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Common Ground

London, UK

"Ethical dining" lands in Mayfair with the opening of Native at Browns, where design studio Red Deer is in charge of uniting food and fashion, with a crafted edge

There’s not much foraging to be done in Mayfair, yet Native, the in-house restaurant at Browns’ new flagship on Brooks Street celebrates the wild, the found and the seasonal on its menu. Its ethical, zero-waste approach has influenced the design of the space by Red Deer, where one-off, crafted pieces prevail, delivering a sense of artisanship that matches the food.

“Native are blowing up the industry and winning lots of accolades, and it was a really interesting brief – a space that could be equally viewed for its merits by someone in the high-fashion world as someone who is into humble, country, nose-to-tail eating,” says Red Deer’s founding director Ciarán O’Brien. “But we quickly realised that the way we approach spaces is quite androgynous – it doesn’t matter if it’s residential, a hotel or a restaurant, they’re all essentially places for people to live in; they’re all domestic to us. We champion British craft, artists, makers and materials and everyone can get something out of that.”

Thus there are immediate parallels that can be drawn between Native’s approach of being less wasteful and using artisan producers, and Red Deer’s ethos. The giant-terrazzo tabletops, made by Altrock, incorporate onyx salvaged from one of Browns’ previous installations, and they sit on turned wooden bases designed by Jan Hendzel and made from ash, emblematic of the British countryside. Hendzel has worked with Red Deer before, on a group of idiosyncratic valet stands for Hertfordshire hotel Birch. Clayworks supplied the cloudy, milk-white finish for the walls, clay being is a kinder, more breathable material than standard cement-based plaster.

We champion British craft, artists, makers and materials and everyone can get something out of that

Other serial collaborators include Emma Louise Payne, who supplied the hand-made ceramics cladding the bar: Payne has also worked with Red Deer at Birch, but “whereas there her pieces were secondary to the architecture, we wanted to scale that up and create something more infrastructural,” says O’Brien. A curvaceous wicker pot that sat on Red Deer’s initial moodboard for the project inspired the shape of the bar, and the colours “are the colours of nature: duck-egg yellow and a light blue, speckled like an eggshell.”

The space is snug, seating around 30 (plus an outside courtyard with additional tables) but full of beautiful detail, such as the dappled lampshades by Phoebe Stubbs at Gather Glass and snug wool upholstery in the booths. The mosaic floor, made by Armatile, is Native’s triumph. Inspired by the Roman tradition of an “unswept room” – a trompe l’oeil design of discarded food, which might also feature the odd nibbling mouse – Red Deer has incorporated oversized motifs, including a mushroom, a handbag to reflect the fashion link with Browns, and a squirrel (a nod to one of Native’s most infamous dishes, a grey squirrel lasagne). These prefabricated motifs are made from recycled or waste marble, laser cut and laid on a mesh before being installed; the whole thing was made and laid in ten days, a huge time difference compared to a traditional hand-laid mosaic floor.

O’Brien likens the final result to a “a dressed-up countryside embassy,” a place to reconnect with rural food in the centre of a busy city. “It’s got a lot of intimacy and it demonstrates that things don’t have to be what you’d expect when you label something ‘eco’: it doesn’t look like a Hobbit built it.” He recognises that becoming more sustainable (whether in food, fashion or interior design) is in the first instance about recognising the problem and doing something about it, and treating it as evolution rather than revolution: “We’re just trying to do better, and then hopefully it’ll develop as we do other projects, and then we can take another step.”