EYE CANDY

IN­TE­RIOR DE­SIGNER MARTIN BRUDNIZKI HAS HAD HIS ‘AB­SO­LUTE MAX­I­MAL­IST’ WAY WITH THE DECOR AT ANNABEL’S, THE FA­MOUS LON­DON NIGHT­CLUB. NOW HIS ONLY QUES­TION IS, ‘IS IT MAD ENOUGH?’

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - MOTORING - STORY FIONA McCARTHY K POR­TRAIT CHRIS FLOYD

It’s early Fe­bru­ary and a sense of con­trolled chaos reigns across the five floors of the new Annabel’s mem­bers club in May­fair, as pain­ters and elec­tri­cians, en­gi­neers and light­ing spe­cial­ists work fran­ti­cally to get their jobs done. It’s a new chap­ter in the life of the leg­endary night­club, which was first opened by Mark Bir­ley in 1963 two doors up from its new in­car­na­tion at 46 Berke­ley Square, and be­came a much-loved hide­away for aris­toc­racy and roy­alty of the Hol­ly­wood and rock’n’roll kind. Spread across 2500sqm, it will be an all-day (and most of the night) af­fair, due to open this week. Stand­ing in the midst of all the com­mo­tion is the in­te­rior de­signer Martin Brudnizki, a tall, lithe Scan­di­na­vian and the mas­ter­mind of all this mad­ness, calmly and qui­etly tak­ing it all in.

Right now, Brudnizki may be the most sought-after in­te­rior de­signer of his gen­er­a­tion, and this club may well be his mag­num opus. He takes WISH on an ex­clu­sive tour of the club, set in a Grade I-listed 18th-cen­tury home that is one of May­fair’s finest sur­viv­ing ex­am­ples of grand Pal­la­dian style, over­look­ing some of Lon­don’s old­est plane trees in the leafy square. Im­pos­si­bly, each room is more flam­boy­ant than the last. “Now I look at it, I’m se­ri­ously start­ing to ask my­self if it’s mad enough,” he laughs. “Too safe” for Brudnizki, the elab­o­rately dec­o­rated four restau­rants, seven bars, two pri­vate dining rooms, night­club and cigar sa­lon spread across four floors leave the rest of us breath­less. With lay­ers of pat­tern on pat­tern, trims, tas­sels, spe­cial­ist crafts­man­ship such as gild­ing across ev­ery sur­face, it’s what the de­signer has dubbed “ab­so­lute max­i­mal­ism”.

Ad­mit­tedly the build­ing’s gen­er­ous Ge­or­gian pro­por­tions, in­clud­ing dou­ble-height ceil­ings, al­low some wel­come breath­ing space for the crazi­ness of elab­o­rately hand­painted de Gour­nay wall­pa­pers, bars made from Lalique crys­tal, onyx and mala­chite, walls lined with jun­gle-themed verre églomisé pan­els, and tens of thou­sands of silk flow­ers hung from the very pink ladies’ pow­der room to work their magic.

We aren’t al­lowed to take many pic­tures of what is still largely a con­struc­tion site, but they do let us pho­to­graph Brudnizki in the en­trance hall. In any other space, its pleated-silk-lined walls, elab­o­rate fruit and flower plas­ter­work and 1915 Rus­sian floor-to-ceil­ing can­de­labras (which fea­tured in Au­drey Hep­burn’s 1964 film Paris When it Siz­zles) would be enough to blow any­one away – here, it is the calm be­fore the storm.

“You then en­ter into the light-filled stair­well, with its orig­i­nal can­tilevered stone stair­case stretch­ing the height of the build­ing, and past the Jules Verne-in­spired hot-air bal­loon, hung with a sus­pended mag­i­cal uni­corn, and you think ‘oh, that’s quite quirky’,” says Brudnizki as he guides us through the spa­ces. “But then you walk into the gar­den room and it’s like BOOM!”

