Posted in Business, People, Uncategorized on 26 October, 2022

Without a fixed aesthetic, securing high profile hospitality projects proved a challenge when Brime Robbins (BR Studio) first launched their design partnership. Eight years on, their impressive portfolio of international hotels proves it was all worth it. Here, Maria Brime and Garrett Robbins discuss their partnership and design journey with Emma Kennedy.

Pictured: Garrett Robbins (left) and Maria Brime (right).

Having just spent a few memorable days as a guest at the recently launched Andaz Prague, I am intrigued to meet the talent behind the beautiful interiors. Set in the heart of Prague on a site once occupied by the Czech Sugar Barons, the hotel is steeped in history (some real, some mythical) and is a magical mix of traditional craftsmanship and contemporary design.

BR Studio is the result of the combined talents of Maria Brime and Garrett Robbins. Hailing from Madrid, following a degree in architecture, Maria promptly jumped continents and moved to New York. Working for various design practices she honed her craft over the next five years before returning to Madrid where she joined the Rockwell Group. American born Garrett, having completed his master’s in interior design, also began his career in New York, before relocating to Madrid in 2008, as part of the Rockwell group where he met Maria.

As summer draws to a close, Maria and Garrett have taken time off to recharge, before embarking on an array of new projects scheduled to start in the Autumn. With Garrett in Florida, Maria in Madrid, and me in London, our Zoom has a distinctly international flavour and something of a relaxed holiday vibe from the off.

I begin by asking about their partnership. “Maria and I hit it off straight away,” enthuses Garrett before sharing a story of crossed paths, family connections and one-in-a-million coincidences between their respective families. He is warm and funny, and it’s not difficult to see why working with him would be an entertaining proposition. Maria is calmer and displays a gentle air of amusement when listening to Garrett and quietly reminds him that whilst the story is interesting, it might not be relevant to the interview – “Oh, you’re right!” he says before continuing on regardless. But to be fair, by now I was hooked and hungry to hear the end of the tale.

Telling a story is what Maria and Garrett are obviously good at, and a strong narrative is at the heart of all their interiors. Having started her design journey in high-end retail and residential design, Maria moved across to hospitality, where she found there was far more freedom for creativity, and greater opportunity to tell the ‘bigger story’. For Garrett, it was less of a conscious decision. “I started out in corporate design, law buildings and offices, but I kept designing them like hospitality spaces. It was beginning to get ridiculous,” he admits through his laughter, “Fortunately for me, the company I was working for started to take on hospitality projects and they very quickly moved me over.”

Seduced by the whole concept of hospitality design, Maria and Garrett were soon floating the idea of setting up their own studio, and in 2015 they put their focus where their passion was, and BR Studio was born.

I ask about their first project as BR Studio, half imagining a small, local bar or hotel. “It was the Fairmont, Barcelona,” Maria tells me. So much for my vision of them starting small! Garrett continues “It was quite a random call I had one Christmas, from an architect who I didn’t know in Barcelona. He had already been appointed and was looking for an interior design studio to work with. It was a very modern, challenging building, comprising 500 keys over 26 storeys with a vast open lobby.  We assured him we were interested before heading off for the Christmas holidays, and by the end of January, we were signed up. It was a fantastic project for us to work on in every respect.”

Despite this impressive start to their new venture, both Maria and Garrett are quick to point out that alongside the prestigious projects, there were plenty of other jobs they took purely to “pay the light bill”. Their candid honesty about their work is refreshing not to mention unusual in a world where a glossy façade is everything. Today, they have a team of ten designers working from their studio in Madrid. “For us, ten is the optimum number and we are as large as we want to be,” Maria explains. “We like to be super involved on every project and if we get any bigger we feel we will lose that, so for that reason we don’t have big plans for growth.”

The comfortable affection between Garrett and Maria is clear to see, even on Zoom and I ask about their individual strengths as a team. There is a thoughtful pause as they consider my question. “I like to think we complement each other” Maria begins. “There’s an understanding, and after so many years of working together we know what the other is thinking,” Garrett agrees before adding, “We play off each other well. At the start of a project one of us naturally bubbles to the top with a baseline, and from that the other one will begin to give it shape. But in my opinion, Maria has a very sophisticated approach to design, which tends to move towards minimalism – it’s precise and beautiful. I am more theatrical, a bit more ridiculous – and can go a bit too far – kind of like our personalities” he quips, “But we both have a modern, contemporary aesthetic, so it’s a good balance.” This balance is obviously key to their success and its presence is almost tangible when you look at their work. Maria adds “One of the things that defines how we like to work, is the narrative. We like to anchor a design to a story.” Garrett joins in, “But we aren’t just telling a story – all good designers tell a story. We want to create moments to stop and reflect. Like when you are reading a great novel and you stop and re-live what you have just read.”

This sense of storytelling is present throughout their most recent project, the Andaz Prague. With a working title of ‘Myths and Legends’, the sense of untold stories and hidden truths leaves you wanting more. However, their portfolio is a diverse body of work, and it would be impossible to Pidgeon-hole their look into one distinctive aesthetic. I ask Maria and Garrett if this ever presents a problem. “Every job is different.” Garrett begins. “Obviously, we don’t always design around Myths and Legends, or we would basically be designing children’s books… but that theme came from the culture and the site itself. And that changes wherever we are in the world. The geography, the culture, the building – it all influences the design, and that’s what you see in our portfolio. There are companies who have a strong look, for instance, Tony Chi’s studio. When you see one of their projects you know instantly it’s a Tony Chi project, and I honestly believe there is a great strength in that which is very powerful. Our power comes from something a little different. We want to tailor each project to wherever we are in the world, which is what we mean when we say, ‘making the global local’.” he concludes.

It’s a brave approach for a brand wanting to establish itself in design and comes at a price. Garrett concurs, “We have certainly lost projects because clients have wanted a particular recognisable style, and that’s OK, we don’t need to win those projects. What I believe is that when we do win projects, it’s because clients see something different in our work that excites them. They know we will create something unique and special that will be tailored to that hotel.”

Their approach is obviously holding them in good stead, being finalists in two categories for the prestigious SBID awards 2022, along with a host of other nominations for international awards. The days of having to take on projects to pay the light bills are a thing of the past and the future is looking very bright. Currently, they are working on the Andaz Doha, which comes with the added pressure of a deadline to coincide with the World Cup. A further three hotel projects in Madrid, Portugal and India are in the early stages and are certainly on my radar as ones to watch out for.

Despite a distinct lack of ego and a disarming honesty when discussing who they are, I suspect Maria and Garrett’s desire to remain small will be their biggest challenge. Having already established themselves as serious contenders with the big hotel brands, I think there will be a lot of twists and turns in this particular story.

Join our mailing list

Click here to Join
  Join our mailing list