Designer File: Mark Bithrey


Mark Bithrey, founder of hospitality design specialist B3 Designers, shares the top 10 design lessons he has learnt during his career to date.


Words by Pamela Buxton

1 I was right to specialise. I choose to focus my energy on hospitality design rather than spread myself thinly and be ‘A jack-of-all-designers’. This has allowed me, and my team, to develop an excellent understanding of hospitality spaces and establish valuable and lasting relationships in the industry.

2 Hospitality is the sector for me. I’m really pleased that I chose to work in an industry that’s so creative, from the chefs through to the operators. I’ve always felt far more connected to that kind of work than when I was designing for retail, where the design is all about making the product the hero. For me food and drink is a far more interesting area to work in. There’s plenty to learn and plenty of opportunities as the casual dining market has continued to flourish.

We are also working on hotels more and more as this sector increasingly focuses on providing great, wholesome food and beverage offers. The opportunities here are huge – people want to connect to something local and independent when they are guests, rather than something more corporate.

The Cinnamon Club, Indian fine dining in Westminster, interior design by B3 Designers
The Cinnamon Club, Indian fine dining in Westminster, interior design by B3 Designers

3 You’re continuously learning. I certainly never get bored. There’s always a new chef doing something different. Some of the briefs you’re given can be quite challenging, yet exciting.

4 Don’t be a cookie-cutter designer. Treat every design project like it’s new and don’t recycle ideas. We work with some great restaurant groups and it’s important to treat these sites just like we would an independent restaurant, but with the added value of a thorough knowledge of the brand.


Views of the Canto Corvino Italian restaurant and bar in Spitalfields, London, with interiors and branding by B3 Designers

5 You can kill a great space with bad lighting. Lighting is a key ingredient in any successful restaurant design. It creates an atmosphere within the space, can highlight main features and draw patrons into a space. When the lighting scheme doesn’t work, it can make patrons feel less comfortable, decrease their dwell time and simply limit the number of patrons who actually enter the restaurant.

6 I really like working with a team. I’m not an isolated person. I feel more inspired and motivated when working with other people. I might have taken myself a bit too seriously when I was younger, but now I enjoy the studio, being relaxed and having a laugh.

We constantly try to nurture our own culture in the studio, often sending designers out on research trips to trade fairs and other cities and getting them to report back to the team. You can see the inspiration they get from these trips – it gives them an edge.

The quality of office environment is also quite important. Designers like working in good spaces and this definitely helps if they’re going to commit to a company. Our first studio in Bethnal Green was a converted carpenter’s shop, which was great, but it really helped when we moved to our current studio in Wapping, which has much more space.

Views of the Canto Corvino Italian restaurant and bar in Spitalfields, London, with interiors and branding by B3 Designers
Views of the Canto Corvino Italian restaurant and bar in Spitalfields, London, with interiors and branding by B3 Designers

7 Give your team autonomy. Building a strong team is key. I have a lot of very talented people in the studio and I think it’s important to try to give them autonomy. We generally have between 25 and 30 projects live in the studio at any one time and while they’ll be some projects that I’ll need to be very close to, such as Levi’s Caribbean Smokehouse, which we’ve recently completed for Levi Roots at Westfield in Stratford, I can stand back and let them run others.

8 Learn to enjoy the process. I always tell people to enjoy their work because the years will fly past before they know it. Don’t miss out on living in the moment.

Views of the Canto Corvino Italian restaurant and bar in Spitalfields, London, with interiors and branding by B3 Designers
Views of the Canto Corvino Italian restaurant and bar in Spitalfields, London, with interiors and branding by B3 Designers

9 Don’t neglect marketing and business development. I learnt a lot about internet marketing when I worked for the British Institute of Interior Design as director of marketing. The internet is a brilliant way to get you known more easily when you’re just starting out, and winning four Restaurant & Bar Design Awards in 2009 when we were the underdogs was brilliant – definitely the most exhilarating experience of my career.

Views of the Canto Corvino Italian restaurant and bar in Spitalfields, London, with interiors and branding by B3 Designers
Views of the Canto Corvino Italian restaurant and bar in Spitalfields, London, with interiors and branding by B3 Designers

If I had spent more time on targeted business development earlier on, it might have sped up the process of moving on from the hand-to-mouth stage of the company to something more stable. However, our growth over the past 13 years has been organic and lasting, keeping risks low and the strength of our development high. I really enjoy the systems and processes involved in the business. It’s the other side to being creative.

10 Take a risk. Setting up on your own can be a scary process and I took a while to jump into it. It felt like staring into the abyss when I set up B3 Designers with just one client. For a year we had to work out of my flat as I couldn’t afford the rent on a studio, but the risk was worth it.





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