Each floor is themed on a dif­fer­ent type of gar­den: the base­ment night­club res­onates with mo­tifs of palm trees and trop­i­cal birds, leop­ard print and ikat prints, to sym­bol­ise Par­adise Lost (and with all its snugs, you re­ally can get lost for the evening); the first-floor English gar­den has a re­tractable roof de­signed by Waag­ner-Biro to al­low for year-round dining; the ro­mance of the Silk Route and the Far East glows in another bar and two pri­vate dining rooms on the sec­ond floor.

Annabel’s is just the lat­est in a long line of projects Brudnizki and his stu­dio have worked on with the club’s owner Richard Caring. The for­mer fash­ion mogul, now Lon­don’s most pro­lific restau­ra­teur (The Ivy, Scott’s, and the global Soho House group are just a few in his port­fo­lio) has, with Brudnizki, upped the sex­i­ness and de­sir­abil­ity of Lon­don dining. “Our con­fi­dence in one another re­ally came with Sexy Fish,” says Brudnizki of the Asian restau­rant, which opened in May­fair in late 2015. With its glit­ter­ing Frank Gehry crocodile, Damien Hirst bronze mer­maids, sculpted gold ceil­ing mu­ral by Michael Roberts and an onyx floor shipped from Iran, Sexy Fish gave the city’s restau­rant scene “a dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer­ent point of view”, says the de­signer.

Annabel’s “has been a great project be­cause Richard re­ally wanted me to go nuts. Not crazy nuts, but to be re­ally very cre­ative, to think out­side the box. To do some­thing we’ve never done be­fore.” All Brudnizki’s projects, whether a hip new restau­rant or a high-end apart­ment, have a level of cus­tomi­sa­tion de­pend­ing where on the lux­ury scale a client wishes to be. With Annabel’s, its deca­dence read­ing is off the charts. “True lux­ury is the feel­ing of ev­ery­thing be­ing cus­tomised to en­able and en­hance that one great ex­pe­ri­ence.” It cer­tainly echoes old-style Hol­ly­wood MGM mu­si­cal sets and the feel­ing that any­thing can hap­pen. “I want to cre­ate un­ex­pected spa­ces that pique peo­ple’s cu­rios­ity. A club like this is all about es­cape – you wouldn’t want this for your home, it would prob­a­bly drive you mad. But as an ex­pe­ri­ence, it’s like Alice fall­ing down the rab­bit hole, into some­where that makes you feel glam­orous.”

It’s a long way from the taste­fully dec­o­rated rooms of his child­hood home in Stock­holm, where his first in­tro­duc­tion to de­sign came through his “su­per stylish” Ger­man mother, a vis­ual mer­chan­diser, and his Pol­ish fa­ther, a civil en­gi­neer. His foray into in­te­ri­ors wasn’t im­me­di­ate. After study­ing eco­nomics at univer­sity and try­ing his hand at mod­el­ling, he was in Swe­den when a friend showed him what he’d been study­ing in Lon­don. “I thought, ‘I can do bet­ter than that,’ he says. At 23, he moved to the UK to study in­te­rior de­sign (at what is now The Amer­i­can Univer­sity). His lucky break came when a for­mer tu­tor Michael Wolf­son gave him his first job; work with David Gill and David Collins fol­lowed.

His style has pro­gressed from what he once de­scribed as “min­i­mal­ism deluxe” to what could be de­scribed as “max­i­mal over­load”. Brudnizki, who set up on his own in Lon­don in 2000 (ex­pand­ing with a New York of­fice in 2013), likes to de­sign spa­ces that feel in­stantly like they “be­long”. “We start with how we want some­one to feel in a space and where it is in terms of neigh­bour­hood and com­mu­nity. It’s why our work is of­ten de­scribed as clas­sic, be­cause we cre­ate some­thing that feels like a nat­u­ral part of the build­ing and its en­vi­ron­ment. It feels as if it’s been there for quite some time.”

A case in point is The Beek­man, the down­town Man­hat­tan ho­tel Brudnizki de­signed for Thomp­son Ho­tels, which opened in late 2016. With its glam­orous granny vibe – a mix of vin­tage fur­ni­ture, gothic flo­rals and Art Deco de­tails – it was the late-19th-cen­tury Queen Anne build­ing that “re­ally told us the story,” he says. “Noth­ing was in­vented, we just took all its quirky de­tails, repli­cated them and moved it all into the 21st cen­tury.”

