‘There are two places for interior design, London and New York,’ says Martin Brudnizki, as he takes a drink of champagne in his latest creation (or should that be recreation?), the high-profile fish restaurant Scott’s, in Mayfair.
Certainly, London has been good to the Swede, and New York increasingly so. And that is why he is based here, and why he hankers after more projects in the US.
In fact, he sees the US as having distinct advantages over the UK when it comes to the public perception of design. The British client has been damaged by the plethora of TV makeover shows and the Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen approach to interiors, he believes. The Americans, on the other hand, are much more au fait with outsourcing. ‘In the US you have your shrink and your interior designer and you pay for it.’
Brudnizki may not be a household name here, even among the design fraternity, but he has a covetable client list and big ambitions. Along with the recent revamp of Scott’s, there’s The Ivy Club above The Ivy restaurant opening next year, the roll-out of the Strada Italian restaurant chain, and the refurbishment of Belgo in New York, with Le Caprice in New York to follow. Then there’s retail work for Browns, Browns Bride and Fenn Wright Mason. He also handles residential projects and is doing a big house in Putney on the books for a banker.
Brudnizki, whose father is Polish and mother German, came to the UK originally to study interior architecture and design at the American University in London. He returned to Stockholm in 1992, but this was at the height of the recession and he found himself working in a building society.
He was rescued from a life in financial services when designer Michael Wolfson, who had taught him, invited him to come back and work for him. From there he went to David Gill, then on to David Collins, which must have been where he learned the most, staying with Collins for four years. A brief stint with Jonathan Reed followed, after which he bit the bullet and founded his own practice, initially with a partner, and then on his own.
‘I set up the business because on a job, as a staffer, you have your client and your boss and it gets complicated,’ he says, diplomatically. Brudnizki certainly comes over as a hard-working perfectionist who is perfectly able to manage his own projects.
His most important relationship these days is with Caprice Holdings, with which he came into contact through his former partner, and which owns not only Scott’s and Daphne’s but The Ivy Club and Belgo. ‘At the moment, 80 per cent of our work is for one client. It’s a danger and I’m aware of it,’ he admits. But he has two new – as yet unnamed – clients lined up who will change that dramatically, taking his reliance on Caprice down to 50 per cent. And actually he is happy that his name is now attached to the restaurant industry. ‘I don’t mind that, people can see and experience them.’
His 12-strong studio in London’s Chelsea is divided into four project teams, each headed by a senior designer. While one team concentrates on Strada’s roll-out, another handles fittings and furniture, and the remaining two work on individual projects. Brudnizki, who is chairman and creative director, would like to bring the numbers up to 16, including bringing in a managing director, but says it’s difficult to find the right people.
His aim for the business is to expand to no more than 20 people, to ‘build up a profile and then retract the numbers to do exclusive work’, which might alarm new recruits.
And while his sights are set on the US, he is also keeping an eye on his homeland’s potential. ‘I never get approached to work in Sweden. People don’t know about me there,’ he says. He’s hoping to rectify this with a PR push.
So, with new clients, new territories and expansion on the horizon, Brudnizki has the potential to become a better-known figure. Let’s hope all that leaves him time to work on the definition of his signature style – ‘minimalism deluxe’ – which might have lost something in translation.