Designer Spotlight

How One Irish Interior Designer Is Taking the World by Storm

Bryan O'Sullivan

Bryan O’Sullivan landed his first major solo project five years ago, and since then he has become a sought-after designer of both residential and commercial spaces (portrait by Mark Cocksedge). Top: In this Fifth Avenue apartment in New York, the Ico Parisi table is topped with pieces from the Haas Brothers and David Wiseman. The space also features an Edoardo Paoli glass side table and an Arredoluce Triennele floor lamp. All photos by James McDonald

Bryan O’Sullivan credits his maternal grandfather with sowing the seeds of his future career. “He was a master builder and self-taught designer who specialized in the restoration of churches,” recalls the London-based architect and designer who, at 36, is a rising international star. “I spent a lot of time in his studio when I was young, looking at his drawings for door hardware, statuary, stained-glass windows and such. That was my first taste of design.” O’Sullivan’s parents ran a successful tea shop, Mickey Ned’s, in the picturesque southern Irish tourist town of Kenmare, in County Kerry, and their profession left its mark on him as well.

“When the time came to leave school, I was torn between architecture and hospitality, particularly after having helped my parents redesign a bar and restaurant they opened in 2000,” O’Sullivan says. “In fact, I studied hospitality management at the DIT School of Culinary Arts and Food Technology in Dublin.”

Having dual interests has worked in the designer’s favor. Today, he is equally adept at hotel, restaurant and residential projects. After training in architecture at the University of Greenwich and University of Westminster, O’Sullivan picked up blue-chip experience in the New York office of Annabelle Selldorf and the London studios of David Collins and Martin Brudnizki. “They were all wonderful mentors,” he says. “To be exposed to design at such a high level was an incredible privilege.” In 2011, having decided to concentrate on interior architecture and decoration, he spent two years in Paris working under Luis Laplace, another formative influence.

An open-plan layout by Bryan O'Sullivan

At this chalet in Courchevel, in the French Alps, the third floor was converted to an open-plan layout to capture the breathtaking panoramic view of the mountains. O’Sullivan combined bespoke and antique pieces to create a cozy space that looked curated over time.

A bar and lounge space designed by Bryan O'Sullivan

Instead of walls, beams and rugs serve to subtly divide the living, dining and bar/lounge spaces while also creating a calm quality and a natural flow.

A master bedroom designed by Bryan O'Sullivan

The master bedroom, which includes a private balcony overlooking the valley, has a muted palette that is intended to highlight the wintery blue hues outside.

An indoor pool designed by Bryan O'Sullivan

The pool is in the basement of the chalet, dug into the mountain. O’Sullivan installed the glass partition to make it feel as bright and open as possible. The light Silk Georgette stone is meant to evoke the mountain.

A living space by Bryan O'Sullivan

In the Fifth Avenue apartment’s living room, the Jean Royère footstools add Deco glamour and hint at the building’s origins. The space also contains a sofa and coffee table by Annabelle Selldorf and artworks by Marlene Dumas and Ida Applebroog.

A cozy living space by Bryan O'Sullivan

The elegant sofa by BDDW, with its warm color accents, gives the space a cozy feeling, while the clever storage design imbues it with serenity, making it appear a refuge from the city glimpsed through the windows.

A lounge space, featuring a fireplace, by Bryan O'Sullivan

The interplay of the fireplace, which connects the lounge and dining space, with the large bespoke table helps create a sense of place. The top of the table from BDDW is a solid slab of American walnut with natural rough edges inlaid with brass butterfly-key details.

A bedroom by Bryan O'Sullivan

O’Sullivan created bespoke bedside tables to complement the walnut bed by Annabelle Selldorf. The 1937 Venini mirror and Roberto Rida table lamps add a relaxed glamour.

O’Sullivan was just 31 when, in 2013, he was offered the chance to design a private villa in Ibiza. It was his first major project under his own name, and he set up an eponymous studio in Shoreditch, in East London. Just a year and a half ago, he was employing a team of four; today it has expanded to 18, a growth that testifies to O’Sullivan’s flair both for design and for business. Current projects are mainly private residential work, but a burgeoning number of commercial jobs are also in the mix, including hotels in Spain, Portugal and Ireland and the newly opened Tamburlaine restaurant in Cambridge, England.

