HECKER GUTHRIE: DAVID'S
Visiting the Shanghai village of his childhood, where his love of good food was born, was enough to persuade restaurateur David Zhou that it was time his long-standing Melbourne eatery, David's, took a new direction, both in a culinary and aesthetic sense.
Hamish Guthrie, from interior design firm Hecker Guthrie, was charged with creating ''a homely feel that evoked the spirit of the Shanghai countryside''.
Their first step was to unlock the attributes inherent in the building's structure. Steel-framed windows were revealed and flooded the back section with light, brickwork was exposed and painted to provide texture and an obscured skylight was brought back into service. This stripping back and adding appropriate touches allowed the designers to create a light-filled shell with 3.2-metre-high ceilings, a concrete floor and painted tongue-and-groove boards.
Hecker Guthrie filtered the brief through its own distinctive aesthetic. ''We like to use a restricted palette of materials and colours,'' Guthrie says. ''We favour white, or at least neutral, paintwork and the introduction of greenery through planting is another strong signature of our work.''
The project had time and budget constraints, with the restaurant closing for only three weeks. ''We headed down to some warehouses in Victoria Street, Abbotsford to pick up authentic Chinese pieces and balanced those choices with contemporary pieces - the H-Poem chairs and the Arik Levy for Forestier lights being some of the more expressive elements,'' Guthrie says.
There is a playfulness that comes from the stacking of furniture, using the height of the space for elevated storage areas - very much in the Chinese tradition. A new, more casual menu meant new crockery in line with the shift in aesthetic and philosophy, and, with two of David Zhou's daughters working there, a new generation.
PASCALE GOMES-McNABB: MONOPOLE
Potts Point, Sydney
Pascale Gomes-McNabb is a meticulous practitioner - a rare combination of designer (she holds a bachelor of architecture) and restaurateur who absorbs a restaurant's philosophy and commercial intent before deciding how it should look and feel.
''I like to understand the food on offer, how the client intends to operate, the flow of the space, and out of this understanding comes a design solution,'' she says.
With ground-breaking projects of her own under her belt (think Cumulus Inc., Cumulus Up. and Cutler & Co in Melbourne), she had previously worked with Brent
Savage and Nick Hildebrandt on the much-acclaimed Bentley Restaurant & Bar in Sydney's Surry Hills.
For Monopole, a new wine bar in Sydney's fashionable Potts Point, they have joined forces with Glen Goodwin, a sommelier recently returned from New York. ''The brief was to create a wine bar with an almost old-world sensibility - comfortable and even a little bit squishy - where customers could have a quick glass of good wine or a more leisurely meal,'' Gomes-McNabb says.
With an eye for practicality, and to reduce waste, she stripped the space of its sea of brown mosaic tiles, but kept the positioning of key elements such as the bar and the kitchen. The restaurant is pleasingly moody, with a fabulous cluster chandelier of hand-blown glass spheres in tertiary colours by Mark Douglass contrasting with the more masculine three-pronged lights, Simple Y, by Christopher Boots.
The long, narrow space is made more intimate by the strategically placed rows of hanging grey strips, which look like an art installation but are in fact material made from recycled plastic bottles called Echo Panel by Woven Image.
The mix of materials is important - dark-timber chairs, flashes of copper panelling, leather banquettes and heavy, irregular-shaped serving ware give the space a tactile quality. Stained plywood has been used to create open shelving around the walls, housing 500-plus bottles of wine and making a feature of the product itself. The interior has a sense of contemporary luxury. Gomes-McNabb knows where to pare back and where to spend, how to combine design flourishes with utility and comfort with style.
LUKE MUTTON (SUNKLAND PROJECT): COMMON GALAXIA
''I wanted a warm, woody cafe aesthetic inspired by Japanese and Scandinavian architecture,'' says Luke Mutton of Common Galaxia, a cafe in Melbourne's Seddon.
With a background in hospitality rather than design, Mutton has crafted a beautifully restrained interior underpinned by his love of cafe culture and a desire to capture, for his customers, that elusive cafe magic.
Mutton has all the senses covered - he has installed three levels of acoustic proofing so the music sounds great, he puts huge emphasis on the coffee experience and pays considerable attention to detail, not only visually but to how things function. Much of the fit-out is bespoke, with Mutton sourcing like-minded creative talent to design and produce his ideas for furniture and lighting. His vision was part Bauhaus (see the cantilevered chairs), combined with the restraint of the Japanese and the warmth of Scandinavian design. It is an interesting cultural/aesthetic mix, which, through a controlled palette of materials and a spare, uncomplicated placement of pieces, he manages to pull off with great style.
His main collaborator was LifeSpaceJourney, a Melbourne-based design practice, which started with a lighting commission and ended up designing and making everything from the chairs to the charming sheet-metal cutlery holders that attach to the sides of the tables.
For Mutton's swivel-stool design he turned to Illogical Study, which also produced the ''pour-over filter-coffee apparatus'', which looks like something crafted for a mad professor's lab - albeit a stylish one. Even the coffee canisters, based on traditional Japanese tea caddies, are bespoke, not to mention the handmade cups by local ceramicist Ingrid Tufts.
This is an interior with great integrity of design, with deep thought and intelligence applied to every facet.
SIBELLA COURT: MR WONG
When Justin and Bettina Hemmes of the Merivale Group decided to turn their nightclub Tank, in Sydney's central business district, into upscale Chinese restaurant Mr Wong, they called on long-time collaborator Sibella Court.
''It was only when we ripped out the existing interior and looked at the space, illuminated only by builder's lights, that we fully experienced the bare beauty of this majestic 1860s building,'' Court says.
It was the warehouse aesthetic that formed the fundamental basis for the interior, as brick walls were simply brushed and left untreated. This shell was then added to with layers of industrial lighting, colonial-influenced furniture and Court's inimitable way with collections of objects.
''We looked at ways to create intimacy in what is essentially a cavernous space by breaking it up into a variety of areas,'' she says.
''Justin's brief was that the restaurant could work equally well for a business meeting as a date, and so the division of space and the layers of visual interest were really important.'' A four-metre curtain, created from agave twine and beads Court sourced in Ecuador, is used to divide space, as is custom-made shelving filled with medicine bottles and cooking paraphernalia sourced on many trips with Bettina to Cabramatta, in Sydney's south-west.
Specialist tradespeople were called in: a scene painter created the signature mural of the 1920s Chinese actor (which was then scrubbed back to give it an aged appearance) and a skilled joiner was used to re-create a bar based on a pleasingly time-worn example from Seville. Chairs (tested by the detail-fixated Justin) are of French colonial style and imported antique tiles help weave the subtle thread of green that runs through the interior.
It is a commercial interior that knows when, and how, to fold in elements of domestic design, which in turn creates a layered, often intriguing space enhanced by great lighting and Court's singular obsession - myriad objets trouves.
Karen McCartney is an author of architecture and design books and editorial director at online retailer Temple & Webster.