Afternoon tea in London’s Mayfair is typically a sedate affair. But in 2014, when AD Hall of Fame designer India Mahdavi swathed the all-day Gallery restaurant at Sketch in jovial pastel pink, the stampede of revelers keen to sit in that rose-washed room signaled the elevation of a classic, everyday ritual into something fashionable and downright sexy. Eight years later, that iconic interior, arguably Mahdavi’s most famous, has shockingly been dismantled and stripped of its signature hue, but its new incarnation promises to be just as thrilling a chapter.
Giving artists carte blanche to leave their distinct, yet ephemeral, imprints on the Gallery for a few years at a time is one of Sketch’s most alluring aspects. When Sketch’s owner Mourad Mazouz first summoned Mahdavi to the 18th-century townhouse, it was to bolster the artworks by David Shrigley that filled the Gallery. Back then, the candy colored palette sprang to mind because she wanted “something soothing and in contrast to David’s provocative art,” Mahdavi tells AD PRO, noting how the rest of Sketch’s disparate spaces flaunted tones that were “saturated and eclectic.” What no one anticipated was that the Gallery’s profusion of pale pink would be such a smash, ultimately keeping the design scheme intact for far more years than the norm.
That is, until British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare swooped in, sparking a Gallery revival that debuted last week. Mahdavi was once again enlisted to create an appropriate backdrop for the space, but this time around she found the task daunting, “because I knew everybody was going to ask me what the new color was, as if you could replace one color with another and it would have a different feeling,” she explains. “If someone asks me what Sketch’s new color is, I tell them it’s warm. It’s not about color, it’s about warmth.”
This revamped version of Sketch’s Gallery is indeed warm, conveyed through a burnished yellow that covers cocooning chairs and custom banquettes, complemented by soft, golden lighting, copper de Gournay wallpaper, and a ceiling tinted in Mahdavi’s own grounding shade of mandarine au lait.
What anchors the room, of course, is Shonibare’s art, an installation called “Modern Magic” that comprises 13 pieces celebrating African culture and heritage. These hand-painted carved wood masks and framed quilts also boldly address the notion of appropriation.
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“If anything, my work responds to Yinka’s through textures,” says Mahdavi, singling out her use of Senegalese fabrics by Dakar-based designer Aissa Dione and wall lighting from French designer Inès Bressand, who collaborates with basket weavers in Ghana. At the Gallery, these pieces dialogue with Shonibare’s Dutch wax batik patterns and appliqué and embroidery techniques.
Between the textiles, metallic walls, and that soothing orange-tinged ceiling, the post-renovation Gallery “is an elegant, comfortable room,” says Mahdavi. “I wanted to respect Yinke’s work and not overpower it. The yellow is the color of sunshine, the color of Africa. The whole restaurant glows.”
For those loyalists who simply can’t fathom the loss of plopping down in one of Mahdavi’s ladyfinger-shaped armchairs in the all-pink room of yore, there is a model on display capturing that surprising visual legacy.
As beloved as Sketch’s playful past was, Mahdavi is quick to point out that it also symbolized an age “that stopped with Covid-19. It was carefree, a period of lightness.” Today’s rich, tactile replacement is imbued with a serious tone that inevitably reflects a more introspective era. “A restaurant is not only an image,” she says. “It’s something that you live in.”