It has been just over a decade since Martin Brudnizki threw open the doors of his eponymous design studio. And a decade more since he left Sweden to woo the cognoscenti of the interiors and architecture worlds.
Perhaps not surprisingly, it was restaurateurs and club owners who first spotted his flair for reducing grandeur down to a comfortable yet arresting sort of refinement. In London, where Brudnizki soon became a name whispered by trendy young entrepreneurs redefining standards in Britain’s high-end hospitality trade, the work poured in.
Commissions from what are now landmark luxury institutions like the Club at the Ivy, the Dean Street Townhouse, Corrigan’s Mayfair, J Sheekey Oyster Bar and the St Pancras Grand led to a quieter business in residential interior projects for some of the city’s more discreet HNWIs.
Cosmopolitan, cultivated and remarkably coolheaded, this product of a German-Polish union in Scandinavia finally broke into the American market a couple years ago when his designs found their way into the gastronomical circuit across the pond. After doing up Le Caprice in New York and Cecconi’s in West Hollywood, last fall he landed a much coveted job which placed him firmly in the global spotlight…
“ If I feel I won’t get on with the client then I will not take the project on. Life is too short. ”
People are still buzzing about the Soho Beach House which Nick Jones added to his burgeoning empire of members clubs. You must have had to adapt the Soho House brand and your own signature style to fit such a unique and specific space and setting. Miami Beach is a far cry from Europe or New York, after all. How did you let that city inform your sense of luxury?
When working with a client like Soho House, you need to key into their brand and understand what it is that they need to achieve to make their business successful. Our inspiration was taken from Miami as well as Cuba and South America. What linked it all together was the colonial aspect of design, whose origin is European and in many cases British. Luxury for Soho House is all about comfort; comfort for all the five senses.
When looking at the idea for the second floor Club Bar, we wanted this area to have a distinct Cuban feel, and so we used patterned concrete tile and rustic painted timber on the ceiling. The furniture was vintage to add to the timelessness of the look. In an anecdote about what’s expected of “Miami”, we specified a tumbled marble for the tabletops to give them a weathered look. When the first batch of samples came back, the local vendor had applied a glossy sealant over the weathered finish. In the vendor’s mind, Miami meant gloss, and what we wanted it to be was a beautiful patina. The samples went back and the gloss came off.
The lobby of the Soho Beach House in Miami
More generally speaking, how important is the sense of place andsetting for you when you’re brainstorming for design ideas? Have any other locations been unusually influential whilst you were creating the interiors for particular hotels or restaurants?
Location is key; when you create a hospitality concept it is very important to make it work for the local environment. The respect for neighbourhood is crucial, since it sets the tone for your customers, who you want to make part of your community. I worked on two projects in New York: Le Caprice on the Upper East Side and Betel in the West Village. They are only a few miles apart, however set in very different neighbourhoods. This influenced the design heavily. Le Caprice is filled with sleek and shiny materials, a glamorous haven for fur and diamonds, whereas Betel is rustic and rough-around-the-edges chic with exposed brick and recycled timber.
People sometimes have the fortune of working with a “dream team” once that they wish they could replicate over and over again. Who is yours and what makes an ideal client?
I don’t have one dream team, nor one ideal client, but many. Every client is different and you need the right team to make the project work for their needs. Personality is of paramount importance – if I feel I won’t get on with the client then I will not take the project on. Life is too short.
When you have meetings with prospective clients, there must sometimes be moments when you think that you’ve reached something which could be a real impasse – or a deal-breaker? Besides budgets and financing, what are your deal-breakers?
Creating commercial interiors is not about my personal style direction, it’s about what the client needs to make their business a success. An impasse is if I feel I wouldn’t get on with the client, which you usually know instantly on the first meeting.
A guestroom’s bath at the Soho Beach House in Miami
These days, one theme that seems to be an interesting intersection is luxury and technology. High-tech design and a luxurious ambiance do not always intuitively go hand in hand. How do you think people in the luxury industry should approach this cross-over?
