Russell Sage Studio was established in 2004 by the quintessentially Englishman Russell Sage. He has been commissioned to revitalise some of London’s most iconic hotels, restaurants and attractions, and his handiwork is visible throughout the capital. Recent projects include The Goring Hotel, Sofitel St James, and Clerkenwell’s Zetter Townhouse, and numerous Gordon Ramsay restaurants including the Savoy Grill. Further historic work includes projects for St Paul’s Cathedral, English Heritage (Dover Castle) and the National Trust (Avebury Manor).
Where did your inspiration for the design of The Zetter Townhouse come from?
We were hugely inspired by [owners] Michael and Mark, who were wonderfully brilliant and encouraging hosts with a great eye for humour and detail. We said early on that we needed to imagine The Zetter Townhouse as the eccentric long-lost aunt of The Zetter hotel. This led to exploring the work of cartoonists such as Gilray and Hogarth, and from there we started to imagine the venue as a bonkers aunt who had to sell her big country estate and move with far too much furniture to a smaller venue, where she partied away her twilight years!
You were a fashion designer before you went into interior design. To what extent has your fashion background influenced your interiors?
I have a great love of textiles through my work as creative director of Royal Warrant holder Gainsborough Silk. This is coupled with a love of antique fabrics and archives. Interiors move as quickly as fashion now; it’s our job to make sure we don’t do things that are too fashionable, which date too quickly.
The guest rooms of The Zetter Townhouse are all unique, so completely different in character. Which would be your favourite room to stay in, and overall what is your favourite part of the hotel?
Favorite part of the hotel: the basement bathrooms, which use recycled marble, from things like specimen tables, for the floors. I also like the stairs because they’re covered in antique newspaper. We wanted to bring every corner to life with eccentricity, and it’s wonderful to be at The Zetter Townhouse sometimes and find someone reading the walls or floors!
Favorite bedroom: I love Room 1, with the four-poster bed. It has a slightly shaded natural light, which we used to our advantage to make it a wonderfully cosy, relaxing room. With red walls, silver-grey antique curtains and the four-poster drapes in raspberry, it’s kind of bonkers but it all adds up to something rather special.
Looking back, is there anything that you would have done differently?
It was a great project as there were quite a lot of major things to do to the building, such as strip it down to the slab. This allowed us plenty of time to think about everything. I can honestly say I wouldn’t change a thing!
With such dark public spaces, how did you use lighting to make the space seem welcoming?
The ground floor has fantastic daytime sunshine, which is lovely, but in the evening we use plenty of mixed sources of light, including low-level spots, lamps and candlelight to make the room calm and seductive.
If you had to sum up the interior design of The Zetter Townhouse in just one sentence, what would it be?
Passionately wonderfully crazily eccentric!
We’ve read that your favourite building is London is The Shard. How does your admiration for such a hard, ultra-contemporary building sit with your ‘very English’ style when it comes to interiors?
I believe all buildings in London have to make a contribution, and The Shard is incredibly
iconic and much loved, and they haven’t even finished building it yet. So often clients
think we are just about old-fashioned English style, when actually our love is for brave, characteristic buildings, old or new.
Stapleford House Hotel in Leicestershire, which you did in 2008, was a huge project. The Zetter Townhouse is very boutique, tiny in comparison. Does the scale of a project drive the approach you take to the interiors? Which do you prefer, grand or boutique?
Again, we love everything! I feel so fortunate to be contributing interiors to buildings that have a permanence. The scale for me is always fun as we believe every corner, right down to the inside of drawers and cupboards, need to have a five-star treatment.
If you could design a hotel anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Always London! What an incredibly inspiring and amazing city. I’m so proud to add to the amazing histories of hotels such as The Goring and The Savoy. I couldn’t want for more!