A restaurant isn’t only the sum of what comes out of its kitchen, and the appeal of a hotel lies in more than just its bare furnishings. Equally essential in any venue’s success is its interior space: is it attractive? Functional? Stylish?

At B3 Designers, Director Mark Bithrey has helped dozens of London’s hottest venues reinvent themselves from the inside out. B3 seeks to distill the core of each brand before using that information to create one-of-a-kind designs that are striking in their elegance but cutting-edge in their contemporary sensibilities.

We sat down with Mark for details on how he got started in the industry, his secret to maintaining the perfect work-life balance, and B3’s exciting new accolade – ‘Best Standalone Restaurant’, picked up recently at the Restaurant and Bar Design Awards.

Imli Soho | B3 Designers

The interior at Imli Street © Lia Vittone

How has B3 Designers grown and developed since its founding over a decade ago? Have you adapted your ethos over the years or stayed true to the agency’s original aims?

When I started in 2002, my focus was to create fun, memorable, distinctive interiors that people would enjoy. I’ve always tried to uphold my original design values of creativity and quality in interiors; now that we’re also designing brand identities, we’re employing the same values in this new field too. We’re a team who are all striving for that goal, which is great and a wonderful environment to exercise creative thinking and deliver exciting projects.

Can you explain what your bespoke approach means in terms of interiors? Do you approach each venue as one-of-a-kind, even with chain establishments? Does this philosophy also impact the way you source materials?

Most definitely. Each project’s concept, look and feel is carefully thought out and developed to suit the brief, clientele and locality, while remaining unique yet familiar.

Describe your design process when beginning with a new client. What kicks off your creative process?

The initial consultation is a great opportunity to retrieve an honest answer from our new clients. We pride ourselves on generating unique ideas that centre around listening to the client’s brief and building a dialogue with them to contribute to their vision.

The Pearson Room | B3 Designers

The Pearson Room’s spacious dining area © Lia Vittone

How does interior design differ from interior architecture? Is there a good deal of overlap between the two industries?

Yes, they overlap quite a bit. But we do notice a clear difference when potential clients enquire about service and require very soft, superficial changes or consultation work. The work we do has many layers and is quite in-depth – which often leans towards interior architecture.

Your work skillfully marries behavioural research into consumers and a high design factor. What’s the secret to balancing the two?

Research is essential to good design – we try to run through every scenario when designing hospitality spaces to ensure they are beautiful, practical and operate well, giving an overall good experience to the end consumer.

B3 Designers has garnered some impressive accolades in recent years. Has your spate of recent nominations and awards changed the way the company works, or is it just a nice bonus?

It’s definitely encouraging. The news keeps the team motivated, although we’ve always put the same passion into every project. Many awards now include brand identity, which has probably encouraged us to push the branding arm of the company.

Gymkhana | B3 Designers

The elegant Gymkhana © Lia Vittone

The bulk of your work has been in London. Do you have plans to branch out to other cities in the coming years?

Many of our independent projects have been in London, like Trishna, Paul Hamlyn Hall Champagne Bar at The Royal Opera House, ROKA, Bubbledogs, Cinnamon Kitchen, Imli Street, The Pearson Room, Paesan and more recently Gymkhana and 28-50 Maddox Street in Mayfair. However, many of the collection projects and brands are located throughout the UK, like Aubaine in London and Manchester; Las Iguanas in Kingston and Cardiff; Nando’s in Preston and Canterbury; Zizzi in Edinburgh, Inverness and Glasgow.

Do you think your experience as Marketing Director of the British Institute of Interior Design has informed your work, in terms of client needs and the commercial aspect of the company?

It was definitely a good experience being on the board at the BIID. They have some very talented people who commit a lot of time and energy to its development and outreach. I definitely learnt a lot from rubbing shoulders with them. There were also definitely crossovers I learnt from developing a marketing strategy and implementing it with the BIID team, which has affected our own approach and been a major benefit to us at B3 Designers.

As a working father, how do you balance work and family life?

Technology really helps to access work when I’m not in the studio. I have a very supportive partner who helps balance my load and an excellent team who help one another and me. I try to commit my time to my family at the weekend 100%. However, if it really is desperate (that is when I have a nagging desire to write a list or do some research), I need to have an hour or two to work through stuff, which will usually happen in the evening. I am very conscious that children grow up so quickly that if you don’t stop and enjoy them you may just miss the chance.

Bubbledogs | B3 Designers

Kitchen Table, a small dining area within Bubbledogs © Paul Winch-Furness

Out of the many projects B3 Designers has undertaken, do you have a particular favourite that you still return to now that the work is done?

The great thing about designing restaurants is that they are all so easy to go back to and enjoy being a customer in. I frequent as many of our previous projects as possible, as I am curious to see how they are wearing, but as time is limited and there are still so many new places to see, I also tend to head for the new venues as much as possible.

I particularly enjoy the offerings at Trishna (our first project with the Sethi family) and Imli Street (Tamarind Collection) and our more recent project with the Sethi family – Gymkhana restaurant in Mayfair. Our clients have always shared our beliefs and love for hospitality so they are fantastic venues to visit.

Would you say B3 Designers has any signature design twists or a particular aesthetic that underpins most of its projects?

People always tell me that while our designs are all very distinctive, they share an elegance in our choice of materials and finishes. We probably tend to take on projects that we know from the outset have plenty of creative opportunities. We love using down-to-earth, cost-effective and natural materials. But we do ultimately pride ourselves in producing an end result that answers a brief. I think by doing that, we move away from a house style. If we had a signature, it is that we like a challenge and always look out for the opportunity to do something different.

Paesan | B3 Designers

The warm and rustic Paesan © Paesan

Do you have any sound advice or tips you’d like to pass down to those starting out in this field?

It doesn’t matter where you start, just get as close to the field you want to work in as possible and then emulate the most talented people in the studio or office. Don’t take it too seriously, it’s an amazingly fun industry and coupled with hard work it should be rewarding and fun.

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