection, the steel and leather Easton dining chair can also be found in the Brasserie of Light at Selfridges

“It was important to show who we really are as designers by doing a standalone collection that didn’t belong to any other brand,” Brudnizki says. “It has taken more than two years to develop these 14 pieces. There has been a lot of effort working with great craftspeople to achieve this.”

There are some pieces you might recognise from eating out in London: a version of the steel and leather Easton dining chair (£3,500) is found in the Brasserie of Light at Selfridges, while the velvet-upholstered Abbas chair (£2,800) is from Annabel’s. However, the key inspiration behind the collection is Swedish Grace, a short-lived decorative arts movement from the 1920s that combined Neoclassical simplicity with Art Deco modernity. Brudnizki’s interpretation of Swedish Grace is — as you would expect if you’ve ever spent time in one of his interiors — more colourful and exuberant than the restrained modernism synonymous with Scandinavian design.

Clean lines contrast with playful touches — a silver bird atop the elegant, eau-de-Nil Ovington table lamp (£4,000), say — while bold patterns make classic forms look startlingly contemporary. The sober oak
legs of the Bighton side table (£3,500), for instance, support an eye-popping swirl of emerald-green scagliola.

Making spaces: In talks with interior designer Martin Brudnizki
Brudnizki (left) and the Martin Brudnizki Studio’s former design director, Nicholas Jeanes, have launched the first And Objects collection produced without the collaboration of an outside partner

The personal nature of the collection is a first for Brudnizki in more ways than one: it is also the first time in his career that he has explicitly embraced Swedish design. Growing up in Stockholm with a German mother and Polish father, Brudnizki says that he never felt especially Swedish. But although he moved to London to study interior architecture and design in 1990, he doesn’t feel especially English, either.

The promotional photography for And Objects was shot at Pitzhanger Manor, the Ealing home of Brudnizki’s hero, the 18th-century architect Sir John Soane. However, it is Soane’s flair for reinterpreting the past, rather than his Englishness, with which Brudnizki feels a kinship. “The essence of my style is about looking back to look forward,” Brudnizki says. “The basis of what I do is contemporary and the colour and details are polyglot.”

Eclecticism rather than seating might be an easier way to recognise a Martin Brudnizki interior, then. But while his designs display a bewildering profusion of styles, they are rigorously focused on a single vision. “I would find it rather depressing if I only did one type of project and only one look,” Brudnizki says. “I’ve done maximalism and modernism, minimalism and classicism and by dipping into these different styles I can have much more fun. What’s fascinating to me is the narrative that we put together, which all comes down to a sentence that explains what the product is about. The Broadwick Soho is ‘your New York grandma’s townhouse in London’.”

I would find it rather depressing if I only did one type of project and only one look

The Broadwick Soho is, incredibly, Brudnizki’s first complete hotel project in London. “Hotels here are difficult to come by,” he explains. “It requires an operator who wants something different to let me do all of the hotel rather than just the bars and restaurants.” Operators who have trusted him to do something different include the Park MGM in Las Vegas, Soho Beach House in Miami, the Twenty Eight in Amsterdam and Rocco Forte’s Assila in Jeddah.

The 57-bedroom Broadwick is due to open in September, with an Italian restaurant at street level courtesy of Randall and Aubin founders Ed Baines and Jamie Poulton, and a cocktail bar and terrace on the rooftop. But before that launches, we’re likely to see the opening of a trio of Brudnizki-designed projects in America.

“We completed three projects last year and they haven’t opened up yet. There are two restaurants in New York. One called Amos on Bleecker in Greenwich Village and one in the Seaport development from chef Andrew Carmellini called Carne Mare, which will feel colourful and rustic. Then there’s a hotel in Los Angeles called The Pendry, on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, which was due to open at the end of last year.”

Delays aside, how else does Brudnizki think that the aftermath of Covid will affect the hospitality industry? “We already do a lot of booths and partitions in our design. But there’s no desire from my clients to create a different type of dining environment. At the end of the day, people want to see people. I remember going to
Le Caprice for the first time many years ago, walking into a wall of noise and thinking, ‘wow, this is incredible — I’ve come to the right place’. I don’t want to kill that.”

Making spaces: In talks with interior designer Martin Brudnizki
Brudnizki style at Annabel’s

Brudnizki admits that even one of his most timeless designs, Scott’s in Mayfair, can feel depressing when empty. “These spaces are designed for people to enjoy and for people to communicate. Otherwise it’s just an empty room. We wanted to create something that was classic but not classical with Scott’s. I still love going there. Everything comes together to make a wonderful experience — great staff, great food, a great time. When all of this works, that’s when a hospitality interior comes into its own.”

Scott’s was the first restaurant that Brudnizki designed for Caprice Holdings, the high-end restaurant group owned by Richard Caring. Fifteen years later, it remains one of the hardest-to-book restaurants in London, in no small part thanks to the timeless design. The partnership between Brudnizki and Caring has proved to be one of the most profitable on the restaurant scene, with iconic London dining rooms including Daphne’s, The Ivy and Sexy Fish all part of Brudnizki’s design portfolio.

Why does Brudnizki think that Caring values him so much? “Richard’s looking for someone who gets what he wants,” Brudnizki says. “He can say three words to me and know that I’ll interpret it in a way that will be elegant and chic. He doesn’t have to over-explain himself.”

It is often said that people go to Caring’s restaurants as much for the atmosphere as the food and Brudnizki says that part of his job is to design experiences. But how can experiencing good design nourish our lives in the same way that a meal of comfort food can?

“Good design makes you feel better. When I come home, it gives me a sense of calm that everything is working properly. My home is a refuge where I can rest my brain and recharge. Design has to have a harmony, but my harmony might not be somebody else’s harmony.”

Take a seat and decide for yourself.