The last is an excellent example of how O’Sullivan likes to approach design: Context rules. “Tamburlaine takes its name from the play by Christopher Marlowe [about the 14th-century military leader and Central Asian emperor],” he explains, “and so we drew on Persian influences for the decor. It is a new build that had to sit happily within the magnificent heritage architecture of Cambridge, so we paneled the bar to reference the college libraries, but with a contemporary interpretation.”


A bar and restaurant designed by Bryan O'Sullivan

The bar and restaurant at The Green, a hotel in Dublin, is separated from the new reception area with a bespoke glazed-timber joinery screen, which also creates a nook in which customers can dine, read or work. An array of dark and pistachio greens contrasts with the dark burnt-oak floor and red and mustard soft furnishings.

Reception area by Bryan O'Sullivan

The reception area is stocked with antique books to keep waiting guests entertained. The glazed screen offers a peek into the bar and restaurant, ensuring a continual sense of activity.

tables and bar at The Green by Bryan O'Sullivan

The brass and glazed gantry suspended overhead enables the new island bar at The Green to use every inch of the space allotted, freeing up more room on one side for dining and socializing. The decor offsets the strong, contemporary architecture with traditional elements, like the painted timber paneling, marble-topped seating dividers and checkerboard-tiled floor.

A work space in The Green by Bryan O'Sullivan

This reading niche in The Green’s window allows customers to gather and work, luring others inside. The bespoke communal table is by Inside Out Contracts, and the library lamps are custom-made by Lightsource, in Belfast.

A social space at the Tamburlaine designed by Bryan O'Sullivan

At Tamburlaine, in Cambridge, England, the design brief was to create an oasis in which people could pass away hours, drinking tea and pretending they are somewhere else. The tiling of the walls and floors reminds O’Sullivan of the stately homes’ great orangeries. The ornate panoramic wallpaper from Iksel Decorative Arts depicts an imaginary landscape typical of the late Renaissance.

Tamburlaine seating area by Bryan O'Sullivan

The space is packed with exotic plants and colorful, delicate soft furnishings. Every detail was considered, down to the bespoke “Tamburlaine” pink-and-gold-trimmed dishware.

A horseshoe-shaped bar by Bryan O'Sullivan

A custom chandelier hangs over the Tamburlaine’s horseshoe-shaped teak and marble bar.

A men's restroom designed by Bryan O'Sullivan

The Old Hollywood–inspired men’s restroom features banana-leaf-patterned wallpaper and Victorian-style tiling, sinks and toilets.

Working on a home on New York’s Fifth Avenue, O’Sullivan took cues from the elegant prewar structure, developing a minimalist architectural language overlaid with a subtle palette of soft colors and richly tactile fabrics and finishes. “This is an old building,” he explains, “but everything original had been stripped out of the apartment, so we went very light and airy, with pale floors and walls and no curtains at the windows, to maximize the views of the Park.” His clients, a glamorous Irish couple who own several properties around the globe, are “very into fashion and design, with a fabulous collection of art,” the designer says. “The wife had clear ideas about the sort of tonal palette she wanted. That was great, as it really kept us on our toes.”

bedroom by Bryan O'Sullivan

For this Fifth Avenue bedroom with adjoining dressing room, O’Sullivan chose muted whites and grays as a subtle backdrop for elegant pastels, like soft pink and pistachio with copper accents, to create a contemporary, feminine space.

O’Sullivan’s office oversaw the furnishings as well as the architecture, creating a lively mix of contemporary and vintage pieces, including seating from Annabelle Selldorf’s Vica line alongside iconic designs by Giò Ponti, Jean Royère, Edward Wormley and Ico Parisi. In the drawing room, with its spectacular views over Central Park, glittering contemporary pieces by David Wiseman and the Haas Brothers are juxtaposed with show-stopping art by Marlene Dumas and Ida Applebroog. The overall effect is bold and confident, but also warm, inviting and extremely comfortable.

Not long ago, O’Sullivan completed a yacht renovation for the same clients. It was his sixth project for them, and his third vessel. “The biggest challenge with a yacht is the fact that you have to screw everything down, to withstand changing conditions at sea, while still ensuring that everything looks wonderful,” he explains. “All the brackets have to be bespoke but also well out of view.” The yacht interior mingles old and new, partnering vintage Vladimir Kagan and Jean-Michel Frank pieces, for example, with Apparatus lighting and O’Sullivan’s own designs, including a pair of bedside cabinets in maple with onyx tops.

