"Interior designers have a unique opportunity to create connections by designing spaces that allow for meaningful gatherings. A restaurant can offer the luxury of being transported out of your day-to-day to a place of being present with friends, family, and maybe even someone new."
–Kaitlyn D'Orazio, Interior Design Intern at LIV Design Studio

Food has a special place in our hearts. Warm gatherings over lavish feasts comprise some of our most precious memories, presenting a unique opportunity to cast one's worries aside and delight in the comfort of good company. Over the years, restaurants have developed new ways of facilitating these types of unforgettable experiences – devising creative new techniques, sourcing ingredients from all corners of the world, and constantly developing new & inventive ways of transporting our senses to places we never knew existed.

They say you eat with your eyes first though, and before the first dish has hit the table, one's surroundings are typically the first thing they take note of prior to tucking in. In the wake of the recently released Michelin Guides for Vancouver and Toronto, LIV Design Studio is approaching these cities' best restaurants from a different angle: their interiors. Today, we'll be looking at world-class interiors from some of Canada's top dining destinations, looking at the latest interior design trends influencing the way we eat in and design for restaurants.

[Header photo: Osteria Giulia, photographed by @2spacephoto]

Warm & Inviting Spaces

"Interiors are a critical component of any restaurant experience. If the concept of the restaurant's cuisine is a celebratory fusion between traditional & new dishes, the interiors should also celebrate the historical building materials of the region while introducing new technologies and designs."
–Deanna Mok, Interior Designer at LIV Design Studio

In uncertain times, diners increasingly long for the warmth of home. At their best, restaurants should replicate the easy comfort that comes with familiarity through warm, inviting design.

Wood and stone elements go a long way in this regard, invoking the proverbial hearth around which families gather. Look no further than Osteria Giulia for a shining exemplar of how modern restaurant design can conjure the same feelings of warmth as one's grandmother's house without sacrificing style. Designed by Guido Constantino Projects, light wood and wicker dining tables and chairs bring a distinct Scandinavian flair to this contemporary osteria. Family-style long tables nestled away between tonal stone dividers lend an aura of intimacy to any gathering, with round light fixtures emitting plentiful warm light throughout the dining room.

"Where rustic meets refined" is how The Mackenzie Room describes itself, and both their fare and interiors embody this effortlessly. Exposed brick walls are a reminder of the Railtown institution's history, offset by live-edge wood tables and midcentury armoires displaying vintage plates and glassware. All around are mementos of Canadiana such as pennant flags from various British Columbia cities and wall-mounted photographs of days past; much like you'd see in a friend's dining room.

[Pictured left to right: Osteria Giulia, photographed by @2spacephoto; The Mackenzie Room, photographed by Katie Cross Photography]

A Strong Visual Identity

Dining can easily become a transportive experience in the right setting. Creating a cohesive visual identity is paramount when designing any restaurant interior; whether that comes through repeated motifs, a central guiding theme, or a strong presence of brand colours.

Take Alo Restaurant's Barroom for example. Designed by Commute Design Studio, this intimate cocktail lounge conjures a mystical air with abstract orb light fixtures masked by opaque red panels, repeating in endless fashion across the ceilings of the intimate lounge. Paired with sumptuous leather banquettes, a sleek stone bartop, and of course – the gold imagery lining the dark-panelled walls, the cozy Barroom is the ultimate way to kickstart your dining experience or grab an after-work drink with colleagues or friends.

We'd look to LIV Design Studio's own work as well. H Tasting Lounge was one of LIV's most ambitious undertakings to date, and has since become one of the most iconic rooms in the city for its encapsulation of roaring twenties opulence. Taking inspiration from the lavish life and aeronautical enthusiasm of the legendary Howard Hughes, a longtime resident of the Bayshore Hotel where H Tasting Lounge is located, the LIV Design Studio team modelled each aspect of H Tasting Lounge after elements of the mogul's high-flying life. This sense of identity is recognizable from the second one walks in the door. Gold trim adorns nearly every table, chair, and finishing in this elegant room, alongside a chandelier designed to mimic the wind currents generated by an airplane propellor.

