For Martin Brudnizki, a commission to design the interior for the new London location of Aquavit—known for its Nordic-inspired cuisine—was an opportunity to revisit his Scandinavian roots. “Both the client and I share a Swedish background. So it was important for us to correctly portray our country’s heritage,” explains the interior designer, a Stockholm native whose firm Martin Brudnizki Design Studio is based in London and New York.
Opened last November, the new restaurant follows in the footsteps of the two-Michelin-starred Aquavit in New York, which has been serving diners since 1987. “I wanted to create the same luxurious feel as Aquavit New York, but with more warmth and a less formal atmosphere,” says Philip Hamilton, Aquavit London’s CEO. “I knew [Martin] would be perfect for helping me to realize my vision.”
Swedish modernist influences
Occupying a historic building with large double-height windows that wrap the corner, Aquavit London is located within the recently revitalized St. James’s Market just south of Piccadilly. Inside, the restaurant’s impressive proportions draw the eye upwards, while a Nordic palette of rose gold, natural oak, brass, and marble create a warm, welcoming atmosphere.
Upon seeing the soaring space and the curved perimeter of its mezzanine level for the first time, both Hamilton and Brudnizki were reminded of the early modernist interiors of Gothenburg City Hall, a building designed by architect Gunnar Asplund in 1912 and completed in 1936. “The Gothenburg City Hall stands as a beacon of modernist architecture in Sweden and has always been a source of inspiration for me,” enthuses Brudnizki. “I love the way the space feels cathedral-like with a great open nave surrounded by a smooth, curved mezzanine level situated above.” At Aquavit, the Swedish architect’s influence is clear to see, not only in terms of layout, but also in Brudnizki’s use of oak paneling, elegantly curved lines, soft lighting, and other quintessentially Swedish details, such as the leather-wrapped door handles and lamp stems.
The dining area is laid out in an L-shape around the bar, which is smartly tucked beneath the mezzanine level at the rear of the restaurant. The kitchen and service areas are hidden from view in the back. In the dining space, a series of huge tiered brass pendants that hang from the double-height ceiling help to create a sense of intimacy. Nearly all of the furniture and lighting fixtures were custom-designed by Brudnizki, including relaxed midcentury-inspired oak banquette seating and brass-framed dining chairs upholstered in terracotta and teal-colored leather.
“A puzzle is always easier to put together when you make the pieces yourself,” he says. “It’s all about the way in which you put them together.” When designing in-house was not possible, Brudnizki and his team sourced unique pieces from antique dealers, such as the 1980s desk lamp that sits on the reception desk and the Svenskt Tenn chairs in the private dining rooms. Textile wall hangings by Scandinavian designers Olafur Eliasson and Barbro Nilsson were specially commissioned for Aquavit London, adding more shades of blue and a contemporary, bespoke touch to the elegant interior.
While the lines of the furniture and lighting fixtures have been kept relatively simple, Brudnizki was more expressive in materiality and detailing—with the emerald green marble flooring serving as the most eye-catching example. “The marble is called Brannlyckan and was sourced from Borghamns Stenförädling, a stone producer in central Sweden,” he recalls. “We decided to flood the entire space with it, even down to the bathrooms. It’s wonderful for reflecting light and ensures the space feels bright and airy.”
A warm take on midcentury design
Upstairs, two private dining rooms on the mezzanine level are accessed via an oak-lined staircase to the right of the bar. Here, an altogether more domestic atmosphere prevails. Wall panels upholstered in the distinctive botanical designs of Josef Frank conceal exquisite oak cabinetry while the combed pattern in the kiln-formed glass provides privacy and allows daylight to enter from the main restaurant space below.
Although the restaurant eschews the stereotype of the stark Scandinavian interior, it is something of an exercise in restraint for Brudnizki, who is more accustomed to creating opulent interiors for the likes of Soho House, The Ivy, Sexy Fish, and Scott’s, to name just a few. “It’s one of the first projects that has allowed me to truly reflect my influences from growing up in Sweden,” he says. “The result reveals a side of Scandinavia that’s different from the popular portrayal: It vividly conveys the region’s strong relationship with midcentury design.”
who Interior designer: Martin Brudnizki Design Studio. Architect: Method Architects. Contractor: Du Boulay. Lighting: MBLD. Engineering: WB Shiels. Kitchen: Contract Catering Equipment. Acoustician: Equus Partnership. Project managers: Monaghans.
what Flooring: Borghamns Stenforadlng. Carpet/carpet tile: Bartholomeus. Lighting: The Moderms; Neoz; CTO Lighting; Dorian Antiques; Stephane Oliver; Chelsom. Decorative glass panels/partitions: Tony Sandles. Window treatments: Downers Design. Seating: Svenkst Tenn: The Furniture Works. Upholstery: Studio Art; Futura Leather. Tables: The Furniture Works. Planters, accessories: Svenskt Tenn. Signage: Spectrum Signs.