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?’
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