From the River Nile to the River Thames and Now the Seven Seas | Marie SolimanMar 24, 2022
Marie Soliman is the powerhouse creative genius from the River Nile who has taken over the River Thames and now the seven seas.
Soliman is the co-owner of the multi-award-winning design architectural firm Bergman Design House, which she owns with her partner, best friend and husband, Albin Berglund. The two met while working for the prestigious firm Hirsh Bedner Associates. They first started working on smaller freelance jobs together as “Marie&Albin”. After their first major project five years ago, they created Bergman Design House and the studio was born. At that moment the two surnames merged and shook the design world with their fearless vision.
This young company now has four divisions and offices internationally, plus an architect studio partner in Delhi, and a 3D studio in Singapore – 32 staff in total. This ensures their clients from all over the globe have 24/7 access to their studio.
While Marie has a maelstrom of artistic ideas and vision, Albin, with a calm Scandinavian practicality, puts the whirlwind of ideas onto paper. Marie states that their team is like a family, an essential part of the hard works that gets them to complete a project on deadline. The “work hard, play hard” scenario is how Albin describes it. When they hand over a project, there is a celebration as family and friends, not co-workers or employees.
For Marie pitching for a project is approached from the standpoint that the job is already theirs. It gives them the passion and energy to walk into any boardroom not only prepared but with enthusiasm, and as Marie puts it, “If you’re not having fun, what is the point?” The challenge becomes a theatre of emotions leaving clients with a feeling that they have experienced something great. Their passion in pitching has made such an impact, that even if they did not win the pitch, the clients have returned later with other projects.
“Feeling” is a word Marie returns to again and again. It is not so much the items she places in a room as the feeling and emotion she wants to leave in a space. How does the person feel being in the residence? How do people feel sitting in a hotel lobby? Do they feel beautiful, serene and confident? Those are some of the thoughts that Marie considers when designing a space.
Marie has a regular schedule that she has implemented into her every day, and this includes time for exercise. Just a look at her Instagram page @mariesolimandesign will give you a glimpse at the super fitness level. Marie is an acclaimed artist and has works hanging in the most prestigious hotels and residences. She calls her painting time her “mental yoga”. Even if it is just 20 minutes a day, it's the time she gives her brain to shut down to work on another frequency, tapping into another space, thinking in colours and textures. It is those two activities that she sticks to religiously that gives her the vitality and enthusiasm with which she tackles motherhood, being a wife and being partner in a firm that now has grown to four different arenas of expertise.
While the rest of the world was sitting on sofas in lockdown, Marie continued working daily in her office. Their apartment is in the Lamb Brewery Studio in Chiswick, with their offices located in a neighbouring building – a stone’s throw away from work.
At first panic set in for a few days of the pandemic, but then the calls started to come in from clients. A home once only used for a few hours at night now became a space where people needed to be full-time. They needed more unique living areas. The work rolled in.
Then something fascinating happened. The super wealthy started spending time on their yachts no longer for a quick holiday but for a semi-permanent home on the water. Marie received calls from clients saying that they needed assistance to turn the spaces into inspiring areas for everyday living. And so Njord by Bergman Design House was born, the company’s super yacht division (Njord being the Norse God of wind and water).
Eden was the first yacht project that the company took on, and Marie brought in a yachting lifestyle and design expert Sarah Colbon as the third partner in this venture.
Since 2020, the super yacht market (as with private planes) boomed. These owners are not the middle-aged couples wanting to relax in the Caribbean – they are younger with many being crypto millionaires and musicians from Silicon Valley.
Cassius was a 62-metre boat conversion on which they collaborated with naval architect Dennis Ingemasson. This was an existing boat transformed into a spectacular space that featured a full medical spa offering cryotherapy, Vitamin C enriched running water throughout the plumbing, filtered air in every room, snowmobiles, and a moon pool for a submarine.
Marie sees the same challenge in recreating yachts as she does with her hospitality clients. It is all about rethinking the back of house, clever storage and privacy for clients with staff executing their tasks not encroaching on the space of the client.
One couple approached them with a concept of turning their yacht into an experiential space.
They loved Burning Man, the freedom of expression the festival was famous for and wanted to recreate the same vibe and luxury experience on their yacht. The yacht’s dance floor alone can accommodate 100 people. Details were introduced such as asking artist Dylan Cole who worked on movies such as Avatar to theme the club into something otherworldly and playful.
In the past, yachts all had the same approach. Used for a few days or weeks a year, all looked the same. With Njord, that has completely changed.
Today, the Eden yacht is a permanent home to a family with children, the main focus being health and wellness. It features an infinity pool, a one-million pound piano as a centre feature. The bath made from quartz because of its benefits to skin and health took six months to make. A large gym and meditation area is also part of the health experience.