Merging the latest in technology into interiors is a common problem today, which we address by customising as much as possible. A luxurious material can be used to clad a box full of chips and wires and circuits capable of doing anything. Where we would like to see more technological advances are in the area of energy efficient lighting. Hospitality interiors are all about warm light, which should be dimmable to a precise degree depending upon the time of day. This can be impossible to achieve at times with bulbs and fixtures currently on the market.
On a more personal note, you’ve cited your multi-national background on several occasions as being some sort of influence in your design. If you could take a step back and analyze yourself for a moment, how do you think these different cultures have intertwined to help create your signature?
My multinational background gave me the foundation of who I am; however my life experience since reaching adulthood has influenced me more that where I come from.
Speaking of design signatures, typically designers of all kinds are reluctant to confine their ‘style’ into words. But you must have found a few words over the years which you felt rang true or at least were in the right direction. Since ultimately your story here will be told in words, which would you propose for the Martin Brudnizki signature?
“Minimalism Deluxe” is my signature. Minimalism requires precision in detail, space and the design concept. Deluxe stands for quality of materials and furnishings.
The bar at Le Caprice in New York
Globetrotting as you now must do for your many commissions, a sense of home might sometimes escape you. If I recall rightly, you have a flat both in New York and one in London but you continue to call London home. As an interior designer, how do you get into the psyche of the client when his or her sense of ‘home’ is so personal? *
We do create private homes – at any given time up to half of our projects are residential and typically for high-profile clients. For residences it’s very important that the client is actively involved, as what “home” means to them can vary widely – some want a showplace for socializing, to others the ideal is a haven where they can retreat from their public lives at the end of the day. The end result in any project is a collaborative effort, however there needs to be a stylistic understanding between the client and I. At the end of the day it’s their home and they need to know how they want to live. My job is to translate their desires into reality.
It seems almost passé now to be still talking about the recession but I’ve noticed that you almost revelled in the constraints that it posed for your recent projects. In ten years time, what do you think you’ll say is the most valuable lesson you learned while working in the luxury industry during so-called “hard times”?
Very simply: “Keep it simple!”
You must constantly be asked to predict interior design trends – but I’m wondering if you see a bigger movement on the horizon for design or for the wider luxury industry in general? Or if there are any “anti-trends” you’re enjoying to use in your work right now perhaps?
I don’t really look at trends; however I am sure subconsciously I am influenced. The biggest influence is my clients; they inspire me through their enthusiasm and what they are trying to achieve.
Inside the Dean Street Townhouse (London)
Back to luxury, besides time what intangibles are your most coveted luxuries right now and why?
A good night’s sleep is a luxury that is too rare with my current schedule. Another is the ability to leave the city and get out into nature for some fresh air and open space. Since I am so rarely able to escape to the countryside, I have taken to collecting the landscape paintings of Andrew Norrey. For now, the paintings are a way for me to incorporate the luxury of nature into my urban environment.
What’s your earliest “luxury memory”?
Shopping with my mother at Hermes. My mother has always been terrifically chic and set my standards in terms of taste at a very young age.
If you had to name one “big issue” that’s facing the interior design sector in particular right now, what would it be?
Making sure that what we produce is environmentally viable.
Looking back at your early career, how did it bring you to where you are now? Was it full of twists and turns? Or was it more of a straight line of sorts? Was there a “eureka moment”?
It has been a long, hard journey, but it was more of a straight line than circuitous. The epiphany moment I had was before I started to study interior architecture/design. A friend of mine had gone to London (I was living in Stockholm at the time) to study interior architecture/ design. When he proudly showed me what he had produced in his first term, I thought, “ I can do better than that.”, and off I went.
What’s your proudest professional moment so far?
Completing a project successfully is always a great moment. However, there is always so much to do and I need to always look to the future to understand how my business and I need to evolve and change. I can’t be stuck in a moment when it is time to move on.