A Day in the Life of Martin Hulbert and Jay Grierson

Distinctive detail is a trademark of design duo Martin Hulbert and Jay Grierson Regular visitors to Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour, find out how their day unfolds in their quest for authenticity, style and individuality.

Photograph by Philip Sayer

Don’t be misled by the discreet door to Martin Hulbert Design’s studio near Borough Market. Inside, working with long-time colleague and fellow designer, Jay Grierson, exceptional projects from private villas to award-winning commercial commissions are created.

The former Victorian warehouse has a relaxed vibe, resembling more of a gallery than an office. ‘We didn’t want it to feel too corporate – we can be ourselves here’ says Martin. There’s an open-plan kitchen where they take it in turns to cook lunch and a roof terrace to have a glass of wine on at the end of the day. Upstairs, samples and sketches relating to multi-layered schemes are laid out on tables so that they can ‘edit and add’ easily. It’s this blend of natural materials and finishes, subtle colour combinations and a love of artistry and craftsmanship that underpins their remarkable designs.

Since the firm’s establishment in 2010, Martin and Jay work on every aspect together. An eight-strong team in association with architectural practices in Moscow and Columbia work across the board, too. This informal, approachable style may help to explain their evident enjoyment in what they do. Global projects come via word of mouth and many are repeat clients.

Central to their philosophy is establishing a design language that is appropriate to the budget, architecture, history and character of the location. A good example is a bespoke balustrade they commissioned for a restaurant made from hundreds of spoons they scoured flea markets to find. Every detail is carefully researched, developed and considered with projects taking up to four years to complete.

With 105 international showrooms under one roof they turn to Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour showrooms for inspiration and expertise. Lewis & Wood is a regular stop, Vaughan is a source of simple, classic lighting while a visit to Turnell & Gigon is considered ‘a treat’. ‘It’s never a problem to borrow a hanger’ comments Jay about the friendly showroom. A firm favourite is C & C Milano in Design Centre East where they can browse a huge choice of natural fabrics.

They are far too modest about the creative element professing that ‘the most important side is making things happen’. Designs can be contemporary or traditional, or a mix of the two. All are unique. They were ‘excited and flattered’ to work on Cliveden. Under their watchful eye, the dining room, once Nancy Astor’s drawing room, became less formal, incorporating original features with more contemporary touches. Elegant curtains made from Jim Thompson silk (available at Fox Linton) were designed to frame the gardens beyond. At the same time, the team worked on a restaurant for Nobu in Monaco. With floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides and bespoke blue mirrors, the interior was made to be at one with the water. A sculpture made of steel ‘chopsticks’, inspired by the coral reef lying below the sea’s surface, also connected the uninterrupted views.

As many of their interiors speak of warmth, comfort and tactility, it’s no wonder they often pop into Tissus d’Hélène to see the hand-blocked textiles. ‘You can pull fabrics off the shelves, rather than go through a book’ says Jay. They often incorporate semi-plains from Romo or ‘go back to their small herringbone fabric’.

Having worked in the industry for 25 years, Martin frequently attends high profile events such as Focus, or fun ones like Dog Day that bring the design community together. Otherwise they can be found exploring their Bermondsey neighbourhood, renowned for its creative energy and artisan culture. When not hard at work, Jay likes to entertain and has quite a following as a brilliant cook while Martin escapes to the country for gardening, painting and drawing. Close to his heart is supporting children’s charities including Children with Aids and Great Ormond Street Hospital.

What’s next? They are currently working on two boutique hotels in Cartegna, Colombia. One, an ex convent in Spanish colonial style, is being meticulously repaired to bring the architecture back to life. After several trips, they have rather fallen for the country’s vibrancy and natural beauty. Could this explain brighter tones sneaking into their colour palette? We’ll have to wait and see.