We’re celebrating our thirtieth year at etc.venues which makes it the perfect occasion to talk to some of the extraordinary people who’ve helped shape our business; people like Franck Rosello, our Head of Design.
Can you tell us about your background?
Although I’m Head of Design I don’t have a typical design background. In fact, when I left school, I studied catering for 6 years at Ecole Hotelière in Nice, Southern France. The course included chef training and hotel management. After studying, I explored further afield, landing my first job assisting the pre-opening of the Beverley Wilshire hotel in the US. My experiences in California opened my eyes and gave me a broader view of the world. When my visa expired, I returned to Monaco where I worked as a Food and Beverage assistant for two years before itchy feet brought me to a London hotel where I worked for 6 years. My next role brought me to etc.venues...
Was your initial job at etc.venues the same as it is now?
No, I was initially hired as an F&B Manager but my career path branched off in a new direction when Alastair Stewart, our MD, took over. He spotted that I had a personal passion for design and architecture so he supported my transition into the design field. It was my opportunity to utilise the inspiration I’d soaked up working in so many stunning venues across the globe. That was 15 years ago and I’ve never looked back.
What do you love most about your role?
Bringing spaces to life – not superficially but through an understanding of how they are used. I also love art and this role provides the perfect opportunity to collaborate with some exceptionally talented people.
So, has art always been important at etc.venues?
Yes, right from the start, art has played a crucial role but its purpose has evolved over the years. Initially, art was used to decorate the walls of our venues. Pieces were bought, rather than rented. Over time, the art collection grew with some prize-winning artists.
Today, art still plays a vital role but our approach is very different. We tend to collaborate with artists and galleries to obtain pieces that are distinctive and relevant to our venues’ locations. In fact, many of our artworks are one-offs; you won’t see them anywhere else… not even in an art gallery.
What role does art play in our venues?
Our art reflects our brand’s personality. The work is diverse, distinctive, and edgy. The whole idea is to stimulate people’s minds; to tease and provoke in a playful way; we want to generate a positive reaction and prompt debate and discussion between guests. In that sense, our artworks are often conversation starters.
At the same time, we also have pieces that are like pause buttons during a hectic day. We can be so busy multi-tasking and that can leave us feeling depleted. Great art stimulates; it lifts and inspires, allowing our minds to wander and escape – it’s healthy and recharges our system. That’s why we’re very careful about what goes on our walls. Bland art, on the other hand, is like a low-level hum in the background – of no real consequence and generally ignored. We have no time for that.
Can you tell us about some of the artists and galleries you work with?
Over the years, we’ve worked with many artists and independent galleries. The challenge has always been to source or collaborate on original artworks. More recently, we fell in love with the street art movement and we’ve worked with a breadth of new talent including galleries such as Nelly Duff and creative studios such as Elegant Clutter. We’ve also worked with individual artists such as Matt Wilde. You’ll find examples of their artwork across our portfolio of venues in London, Manchester, Birmingham, and New York.
Is there a theme that runs through the artwork?
Where we can, our artworks tend to reflect the character of our venues which are located in vibrant, high energy urban areas – not in the rural countryside. That’s why you’ll only ever see contemporary art; we embrace and celebrate all that’s good about the here and now.
We also try to commission art and installations that reflect the location of our venues. So, for instance, the camera wall (pictured) at County Hall was inspired by the history of the building. The area used to be a hotspot for the paparazzi when Ken Livingstone had the GLA’s HQ here. Ken was often hounded by the press and attracted plenty of drama… it was this volatile background that inspired the wall of cameras. It’s a one-off installation created by the talented people at Elegant Clutter. People love it. They talk about it. They remember it.
The cameras themselves also prompt debate. Many people have said to me “I used to have one of those!” Especially the polaroid camera. It brings back fond memories and sparks fun conversations… which is what it’s all about.
We adopted the same playful and irreverent approach at Chancery Lane which is located within the heart of London’s legal district. This connection inspired our cheeky ‘Reclining Barrister’ mural which has been spray-painted onto the wall. The chilled-out judge has been rendered wearing trendy air-max trainers and playing a Gameboy. We wanted something laid-back and eye-catching that would draw people into the corner of the restaurant.
If you walk around the venue, you’ll also notice faded retro-look ‘Ghost Signs’ on the brickwork such as Silver Tea (a nod to the Silver vaults nearby). These nod to a bygone era and add character to the space. It’s great for the age of social media – people love to capture something special and share it on their phones.
It’s the same with our Houndsditch venue. The area used to be home to a famous bell foundry. In fact, the site still exists. They created famous bells such as Big Ben and the Liberty bell in Philadelphia. This inspired graphic prints of antique bells which you can see displayed within the venue. Another connection to the area is Petticoat Lane Street Market which is famous for second-hand clothing. The market is still there today. This inspired a rather tongue-in-cheek framed Paul Smith suit.
So, as you can see, our artworks reflect and mirrors local connections.
Is each artwork treated the same way?
Each piece has a status. So, in transient areas – where people walk through quickly – we tend to showcase art which can be absorbed quickly. Whereas in high dwell spaces, such as reception areas, we tend to display our more complex pieces. For instance, the large charcoal drawing on 3rd floor reception at County Hall has been created by hand. It’s a piece that won’t just hold your attention for a few minutes – it can make a life-long impact. It’s wonderful.
Can you tell us about the artists that you work with?
Yes, of course. Elegant Clutter is a bit like an artists’ commune. Their workshop is based in the Midlands. I like to meet and brainstorm with them in-person. Briefings are never rigid or prescribed. Instead, they evolve through collaborative, playful conversations. The team includes diverse talent in graphic design, fine art, screen printing, sculpture, photography and more. I like to say that together we create a ‘cauldron of concepts!’
I also like to collaborate and work closely with our long-term artist, Matt Wilde. His art is playful and includes layers and intricacies that are not always obvious until you take a very close look… and that often leads to a giggle or an unexpected surprise! His work depicts urban scenes and commuters; reflecting the busy lives of the people who attend our venues. His art is fun and packed with irreverent details.
We’ve even commissioned some extraordinary talent from within the business. Mark Rose is an artist who used to work as a waiter at etc.venues. He created a wonderful pieces for us using coffee stirrers. He had a meticulous approach to his day-to-day job with people and guests at etc.venues and this attention to detail is also reflected in his work. Many of his pieces are still displayed around our venues.
Can art serve a practical purpose in any way?
For trainers and organisers, art enhances the day. Trainers are, by their nature, very practical, pragmatic people. They want everything to work and be well-organised. Art adds an additional dimension; creating evocative space that enhances the trainees’ experience… and making the whole event more memorable which, of course, reflects well on the organisers.
If you’ve been inspired by this article, you can read more about our people and how they’ve helped shape our brand over the past 30 years here.