Meet Martin Brudnizki: Britain’s best interior designer?

Gentleman's Journal talks to the man behind Annabel's redesign

At the time of writing in early May, the new premises for Annabel’s, the world’s most famous private club, is a building site; a hive of hard hats and high vis. There’s a lot to be done prior to the highly-anticipated opening in November. And surely no-one is feeling the pressure more than Martin Brudnizki, the mastermind charged with the responsibility of the interior design. “Reimagining” such an iconic establishment is no mean feat and, as a result, nothing is left to chance.

‘Everything is fastidiously worked out to within an inch of its life in the studio beforehand,’ says Brudnizki. ‘I can accept a three to five per cent margin on things not being quite right, but no more than that. Ideally, and usually it’s the case, everything is spot on from the start.’ It helps that he has developed an understanding with owner Richard Caring.

‘I’ve worked with Richard for 10 years, and I instinctively know what it is that he wants to achieve. He wants something extraordinary. He never wants ordinary. Even if it’s not possible, he wants ideas that push the limits.’ There is, perhaps, no better example of this than Sexy Fish, the abstract Asian brasserie across the square from Annabel’s that features giant fish sculptures, coral inspired fabric panels by Michael Roberts, and a pair of bronze mermaids by Damien Hirst. (‘Richard loved the whole idea – it wasn’t like any other Asian restaurant in London. He doesn’t want something that anyone else has.’)

Every design starts with the clientele; the people who are going to use it. A thorough understanding of the demographic he’s creating for is vital. ‘The interior has to send the message of what kind of place it is. This, and the brief from the client, set the parameter which we work within.’ In New York this is even more apparent. ‘If you take Manhattan, for example, it’s a small island made up of many neighbourhoods, each with a different set of rules, and you have to really understand that when designing. The design has to fit the surroundings – these are the people who are going to live with it. If you design something that doesn’t fit into the neighbourhood, then it becomes a destination rather than something that the locals actually use.’

While you may not know it, most of you will have been privy to Brudnizki’s work, as his portfolio features many of London’s finest clubs, bars and restaurants. He decided what colour cushions you sit on at the Academicians’ Room, how the light hits your table at The Ivy Café Marylebone, and which exact books are on the shelf in Scarfes Bar. Basically, every minute detail that we take for granted, or flippantly acknowledge, in any of these establishments has been painstakingly sketched on paper, conceptualised on screen and prototyped before being implemented.

I can accept a three to five per cent margin on things not being quite right, but no more than that

‘There is a huge science behind it all,’ Brudnizki explains. ‘We are trying to create spaces that people react very positively to.’ The latter is certainly something the Annabel’s clientele has grown accustomed to.

‘Understanding the history of Annabel’s has been crucial. Then there are certain holistic elements like the comfort of the seats in the dining room compared to in the bar. The concept of the lighting and mirror reflections. These elements we are keeping, and then beyond that we are doing something quite extraordinary: down the rabbit hole, Alice in Wonderland sort of thing. That’s all I can say for now,’ he says leadingly.

In the world of interior design, few other places in London carry a level of prestige to match Annabel’s. The assignment is a testament to Brudnizki’s quality.

He grew up in Sweden, his father a civil engineer and his mother a visual merchandiser. His home was beautifully decorated, aberrantly so for the culture. He recalls visiting friends’ houses as a young boy, only to need to leave as the ‘weird wallpaper’ would give him a headache.

‘I have always been a creative but I never really knew what to do with it,’ he says. ‘My father wanted me to have a proper job, and being a creative didn’t count. So I went to the University of Stockholm to study Economics. But after two years I realised it wasn’t for me.’

Martin took a couple of years out, dabbling in modelling and travelling. ‘Then a friend of mine went over to London to study Interior Architecture. When he came back to Sweden he showed me his portfolio of work. I remember looking at it and thinking: “I can do better than this”, so I enrolled. And here I am today.’

Today is certainly a good time to be Martin Brudnizki. Following various stints in London, most notably with the legendary David Collins, he set up his eponymous studio in 2000, and then in New York in 2012. He now has a 70-person strong team, 25-30 projects on the go at any given time, and a catalogue of accolades and awards to his name. His work is widely regarded as the industry bar.

Have no doubt, when the dust settles and Annabel’s is unveiled in November, his design will be befitting of such an iconic venue.

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