Inside Out Magazine

Supersize Me

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Gordon Russell, partner in the award winning Detail design team, discusses the benefits of travel, celebrity mover and shakers, award nominations, projects in Dubai and why he'd love to work for Robert De Niro.

"I find traveling very productive," says Gordon Russell, who spends twice a week commuting to and from his offices in Glasgow and London, as well as catching up on his latest projects in Dubai, Paris and New York.

"I see travel in terms of the Aboriginal dream time. I'm very reflective and I like to think about being and how we are. I'm constantly questioning things when I'm traveling and I think that ultimately this is linked to professional output. Who and what we are affects others. I get my inspiration from constant observation. A row of palm trees and the angle of their arrangement can appeal to me."

As if to prove a point,he gets out a large hard=backed journal and shows me the notes he's made on his trip to the Emirates. One thing he's noticed since his last visit, "Things are maturing and ideas have also matured as a result. People seem better educated in design terms. They don't emulate now they innovate and seem more experimental."

This strikes a chord with Russell, whose design team Detail has shocked traditionalists with its renovations of period dwellings and received applause from innovators for its daring juxtaposition of the old with the new. No doubt though, Russell's own design heroes (Ingo Maurer, Alberto Meda and Marc Newson) have helped formulate his design philosophy along the way.

Like many designers who visit Dubai, he's interested in tackling a hotel project and has been checking out the existing groundwork. "I love the happy melange of business and vacation which exists in Dubai's hotels," he says. "It's an odd mix of flip-flops and business suits, but it works. There's the Parisian model of hotels, which comprises retail on the ground floor, office and then residential levels. Here the blancmange of activities brings with it a more energetic and satisfying experience."

Russell has been making notes on the sense of tranquility and the gardens of the One&Only Royal Mirage, the interior of the Park Hyatt, Dubai, and reckons that the Novotel is great value for money and adheres to some of his own design principles. "Design must be fit for purpose," he says. "It should be appropriate and reflect the environment it serves. I also believe the basic principles of space and light are fundamental in terms of proportion."

Russell is well-versed in all of these. Since winning the Best Contemporary Interior at the Design and Decoration Awards in 2004, for the conversion of the Grade 1 listed Long Dock of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane into a state-of-the-art physio center, his company has not exactly been resting on its laurels.

"It was a great recognition. We haven't expanded as a team (he and his wife Natasha run a five-member practice), but we are working a lot harder. We can be selective, but I don't mean this is an arrogant sense. We also consider work where the budgets are tight, but where we empathise with the overall goals and ideas of the clients."

One such example was the conversion of a tiny residential Georgian property in Primrose Hill, London. "The Georgians had good proportions, but when I design an interior it's an acknowledgment of where we are now. I don't recreate or live in the past," says Russell.

He and his family also live in a Georgian house in Glasgow, where he has created a cycle track inside his home for his children's use. "Spaces are there to be lived in," he explains.

I question whether his own home is as minimalistic and uncluttered as the images of the other residential properties on his website. "I believe, like the shakers did, that there is a place for everything and everything should be in its place," he responds. "Naturally when you have children you have to be flexible, but I don't do mess!"

Nothing Russell says is flippant so i believe his and ask about his latest award nomination. Detail created what has become one of London's premier recording studios for the film and advertising industries at Grand Central Studios. Working alongside Whitemark Acoustic Consultants and AKA London, Detail provided for six recording studios with voice over booths, reception and holding spaces, service kitchens, offices, a hospitality suite and an apartment. The facility also includes an open terraced seventh floor encompassing some of the best views in London.

All told it was Dhs 39 million project and Russell is not only please with the nomination, but more importantly with the prestige of the design companies they were competing against.

While Dubai is proving to be a worthy location for both Hollywood and Bollywood directors, it may be a several years before russell and his team will be commissioned to design a recording studio in the Emirates. In the meantime his work in Dubai is in the high-end residential category. "We have several projects on the go. We are designing and fitting an individual villa (of 1,765 square meters) and this will take about 12 months before we actually hit the site. We're collaborating with an architectural practice on this. We're also working on two penthouses (of 37 square meters) and a bar which will be on the waterfront."

As wel as checking up onn the development of these properties, Russell visited Abu Dhabi, taking on the Emirates Palace hotel. Interestingly, he made notes on "The greenification of Abu Dhabi. There's a human scale there which I like," he says.

This seems very important to Russell, who relates how the inception od his designs is based around structured questionnaires and listening to objectives. "I'm basically fishing for ideas by leading the conversation. As has been said, a house is a machine for living and not necessarily and exercise in redesign. I'm not interested in redesigning the wheel, but improving on it," he says.

Metaphors aside, inherent in all of Detail's designs are bespoke pieces of furniture; after all furniture making was Russell's original craft. "Like Charles Rene Mackintosh, I believe in the holistic approach to design," he says. "There will always be spaces to fill with specially made-to-measure furniture, so yes, I'm still very much involved in designing for each of our projects."

A recent success was working with the singer Daniel Bedingfield and designing his london home. Given carte blanche Russell say's he'd love to design for Robert De Niro. "He's always fascinated me. He's someone who understands the integrity of his profession and he juxtaposes this with the integrity of the individual," he says. Sounds rather like Russell himself, whole attention to detail and quality is appreciated by the like of the Rothschild family, Micj Jagger and Lord Bute.

"At the end of the day, three things matter in design: timing, cost and quality," he says. "The design can evolve, and you can slip on time and cost but not the quality."

Like Di Niro, Gordon Russell's timing is excellent, his quality undeniable and the cost incidental.