“I always approach my apartments as if it were a restaurant or a bar,” says Shayne Brady of Brady Williams, the firm behind some of London’s most stylish bars and restaurants, including Aubrey’s, Fischers and the Bob Bob Ricard Cite.
Brady insists that you don’t need a lot of space to create a convivial feel in your home: “My flat is tiny! It’s a little two-bed apartment behind Waterloo, but I think you can make the most of anything.”
Just take inspiration from the best London hotel and restaurant interiors – they may be much bigger than your home, but they offer a brilliant blueprint for making every inch of space work to its fullest.
Your base point is anything you need to keep in the room, whether it’s structural features or furniture that you definitely want to keep. After that, the next step is deciding how you want to feel in the room, says Brady.
“If it’s a dining room, do you want to feel calm or energetic? Is your living room for reading and relaxing or is it for entertaining? If it’s primarily for reading, you want to feel zen, with beautiful, relaxing lighting. If it’s for entertainment, you could make it more moody.”
When choosing your color scheme, again, start with your base, then layer up from there.
“People who are a little scared of color should start by layering the same color in different textures. Then add a neutral tone to make sure your heartbeat isn’t out of whack.
“As you get more courageous, you can add some more daring touches. Always be guided by the things you love: if it’s a leopard print, add a leopard print.
“BUT, don’t spend a ton of money on wild stuff if you’re not too sure about it, because then you’ll be stuck. Instead maybe start with a cushion, if you end up hating it, it’s a cushion, you can leave or you can move it to another room.”
“For some reason, in the ’90s and 2000s, every apartment was built with about a thousand recessed lights. I don’t know who needed to live on a runway, but they don’t,” says Brady. “In my living room I literally just put a low table lamp with a pleated shade every night which sets the tone for a beautiful ambiance.”
Shadow is as important as light to create atmosphere. Brady says that pools of light bring people together and create intimacy. “At the top of a bar, we always make table lamps between every two chairs, so if they’re next to each other but on a date, a group of light denotes their small area and brings them together.
“But you should always be able to make eye contact with the person you’re talking to.”
The type of shade you choose will also help. Avoid white, “too dark,” Brady says, and “messy” dark tones. On the Aubrey, Brady opted for a pleated nicotine shade: “The pleat gives the shade itself texture, while the nicotine gives off a lovely glow.
“We often mirror an entire wall in a hospitality project because it bounces the light beautifully, but I think people are a little scared of that in their homes,” says Brady. They shouldn’t be, she says, as long as you choose the right mirror.
“A beautiful antique patina works or at Fischers we use one with a peachy pink hue which is really flattering. At Bob Bob Ricard Cite all the mirrors are gold backed – you look beautiful in it. You should be in a restaurant thinking you look like him.” best you’ve ever seen, but why shouldn’t you feel that way at home too?”
Be respectful of the building you are in. “I’m in a 1960s flat, so I’ve decorated accordingly. The Mandarin Oriental, on the other hand, was originally a gentlemen’s club, built in the 1900’s. I loved the idea of The Aubrey being in the original rooms which could have been the library, drawing room, drawing room.
“It also made sense that at the turn of the century we started seeing Asian influences in Europe, so that influence tied into our narrative that all of this could have evolved from the 19th century to today; It helped that his concept of food was heavily influenced by the Japanese.”
If you’re working with architecture that way, you can have some interesting quirky patterns and finishes if they fit with the overall concept and tone and still look refined, rather than a full-on assault on the senses, says Brady.
He also recommends low end tables because they’re mobile, so you can move them around if you’re using a room for different things. You could even make beautiful book covers a feature by placing the best ones upside down on a shelf.
“And I love going to people’s houses and seeing photos of their friends and family,” says Brady. “Put them in eclectic frames and it adds to that maximal layered look.
“It’s a lost art because people think ‘Oh, I’ve got this on Facebook or Instagram,’ but those beautiful memories of people laughing really set the tone, even if it’s just in the bathroom or hallway.”
“In the middle of my living room I have a ridiculous oversized sofa that should be in a bar where you can meet friends and have a cocktail. I love to put a screen behind a sofa. In a restaurant there would be another sofa behind the screen, in my apartment there is only one wall,” says Brady.
“Be smart about furniture placement. When we do restaurants, we envision ourselves sitting in every chair on the plan so no one ends up with the dreaded ‘bad seat.’ And I think you should do the same in your home.
“When you’re starting to pick out furniture, you have to imagine yourself sitting down and thinking about what I see and putting the furniture in the best place to get the best view of the room.
“In the Aubrey’s curio room we installed a fireplace in the middle to provide a focal point in the room when people sat on the huge sofas. I’m not telling readers to install fireplaces, but having a focal point is very important.” And it doesn’t have to be the dreaded TV. It could be a beautiful piece of art or it could be the window and the view outside.”
Don’t forget outer space.
“In London, I always look out onto people’s balconies and they just put two chairs and a table and then never use the space,” says Brady.
“Instead you could build a small banquette that could be small in scale but still comfortable. Then add built-in planters so you have plants and foliage and you’ve made the most of the space without buying an off-the-shelf chair that takes up a lot of space and it’s not that attractive.
“I like to bring hospitality home with a beverage cart,” says Brady. “It’s in the position where everyone can access it. If you’re into entertainment, a cart, cabinet or drinks nook sets the tone and lets people know they can help themselves. Then you can make everything feel elevated with nice glassware.