Also located within the Westin Bayshore Hotel, T&Co Cafe has an entirely distinct identity. In place of extravagance, LIV Design Studio sought to provide a minimal, elegant place for guests and neighbourhood dwellers to stop by for their morning coffee and a delicious pastry. Velvet stools and marble countertops provide space to catch your breath amid a busy day, while green elements give a calming, natural feel to the modern coffee shop.

[Pictured top to bottom: Alo Restaurant, photographed by Jonathan Adediji; H Tasting Lounge; T&CO Cafe]

The Rise of the Restaurant-Grocer

One lasting legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic is the popularity of the restaurant-grocer hybrid. Evolving out of an urgent need for restaurants to adapt in the face of empty dining rooms and rapidly declining sales, these types of spaces have since become a staple of practically every urban neighbourhood.

Vancouver's Collective Goods has aced the assignment, combining a modern, "French-ish" bistro with a fully-stocked grocer carrying all manner of carefully selected wines from around the world and thoughtfully sourced goods for creating feasts of your own. The custom shelving that lines the room blends seamlessly into the space, becoming a part of the room rather than a separate whole. By night, the cozy wood-filled interiors are almost unrecognizable, filled with the din of jovial conversation and the smells of classic French cuisine. All the while, you can contemplate which delicious goods you will pick out after your meal's complete.

[Pictured: Collective Goods, photographed by Katie Cross Photography]

Timeless Minimalism

Just because a restaurant is minimal in its design certainly doesn't mean it has to lack in personality. Rather, these types of interiors provide a relatively blank canvas free of clutter or outside distractions, focusing guests' attention where it should rightfully be: on the food and company in front of them.

Boulevard Restaurant & Oyster Bar has become a titan of Vancouver's culinary scene, earning ample recognition for its modern approach to West Coast fare and continually setting the bar higher for the contemporary hotel restaurant. Elegant wood-tiled floors and a minimal black, grey, and slate blue palette focus the senses, preparing guests for a dining experience like no other. Understated elements like the decorative light fixtures and curated art pieces lend further sophistication to this timeless space.

Though grand in many ways, LIV Design Studio's intention with H Tasting Lounge was to scale back the over-the-top design elements of Howard Hughes' heyday, tempering the abundant golds with a greyscale palette. Soft lighting and tiled floors provide a pleasantly soothing backdrop for raucous festivities, while marble tables lend a natural feel to the space.

Quetzal Toronto, designed by Partisans is a softly-lit homage to the Mexican culinary pantheon, with an understated design that relies on subtle curvatures and quality pieces over ostentatious accents. There's an airy simplicity to the wide open space, with subtle ripples in the ceiling providing depth to the stylish room.

"Bar Raval in Toronto [N.B.: Also designed by Partisans] will continue to be a must-visit bar whenever I am back in Ontario. The abundant natural light and Art Nouveau curves & details in the space make it a favourite spot for coffee; and as the day transitions into night, the lighting design creates a warm, ambient, and intimate space with glowing ceilings and illuminated glass details."
– Kaitlyn D'Orazio, Interior Design Intern at LIV Design Studio

[Pictured left to right: Boulevard Restaurant & Oyster Bar, photographed by Leila Kwok; H Tasting Lounge; Quetzal, photographed by Rick O'Brien]

Invoking Nature

Locavore cuisine has risen to new heights of late. Proponents of this mentality source nearly every single ingredient from nearby producers with an eye on shortening the supply chain by a few notches. Rooting a restaurant in the place it calls home lends authenticity to the project, with each plate becoming a piece of the modern cultural lexicon.

Interior design can conjure these same feelings of being rooted in one's surroundings, by incorporating biophilic elements throughout dining areas. As well as lending a touch of colour to the tonal interiors at Published on Main, the hanging plants give life to the understated room, lending it a natural feel that is a tactile, visual representation of the quintessentially Pacific Northwest dishes on offer.

Restaurants are an escape when we need it most – offering us a temporary respite from the world around us. The interiors at these spaces encapsulate a unique moment in time, while remaining timeless so as to weather the many fads that frequently rock the industry. More than just trends, these themes of modern restaurant design are a guideline for creating holistic spaces that harmonize with the experiences and culture within their walls – a blueprint for truly special interiors.

[Pictured here: Published on Main, photographed by Sarah Annand]

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