Mike Rundell has a dilemma. The London-based architectural designer is about to embark on the next stage of his four- decade relationship with Aston Martins, but right now he has a choice to make, between ownership of a DB9 Volante or a Vanquish. “I like the GT-ness of the DB9 — I love that part of Aston Martin,” he muses, “but I admire the snarl of the Vanquish. It’s a knife-edge decision. The DB9 is a little softer, perhaps. But it’s prettier.” By the time you read this, Rundell will have taken the plunge and taken delivery of the latest addition to his eccentric fleet.
Cars have always been a central part of Rundell’s life. His garage currently includes an Alfa Romeo 2000 and Citroën DS21, but Aston Martin is a marque he keeps returning to. “I was the luckiest person in the world,” he recalls. “My grandfather left me £5000 back in 1977 so I bought myself a DB6. I was still at university.” The car wasn’t in the best condition, but Rundell had it resprayed (“turquoise blue”) and converted to a manual box (“I loved the ZF gearbox”) and then used it for the next five years. “The repair bills eventually got on top of me,” he recalls. “I had a specialist — RS Williams — and they rebuilt the engine not once, but twice. Eventually, they just gave me a whole new one.”
Rundell has not had a conventional career, either, although he has always had an appreciation of design. By the time his DB6 engine had spectacularly imploded (a sad end for the Tadek Marek-designed six cylinder), Rundell had acquired a master’s degree in economics and engineering from Oxford. He then began a career as an oilfield engineer, spending a decade in the Middle East and Russia before heading back to academia — or rather fine art. He began to work on interiors, carefully crafting stone, metal and wood, using only the highest standards and specifications, all the while pursuing a very refined modern aesthetic.
Today, his client list is a who’s-who of the London art and media world, from Claudia Schiffer and Elisabeth Murdoch, through to musicians Adam Clayton and Alex James, and the gallerist Jay Jopling (for whom he designed the original White Cube Gallery in Hoxton Square). There are also the artists themselves, including Adam Barker-Mill, Keith Tyson, Tracey Emin and, of course, Damien Hirst, with whom he has enjoyed a long and fruitful collaboration, designing his homes, studios, stores and restaurants.
Mike Rundell Associates operates out of a new studio in a converted auction warehouse in Bayswater. A towering space with Rundell’s own office on an open-plan mezzanine, it features a large structural rooflight created from circular glass blocks set into the floor of the terrace above. Contemporary art adorns the walls, including the odd vignette from Hirst and a large painting by Harland Miller gracing the reception area.
Passion for design is evident, but his cars hold a special place in his heart. His first love affair, with the DB6, came to an end after the engine debacle. “I spent a lot of money restoring it and then sold it for £7,500 to a coffee dealer from Yorkshire. And I regretted it.” His next foray into Aston ownership was a DB7 Volante. “I missed not having an Aston,” he recalls, “so in about 1996 I bought the DB7 — I like soft-top cars. I did about 70,000 miles on it in three years, zipping up and down the motorway to visit Damien in Devon,” he says. “I got my one and only speeding fine as a result.”
Rundell has been casting around for a replacement for several years. “I was originally going to get one of the last of the Newport Pagnell Vanquishes,” he says. “I also looked at the DBS — I found a great manual one — but now it’s down to this DB9 Volante and the Vanquish. I like the feel of the interior, the metal and the switches.”
In addition to the Alfa and Citroën, there’s also a unique Rolls-Royce Corniche in the Rundell fleet. “They’re a great car as they embody a particular 1960s-70s style,” he says, “but I’m not a purist at all. I get a car and make it how I want. With the Corniche, I preferred the early body style so I combined it with mechanicals from
a later car. I tend to keep cars,” he adds, pointing out the little yellow Alfa that has been his daily drive for 33 years. He has also had the DS for around 15 years.
Work commitments mean Rundell spends a lot of time in St Petersburg, where a fascinating secondary collection awaits him. “When I’m in Russia I drive my 1953 ZIM limousine — I tend to get saluted by retired generals.” As well as the ZIM, he has a 6.5m-long ZIS from 1935. “They’re not really worth anything. Only Russians like them,” he says of the vast, American-inspired official limousines. In the UK, home is a grade II-listed 1930s house in South London by Leslie H Kemp and Frederick E Tasker, noted designers of Art Deco cinemas. Rundell has restored the original fixtures and fittings, while adding some sympathetic updates of his own, creating a restrained and elegant evocation of the era with a richness of craft and materials that is rarely found today.
Passion for design is evident, but his cars hold a special place in his heart
These are all qualities he strives to bring into the work of Rundell Associates. Currently receiving the finishing touches are a grand villa in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat in France and Harrods’ new watch gallery in London. The latter is an impressive synthesis of classical elegance and modern technology. It includes a new inter-floor staircase, the first in the department store for many decades, with a curved sweep of CNC-machined marble. “This kind of workmanship simply wouldn’t have been possible a few years ago,” Rundell explains. “There are only four of these machines in the world.”
Other residential projects are underway in London and Scotland, where Rundell is working with a client on ways to bring populations back to remote island communities, combining affordable housing with holiday accommodation and grand private houses. “I like bringing our design capabilities to a wider audience,” he says.
He resists the idea of getting involved in transportation design. “I’m an engineer by training, but I’m aware of the fact that modern engineering is just so sophisticated,” he says, revealing a passion for the more traditional way of doing things. “I can’t stand the sound of electric cars. The Aston Martin V12 is a gorgeous sound. I love it. I like feeling connected — and you are connected in a DB9. I’ve always liked that there are very few gimmicks in an Aston Martin.”