Effect speaks to the London-based Swedish-Egyptian duo behind Bergman Design House
What happens when a passionate Egyptian and a meticulous Swede meet? Magic, it seems. On the top floor of a converted brewery in west London, design duo Marie Soliman and Albin Berglund have, in five short years, built one of London’s most respected interior design firms. Recently rebranded Bergman Design House, the company – originally Bergman Interiors – specialises in high-end hospitality and residential design for a discerning global clientele.
Growing up in Egypt, Soliman conveyed creative talent and an entrepreneurial attitude from a young age. “I started my first job when I was 10, selling artworks to my dad’s friends,” she says. “Since I was young, I knew that I was meant to create things, and I’m not afraid of taking calculated risks.”
After studying interior architecture, Soliman moved to London and worked with firms such as Hirsch Bedner Associates (HBA), an American international hospitality design firm, where she met Berglund. Originally from Sweden, Berglund comes from a hospitality background. He worked as a fashion photographer across Europe and managed private members clubs in Barcelona before moving to London to focus on design. They bonded instantly and married, becoming partners in life – and eventually business.
I believe in organised chaos. If it’s too perfect, it’s flat. And if it’s still messy, then what is the functionality? You need a mix of both.Marie Soliman, co-founder, Bergman Design House
Meeting Soliman and Berglund, it’s difficult not to be taken by their energy. Their partnership appears to work due to, not in spite of, their differences. “We are opposites. He’s Swedish, I’m Egyptian. It could not be more extreme,” Soliman says.
“I would say Soliman is more creative,” Berglund adds. “Her mind is quite amazing. She dreams up ideas and creates this cloud of inspiration, then I take that cloud and somehow put it down in drawings. And then we fight back and forth until we’re both happy.”
The dynamic duo launched Bergman five years ago – the name being a blend of their surnames. “It happened somehow organically,” Berglund says. “We were doing small freelance jobs such as small townhouses on the side, and then we met Olia, the owner of BXR, and she asked us to design the gym.” From there, Soliman and Berglund began picking up wellness, hospitality and high-end residential projects, and left Hirsch Bedner Associates to focus on Bergman full time.
Right now, we’re getting a lot of people asking: ‘How can I make my house as functional as a hotel?’ – while hotels are asking us: ‘How can we make our hotel feel like home?’Marie Soliman, Bergman Design House
Each project is distinct, and the pair have a style which is malleable to the desires of their clients, who include Middle Eastern royalty and London developers. “Our approach is forward-thinking and reads like an embellished story with elements that dictate a unique history and space,” Soliman says. “We listen carefully to the brief and then combine it with our research to create a strong, well thought-through concept. The design is then woven around this core touch point.”
“I believe in organised chaos,” Soliman adds. “If it’s too perfect, it’s flat. And if it’s still messy, then what is the functionality? You need a mix of both. Right now, we’re getting a lot of people asking: ‘How can I make my house as functional as a hotel?’ – while hotels are asking us: ‘How can we make our hotel feel like home?’ I feel that organised chaos is the process of everything perfect and imperfect. A space has to be functional and timeless, with a playful hint of surprise or whimsical energy.”
The growing team has worked on extraordinary projects such as a Covent Garden property inspired by a 17th century circus; and Laowai – a speakeasy accessed via a fridge in a dumpling shop in Chinatown, Vancouver. “It’s about mafia, sex and glamour,” Soliman says. “The fridge opens up into a glamorous space that takes you back to 1930s Shanghai. It was all about freedom, so in the VIP bar we hung massive cages from the ceiling, which were empty because the birds have flown into the main room, where you can spot lots of phoenixes with glowing bodies. We also used real emerald on the walls.”
One of Bergman’s most recent projects is The Other House Hotel, a property created by CEO Naomi Heaton with the intention of changing the design aspect of both hotels and residences. Combining home comforts with hotel-style facilities, the concept is to create a home from home for long- and short-term guests. “It’s truly controversial and breaks every mould in the UK’s hospitality sector,” Soliman says.
In late 2020, Soliman and Berglund discovered that many of their clients were spending lockdown on their yachts, so they launched Njord, a superyacht interior design division in partnership with Sarah Colbon. “Our clients were saying they loved their boats to go away for a week or two, but they didn’t feel like home when they lived on them. Because we’d already been doing their palaces, we knew their lifestyles, so we jumped in and explored how we could make a yacht feel more like a home,” Soliman says.
Projects include Eden, essentially a floating palace; Galaxy, a really fun private member’s club at sea; and Cassius, which is said to be “the most sustainable conversation of a ship into a superyacht”.
The new division was the first step of Bergman’s transition from an interior design firm into a lifestyle brand, which was followed by the company’s rebranding from Bergman Interiors to Bergman Design House during the pandemic. “Yes, Covid was a negative thing, but it was also a catalyst of change to push people forward out of their comfort zones,” says Soliman, adding that the journey was far from easy.
“In March when they announced Covid, I lived in denial for a month and then in April I started to realise all the money we had invested in the company was gone. I almost had a nervous breakdown. I thought this is the end. And then we started thinking differently. We started connecting with clients and asking, ‘how can we make your lockdown more cheerful?’”
Her mind is quite amazing. She dreams up ideas and creates this cloud of inspiration, then I take that cloud and somehow put it down in drawings. And then we fight back and forth until we’re both happy.Albin Berglund, co-founder, Bergman Design House
“Because we design hotels as well as residential projects, we were in a good position,” Berglund adds. “Of course, there was the initial panic when most of our residential projects were put on hold, but the hospitality world saw it as the opportunity to get as much done as possible when there were no guests in the hotels. By autumn, the residential projects started again and by the end of 2020, it was the busiest year we’d ever had. It’s been non-stop since.”
In 2022, Bergman Design House will launch another new project, the Lund Collection, an offering of holiday cottages in beautiful locations throughout the British countryside. The team have used their design prowess to totally transform the cottages, filling them with antiques from the 14th to 19th centuries sourced from across the UK and Europe, juxtaposed with bespoke contemporary pieces. “I have a passion for hotels, and I love creating,” says Soliman. “We’ll start on a small scale with the cottages, but I know that in five years, we will own our first hotel.”
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