The start of this organic yet stellar growth of Bergman was created by the buzz of one project, the Anthony Joshua BXR boxing gym. The firm took the stance of turning an industrial space into a club-like space rather than a gym. Another was a private rowing club when Marie took her time watching rowers on the Thames to let her artistic mind re-create the feeling of being in motion on water in an interior space.
They used lighting to change colours and although some said it has a nightclub feel about it, the intention was about getting the rowers to get into the high-energy mindset of the sessions. Marie wanted it to feel effortless with the lights motioning the rowers forward, enhancing performance.
For Marie, the experience and yes, the emotion of each space, are what she strives for. Each project she touches must have a sensory experience that is all-encompassing. The water in the bathroom of the hotels should be of the best quality. The lighting should be perfect. The details of the experience of each aspect should not even be evident to the client or resident – it should just envelop the person to feel good about themselves. Her motto is “you should love yourself in that space. If you don't, they did not succeed.” This even goes to technology used in room. Clients who have flown for ten hours are too tired to engage in iPods to put the lights dimmer. They think of every detail to simplify the experience.
As a high-energy creative being, Marie does, if pushed, relent that she loves hospitality projects more than residential. Homemakers, especially pre-COVID, wanted what they saw in magazines. Marie feels COVID has been a catalyst for people to view residential in a new light. As people started spending more time at home, there was scope to do things differently, like searching for pieces from local British artisans instead of travelling to source, and giving projects to local companies who have been doing things for generations. Marie sees sustainability as very important in the future – using local, refurbishing antiques, thus cutting down the carbon footprint.
The company has now branched into recycling or repurposing the pieces they use in their homes and hotels available for sale. Requests started coming in from the public when their projects were seen online. That is the fourth arm of their company’s offering.
As for a specific signature style, Marie laughs that off. The firm does not believe in having a certain style because each client is different and has a different personality and needs to be taken into consideration. She says it is harder work, obviously, to start with a blank canvas for each client. But that is also where the fun comes in and bringing her energy comes alive.
Albin, her husband, is the calm in her storm, and that makes the perfect team. He is the tonic to her gin, she says. Albin began working in Paris with a fashion photographer. The work ethic of the constant pressure of shooting became a norm to him. The framing of each shot, and the number of interesting locations they photographed harnessed his interest in interior design, and he went to study in Barcelona. Albin and Marie then worked together at Hirsh Bedner Associates and with the friendship that was formed a marriage, daughter and business.
Marie is inspired, as with all artists, by theatre, fashion, but mostly with nature. That is where her sense of layering comes from that is evident in all her work. Textures are combined in surprising ways. Her style aims to be timeless. She has no interest in a trend. She insists that her clients must be happy in their spaces forever, not in a season.
The next few months hold some exciting projects for their design house. This includes the Formula One residential estate at Silverstone. One of the biggest square metre residences in Mayfair, and naturally more yachts. An art collector has given them carte blanche on his house, the art being the central focus of the house. This project excites Marie, as it is how she approaches every space anyway – designing around the art within the room. Marie is also excited to work with this client as he is eccentric and that boosts her enthusiasm even more.
The Lund Collection will be launching in the Cotswolds in Spring 2022. This private cottage is located just a stone’s throw from Chipping Norton and Great Tew and provides an oasis of calm people seeking a calm destination. Marie used original artwork and vintage treasures alongside new bespoke furniture from the studio’s Black Berg Collection. “What’s been so enjoyable about this project has been the ‘treasure hunt’ for the most incredible antique and vintage finds, all of which tell their own unique story while highlighting the beauty of the newer items next to them,” said Marie.
But most exciting is the seven-star spa hotel on an island in the fjords of Norway. Teaming up with Henry Cookson, from Cookson Adventures, the world's leading luxury adventure specialist for clients expeditions while on the island. Experiencing nature has become of the most expensive hospitality experiences today.
The thirteen rooms will be on stilts, touching the ground lightly. Part of the luxury is of course the whales which be able to be spotted from each room, and the Northern lights. Floor to ceiling fenestration will connect guest to nature at all times.
They will be taking inspiration from ancient Viking history which they have been studying in detail such as the “Yggdrasil” Tree (Sacred Norse tree of life), which has a bleached, aged look, and working around that theme. The unique nature of the surroundings, the traditional crafts form the area and culture will be combined for a whole new Norwegian luxury hotel experience.
What is the key to all this success? If you have ever watched an interview on the internet of Marie, you will be astounded at the friendly, laid-back way of her chatting, the humour and warmth of her Egyptian background that shines through. There is nothing false about her nor her vision, in a world full of fakery.
When asked where she sees herself one day, she says she is going to run her own hotel chain. As for Albin, when asked the same question, he said he wants to run a coffee shop on the beach for surfers. I think we can already sense who will win the bet…