Interior design studio Frank & Faber delivers thoughtful spaces with a distinct identity, from boutique hotel Number One Bruton to private homes
Many interior designers are on their second careers by the time they alight on their true vocation, and it’s interesting to see how those past lives leave a footprint on their current work. Sarah Ellison of Frank & Faber was in marketing and events – she once ran the sponsorship and events team for The Guardian – and that instinct for branding is a highly useful asset for projects such as boutique hotel Number One Bruton in Somerset and wellness centre Bodyism’s flagship in Notting Hill.
Founded in 2015, Frank & Faber now consists of a small team of designers, working across both residential and commercial projects. Like many, Ellison realised she wanted to retrain having completed her own renovation project. “Ten years ago I bought my first home, which was such a wreck that my parents and many friends thought I was mad and told me to steer well clear.
“Despite the financial constraints, dedication of every second of free time and the odd fireplace arriving from eBay shattered into a thousand pieces, I absolutely loved it. I was over the moon when I saw my vision come together.” She left her job, studied at the KLC School of Design, and reinvented her career.
“Our spaces are inherently comfortable, characterful and inviting, where people really want to spend time,” says Ellison. “There is a pervading simplicity but an investment in quality materials and real attention to detail. Wherever possible we use honest, natural materials, which have an innate character and bring a sense of luxury to the everyday – aged timbers and warm metallic, soft wools and linens. We are not afraid to go bold – rooms of an intensely dark hue across all surfaces, or layers of pattern on pattern.” This can be seen in a recently finished project in Kensington (above), which includes moody dark-painted ceilings, aubergine-coloured walls and deep-pile sheepskin.
Frank & Faber has a broad portfolio, from private homes to small developments and workplaces, and its work is growing. Number One Bruton (below) opened at the tail end of 2019 and earned Ellison acclaim for its sensitive handling of a series of historic buildings, including a Georgian townhouse, a row of cottages and a restaurant, Osip, in a former ironmongery shop. Ellison says that there was “history seeping out of every scuffed floorboard and cracked wall”. The interiors are entirely aligned with what world-weary city-dwellers have come to expect of a boutique rural escape – bags of charm and an eclectic approach to design, with antiques, colour, pattern and sumptuous soft furnishings.
Wherever possible we use honest, natural materials, which have an innate character and bring a sense of luxury to the everyday
It’s grander in the townhouse, with gilt chandeliers, original fireplaces and bolder colours, but more muted in the cottages, with bare stonework and brick herringbone flooring. “Our colour palettes were taken primarily from what was there originally and we intentionally accentuated decorative motifs that existed in the house, for example the metal leaf on the stairs inspired our gilt leaf lights, which were used throughout,” says Ellison.
Bruton’s wealth of local creative talent has been put to work – Bill Amberg supplied the leather key fobs and Don McCullin’s photography hangs on the walls – but hotel owner Claudia Waddam’s mother, author Brigid Keenan, was a sourcing goldmine. “Brigid has lived all over the world and gathered many amazing pieces along the way, such as the stunning pearl inlay drawers which originate from Syria, now in Towhhouse One. Her own house is literally a treasure trove,” says Ellison.
We work with a lot of independent thinkers and creatives. Our clients have founded and run their own companies: they demand a lot but bring a lot
“We have been blessed with consistently lovely, interesting clients and gorgeous, characterful buildings, the combination of which is the inspiration for our designs,” she continues. While she is still completing the last piece of the puzzle at Number One Bruton, converting the old forge into further accommodation, she’s also working on “a fabulously bold and colour-drenched office for a brilliant casting director, one of our repeat clients” and a large home in Hampstead that sounds quite the conundrum: “It is uniquely designed as a second home for two brothers and their families. The design is unique because it can function as one single house or two separate ones.”
For its commercial spaces, Frank & Faber is sensitive to the needs of its clients as well as its users. At George Northwood’s Fitzrovia hair salon, Ellison says she “worked hard to create a space that didn’t feel intimidating to clients, which some high-end salons do. [George] has worked so hard to create a brilliant, friendly, warm team who also happen to do awesome hair and his space needed to be as inviting and warm as they are.”
Commercial and residential clients are often one and the same: “We work with a lot of independent thinkers and creatives. All of our clients have founded and run their own companies, which is an interesting pattern that has emerged,” says Ellison, “They demand a lot but bring a lot. We work really collaboratively and we get so much back from building long-standing relationships with them. In many cases we have designed their office and home.”
Ellison’s starting point on any given project is telling, and is perhaps the secret behind the unpretentiousness and natural sense of welcome that underpins all her projects: “We are storytellers and believe our role is not to impose an aesthetic; rather it is to tell the story of the building and its inhabitants.”