The USP of Sterling Studios is, according to co-owner Fiona Sutcliffe, decoration. “A lot of people are doing decorative surfaces right now,” says the specialist restorer-turned-materials expert. “But by decoration I mean hand-painting, figurative images, flora and fauna – not just textural finishes. It’s artistic work. We’re a little bit old-fashioned really.”
The designs and installations created by Sutcliffe, her husband François Lavenir and their 25-strong team in their north London studio, however, often look anything but old-fashioned. Hand-finished artisanal decoration can be applied to leather, canvas, resin, metal and, their speciality, glass – including gilded verre églomisé and hand-oxidised antique mirror finishes that can span internal doors (example pictured), whole walls and even entire rooms. Sterling Studios’ work has appeared in Selfridges’ Tax Refund Lounge (Rousseau-esque back-painted glass walls), Graff stores and The London Edition hotel lobby bar (imposing distressed mirrored glass panels). A current bespoke project in London involves sizeable glass chandeliers, plus carved, textured and gilded glass walling; a set of large mirrored-glass panels painted with landscape images has recently been shipped to Asia’s first premium cruise liner; and gilded, glass and papered wall panels have just been installed in a Middle Eastern dining room – a project that took the best part of a year.
Some clients – most of whom come via designers and decorators such as Alidad and Joanna Wood – give Sutcliffe carte blanche; others are incredibly specific and come to them to create a fully realised vision. “They know we can do anything, including the very technical,” says Sutcliffe. “It’s fun to work with incredibly creative people”. The design process usually takes around 12 weeks; in the case of the Middle Eastern dining room, however, the client visited the Sterling Studios workshops every week for nine months, until the design was completed.