RETAIL FOCUS – Sterling Studios
Having worked on prestigious retail projects in both the UK and abroad, Sterling Studios specialise in creating unique, opulent and luxurious finishes. Premier Retail recently sat down with Director Fiona Sutcliffe to find out more about the company.
Please tell us a little about your company: How long have you been in operation and what is your primary focus (retail/hospitality/leisure etc)?
Sterling Studios was founded in 2003. François Lavenir and I recognised a demand for specialist and unique finishes in the hospitality and retail sector, specifically for luxury clients. We had originally come from very different backgrounds – Francois doing an apprenticeship in the restoration of lacquer and gilding at a very young age, and specialising the restoration of Japanese lacquer, whilst I studied History at Oxford University and then worked at the Royal Academy of Arts. In founding Sterling Studios we put together our years of experience, by then encompassing a wide range of high end decorative arts and fine art painting. We had recognised the need for a larger decorative arts company which could meet the demands and deadlines of luxury brands and contemporary contracts. We operate across the interior design industry in general, with retail and hospitality projects a significant part of our turnover. As our work is very specialised and is a significant investment, our projects vary considerably in size and complexity. We enjoy the time limitations that come with retail work in particular as this often gives the project an energy and focus.
What are some of your most significant projects?
Our most significant retail projects have been for GRAFF Diamonds who require opulent and luxurious finishes for their retail stores, pop up shops and exhibitions. We create wall panels in carved and gilt glass and a similar style in metal for them. We also completed rooms for Selfridges Tax Hall a couple of years ago where the walls and a 10 metre long curved desk was clad in Rousseau style back painted glass in rich blues and greens. Our work for Tiffany’s can be seen in Heathrow Terminal 5 – a hand carved signature flower on an antiqued silver leaf background. We work with a wide range of materials and techniques – verre églomisé, carved glass, leather, gesso, gilding, scagliola, metallic finishes and hand painted lacquers and wallpapers. This gives the clients a huge range to choose from and customise as they wish.
What projects have you been working on over the past 12 months?
We have been working alongside GRAFF Diamonds in locations all over the world. We recently finished an aluminium wall finish for the store at SAKS Fifth Avenue in Houston and are currently working on new stores in Japan and Connecticut. With clients like GRAFF, it is extremely important for the company to create unique environments for their clientele to visit and be part of a luxury shopping experience. GRAFF Diamonds are celebrated for the quality of their stones and jewellery designs and the decoration contributes to the ambience they are offering their clientele within each store. A customer and brand experience is all in the detail. We are currently working on a large project for a London club which will show a completely new range and is very exciting. Watch this space!
Have these projects differed in any way to your usual work?
I would say that we do not make any work that is ‘typical’ to us. We resist stylistic categorization as we strive to make each project unique and we are well known within the industry for our expertise in a wide range of materials and styles. Our projects are always luxury and are always different. We don’t tend to follow trends or repeat the same style for every client. It is important that the artworks we make are unique to each brand – they need to capture the identity of the place and the retailer. We love to be pushed to create the new and the challenge of making something tangible that has been dreamt up in the clients imagination.
When working on a project, what are the biggest challenges you face? And how do you overcome them?
The challenge is to always come up with the ‘new’ and to keep on reinventing the wheel to create completely unique creations. We are both self-confessed bookworms and we are continually learning, studying and travelling to be inspired to find the new, which often involves looking at something old and beautiful with a fresh eye. The walls of our office are well-lined with art, history and old architecture books for constant inspiration. We will travel to museums across the World, such as the Musée Papier Peint in Alsace to see 18th-century block printed wallpaper. When recreating a version of the ‘Amber Room’ for the Ritz Casino in London we went to St Petersburg to study the original. Another challenge is the sheer amount of choice we can offer our clients. In our design library, we have over 20,000 design samples clients can flick through from abstract, figurative, traditional and modern. When deciding which finish to go for there is often a challenge in making the final choice but we work together with our clients to make a decision based on aesthetics and practical requirements of the project.
Are there any projects you’ve found too challenging?
We love a challenge! Clients come to us as they want the new, the unseen, the unique and the ‘never seen again’. We like to think of our company as having endless creativity and always welcome being approached to complete unusual projects. There are the obvious technical limitations – glass can be fragile as well as heavy so we need to satisfy technical and engineering requirements before we can accept a commission. We can often find solutions around a problem, which is part of the fun of our job and involves creativity as well as knowledge and experience. We find the most challenging projects often end up being the most successful as we implement careful project management and ensure there is clear communication between all parties involved, from the client to the craftsmen in the studio. We recently finished some large églomisé glass doors which are transparent with antiqued silver leaf and raised moongold glass and brass trellis. Our craftsmen cut, decorated, gilded, decorated and fitted nearly 2,000 pieces of glass and 3,000 pieces of brass. These creations can take great skill, patience, time and teamwork as well as organisation.
Moving forward, what type of projects do you have on the horizon?
The design landscape is moving in our favour and I am sure will continue to do so over the next few years. More and more clients, especially in hospitality and retail, are favouring completely bespoke finishes to create memorable pieces. Our pipeline of work includes a mix of projects from residential, hospitality and retail. We continue to work with super-yacht designers, such as Terence Disdale and Redman Whitley Dixon. We have recently completed wall panelling for the Chess Club and are currently working on a new private London club, which involves a lot of glass and scagliola.
As a company, what are you most proud of?
I am most proud that we are consistently giving clients beautiful unique finishes and that we are training a new generation of craftsmen and women in the UK. Most companies in our field are very small and operated by owner makers. Whilst remaining small enough for Francois and I to keep a close eye on the work we do, we also train and employ about 30 craftspeople and invest in up to date machinery and techniques. This means we can create luxury finishes and designs that are uniquely developed for each client as well as having the capacity to work on larger projects for international companies. We love to work with retail clients like GRAFF, helping them to give each of their clients a unique experience when shopping, from the exquisite jewellery to the glamorous ambience of the place where they bought it – a special place and an experience to be remembered.