Where I work: Michael Bryden, Rolls-Royce bespoke designer

Rolls-Royce designer Michael Bryden is — like so many of us — working from home. He spoke to Rosie Paterson about his home office, and what he'd create if he were to design a car for himself.

Michael Bryden has a fun job. He’s the man responsible for customising the ‘standard’ Rolls-Royce (if a Roller can ever be described in such terms) into whatever the client’s automotive dream might happen to be. He’s busy, too: almost 100% of Rolls-Royce customers opt to personalise their vehicle, one way or another.

The designer normally works out of the company’s beautiful headquarters — designed by Grimshaw — on the Goodwood Estate, in West Sussex. It’s a magnet for wildlife, thanks in part to the living roof, and not uncommon for employees and visitors to spot a family of ducks parading past a Rolls Royce on the forecourt. ‘It’s certainly not the normal car manufacturing site,’ says Bryden.

Collaboration is key, so Bryden admits to feeling a ‘bit worried’ when the lockdown was first announced. He’s been working from home ever since. There are daily team meetings and everyone takes turns to screen share and show what they’ve been working on. ‘We’re almost better connected,’ Bryden says, adding that working from home has given the team some much-needed time to get through the mounting pile of customer requests.

Michael’s desk at home.

Requests can range from the more manageable — a custom paint job or small monogram detail — to the more time consuming. For example, working with an artist on The Gallery, an interior space in the car conceived to house bespoke artistic creations. Just last week, Bryden found himself on a socially-distanced call with a customer in Tokyo and an external collaborator in a third country.

One of Bryden’s favourite projects was a car nicknamed the Rose Phantom, for a customer in Stockholm. Every leather-trimmed surface was embroidered in roses, totalling over 1,000,000 stitches. Another was for a client in the US, who wanted a custom, lambswool dog cover for the cars rear seats, personalised with the dog’s name.

The customer demographic is broad: Bryden has worked with people in their late teens to some in their late 80s. ‘More younger clients coming to Goodwood is really exciting,’ he says, going on to explain that they often want to push the boundaries with design. He sometimes finds himself browsing their social media channels to get an idea of their lifestyle and what they might be looking for from the experience.

Michael Bryden

And if he could design a Rolls Royce for himself? ‘Right now, it’s a Wraith. I would want to bring an elegant theme to it, rather than opulence. And this is actually a theme we’re working on right now: reduction. Something that whispers, rather than shouts. We’re referring to it as post-opulence. I’d love this theme to be in every single detail of my car. A purity to the design.’

  • Go-to office uniform

Well-tailored chinos, a shark collar shirt and a navy blazer. If there’s a client visit, where it’s a bit more formal, a tie might come into the equation.

  • Work soundtrack

We all have very different tastes in music, so when it gets to the mid-afternoon, everyone puts their own headphones on. I typically like to listen to House music. My fiancé is a DJ, so I listen to her mixes.

  • Messy desk or tidy desk?

Very, very tidy.

  • Best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given

In challenging times, when the pressure is on at work, remember that there’s someone out there who would give their right arm to do what you’re doing.

  • Your Instagram hero

I love following a company called Winch Design and I love seeing what they’re doing. They work on super yacht and aviation projects. It’s a super-luxury, no compromise sort of thing.