Mosaique yacht by Bryan O'Sullivan

In designing the interiors of the yacht Mosaique, O’Sullivan wanted the sky lounge — the ship’s primary entertaining space — to be as bright and airy as possible.

“By the time you’ve worked for the same clients on a few occasions, you can be more adventurous, because they know they can trust you,” O’Sullivan says. He sees his role not as imposing a look onto a space but rather allowing it to slowly reveal what it should be and how it should feel. “I never know initially what I want to do,” he explains. “I have to visit a few times and really get to know the architecture, the clients and their dreams and expectations of what it should be.”

Although London is his current home, O’Sullivan visits Ireland regularly to refresh body and spirit. “Hill walking is a great way to clear the head,” he says. “I am very inspired by the landscape of Ireland, and being Irish is very much a part of who I am.” Current projects include an expansive residence in Knightsbridge, his first private jet interior and a grand apartment in Paris that has already been four years in the making. He is actively looking for more work in New York, hoping to open a satellite studio there one day soon.

But first there is a wedding to organize: His fiancé, James O’Neill, is the firm’s commercial director, and they plan to marry this summer.  He is also preparing to launch his first collection of furniture and lighting and a dedicated retail showroom. It’s a natural progression, given the number of bespoke pieces he designs — and given what he has achieved in five short years. One thing about O’Sullivan is abundantly clear:  Hospitality’s loss has very much been the design world’s gain.

Bryan O’Sullivan’s Quick Picks on 1stdibs

Jean-Charles Moreux garden chairs, early 20th century, offered by the Antique and Artisan Gallery
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Jean-Charles Moreux garden chairs, early 20th century, offered by the Antique and Artisan Gallery

“I am a massive fan of Jean-Charles Moreux, with his references to ancient Rome, the Renaissance and the Baroque. I also love the Hollywood Regency vibes of these Moreux garden chairs.”

T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings for Saridis, 20th century, offered by J.F. Chen
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T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings for Saridis, 20th century, offered by J.F. Chen

“Most of T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings’s designs are interpretations of classical Greek furniture, inspired by depictions he saw on ancient Greek vases at the British Museum. The ancients often based their designs on the animal form, and you can clearly see this influence in the legs of this table.”

Mathieu Matégot Copacabana armchair, 1950, offered by Side-Gallery
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Mathieu Matégot Copacabana armchair, 1950, offered by Side-Gallery

“I became aware of Mathieu Matégot when I lived in Paris and saw an exhibition of his work. I love the curves of this chair and the way he makes industrial materials look elegant and chic.”

Paavo Tynell for Taito Oy ceiling fixture, 1950s, offered by Illustris
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Paavo Tynell for Taito Oy ceiling fixture, 1950s, offered by Illustris

“Paavo Tynell was a Finnish designer who focused almost exclusively on lighting. He was interested in the relationship between light and shadow, juxtaposing unusual combinations of materials for emphasis. This is such a cute ceiling fixture, which accentuates his playful aesthetic.”

Roberto Rida for Venini lamps, 2016, offered by L’Art de Vivre
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Roberto Rida for Venini lamps, 2016, offered by L’Art de Vivre

“This pair of table lamps by Roberto Giulio Rida, a contemporary Italian lighting and furniture designer, shows his modern take on Fontana Arte–style lamps. I find his work very interesting and appealing.”

Ettore Sottsass Ultrafragola mirror, new, offered by Firma London Flosan GMBH
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Ettore Sottsass Ultrafragola mirror, new, offered by Firma London Flosan GMBH

“My partner, James, and I are Sottsass fanatics. We tracked this mirror down at an obscure auction, where we managed to secure it at an amazing price. It holds pride of place in our entrance hall.”

Ettore Sottsass for the Memphis Group Tahiti lamp, 1981, offered by Porter & Plunk
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Ettore Sottsass for the Memphis Group Tahiti lamp, 1981, offered by Porter & Plunk

“I am fascinated by the breadth of Sottsass’s work, from furniture, jewelry and glass to decorative objects and lighting. In the eighties, he founded the Memphis Group, whose work was inspired by movements as diverse as Art Deco, Pop art and Bauhaus. This lamp is a perfect example of the bold and colorful ethos of Memphis.”

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