Brudnizki aims to cre­ate the same ethos with the £80 mil­lion ($140m) ren­o­va­tion of the Univer­sity Arms,

Cam­bridge’s old­est ho­tel, due to open this spring. Brudnizki is work­ing with the clas­si­cal ar­chi­tect John Simpson (a favourite with the Queen and ex­tended royal fam­ily), who has re­placed the 1960s and 70s ex­ten­sions with a clas­si­cally de­signed build­ing com­ple­ment­ing the ar­chi­tec­tural her­itage of the city. This, he says, “like most of my work, will be about cre­at­ing beau­ti­ful, clas­sic and re­fined spa­ces but with a play­ful use of pat­tern and colour”.

For the Lon­don out­post of Nordic restau­rant Aqua­vit, Brudnizki wanted to prove that Scan­di­na­vian de­sign can be glam­orous and chic. “I played with Kolmår­den stone, pale oak and pol­ished brass – all ma­te­ri­als I grew up with, in­spired from shop­ping trips with my mother when I was young at Sven­skt Tenn, where they mixed mod­ern and clas­sic to­gether in a way that wasn’t too hard or un­feel­ing,” he says. It’s a per­fect show­case of Scandi de­sign: the ma­te­ri­als pal­ette was in­spired by Gun­nar As­plund’s Gothen­burg City Hall, there are tex­tiles on the walls by Ola­fur Elias­son and Bar­bro Nils­son, the sil­ver­ware is by Ge­org Jensen, pretty blue and white plates by Rörstrand, vivid up­hol­stery by Josef Frank of Sven­skt Tenn.

Though he has al­ways em­braced colour and tex­ture, what’s changed is “the way my in­te­ri­ors have be­come more eclectic and more lay­ered”. He has be­come the mas­ter of “big mo­ments”, like cre­at­ing the glossy co­ral walls for The Blooms­bury Ho­tel’s re­cently opened Co­ral Room or play­ing with a rich dark green on ev­ery­thing from wood­work, walls and ta­ble tops to up­hol­stery at The Wigmore, The Lang­ham’s luxe pub off Re­gent Street. “I live in my own lit­tle world where things are quite ex­treme,” he laughs. Pink Mamma in Paris, a huge suc­cess with the hip young lo­cal crowd and tourists alike, is the cul­mi­na­tion of all his brasseriedesign­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, cre­at­ing a homely yet chic trat­to­ria-style restau­rant, bar and roof ter­race across four storeys in the ninth ar­rondisse­ment.

Add a range of cock­tail chairs for Ge­orge Smith, printed fab­rics with Christo­pher Farr, bath­tubs and tap­ware for Drum­monds, lamps for Porta Ro­mana, plus fur­ni­ture and light­ing for his own ac­ces­sories col­lec­tion And Ob­jects (in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Nick Jeanes) and it seems there is noth­ing Brudnizki can­not do.

This year he has at least a dozen open­ings: restau­rants from Las Ve­gas to Ed­in­burgh, in­clud­ing one for the ac­claimed chef Thomas Keller at The Surf Club in Palm Beach; some swanky suites for the Grand Ho­tel Stock­holm; the Har­rod’s Wine Shop; and Dupont Cir­cle Ho­tel, Washington DC (part of The Doyle Col­lec­tion for whom Brudnizki has just com­pleted ren­o­va­tions at The Blooms­bury Ho­tel in Lon­don).

With­out doubt and with­out pas­tiche, Brudnizki cre­ates “fan­tasies” – spa­ces where you know from the first mo­ment you’re go­ing to have a good time. And with­out doubt, Annabel’s “will set the bar very high. That’s what I like to do. I like to raise the bar and then see who’s go­ing to try to do bet­ter.”

“My work is about cre­at­ing beau­ti­ful, clas­sic and re­fined spa­ces but with a play­ful use of pat­tern and colour.”

Clock­wise from top left; Aqua­vit, Lon­don; Aca­demi­cians Room; The Wigmore; Soho House, Mi­ami

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