After a fashion


Bar-goers in countries like Taiwan and Singapore might appear healthier than most, thanks to a medical theme that is sweeping the area. In Taipei, DS Music Restaurant was launched recently, echoing the success that Singapore’s The Clinic had when it opened in 2006. Visitors at DS Music order ‘medicine’ from a menu before it is dripped into their glasses from a transparent, ceiling-suspended vat. Visitors can sit around each ‘bed’ and chat up the ‘nurses’ whose rabbit-ears complement their starched white uniforms. Disregarding the oddball entries, clinical doesn’t always sound sirens. The i-ultra lounge (someone stop this i-craze, please) in the InterContinental Hong Kong, for example, just goes with the pure white effect and an iHealth menu. Interiors in the Middle East are becoming increasingly minimalist, too. Keva, 360° and Chi@The Lodge are all new bars following the same design principle – pared-down, stylish and plenty of white. iKandy in Dubai is trying on the trend, al fresco-style, with its outdoor rooftop spot and pool surrounded by white drapes and decor. What it has got wrong, however, is the name. Since opening its Portland branch last year, the Ace Hotel has also been celebrated for its pared-down style. This year sees the extension of the brand with a branch opening in Palm Springs and another planned in New York.

Low-key, slightly battered and well-hidden are important criteria for a whole slew of new ventures around the world. The idea is to make customers and clients feel like they’re chilling at home or in a friend’s house, but – like ‘natural’ make-up and perfectly messed up hair – you can be sure it’s taken ages to get it to look this casual.

Allegedly the hardest bar to find in Melbourne in Australia (which is saying something), Handsome Steve’s House of Refreshment is situated in the Abbotsford Convent, where you can also find an artists’ studio space, theatre, school, radio station and a bakery. Lined with Laminex and wood paneling, there’s usually a noir film or surf flick on the badly tuned TV and the ‘attitude’ is palpable.

Joe’s Shoe Store is a new bar in Northcote, also in Australia, that used to be a shoe store and decided – in the interests of recycling, perhaps – that it would be easier just to keep the same sign outside. Inside, the concrete-floored space is sparsely decorated with carefully placed ornaments that run the gamut from giant paella pans to fencing paraphernalia.

It probably all started in London’s Shoreditch, of course, where secret dens are still springing up everywhere. The East Room has opened up next to Shosho Match (even the doorbell is well hidden), while Lounge Bohemia on Great Eastern Street only has a mobile number by way of contact, as if a landline might make it traceable.

This is one interior design trend that – by definition – can be found where you least expect it, but it’s still surprising to see that even airports are getting in on the act. The new Fly Bar in Melbourne Airport is modelled on a Brunswick Street café – making it a bit shabby, full of ‘character’, and quite unique.

The speakeasy vibe is just as prevalent in retail – possibly partly because its universal style works on a budget to suit the temporary pop-up format that is currently so popular. Oak in Nolita uses found and new objects to create an austere bar-room aesthetic. Another recent example is Trovata – a clothing label that set up a temporary store in New York’s Meatpacking District. Designer John Whitledge artfully arranged the collection around piles of old books and battered furniture with a result that could be described as being part chic boutique, part messy student bedroom.

Is it a teashop? Is it a bowling alley? No, it’s a drive-in movie tapas bar. Multifunctional venues are on the rise – as well as shops that are also galleries, we are seeing bars that double up as grocery stores, car showrooms where you can also have a head massage, and so on. On the one hand, doubling up on business is a great way to make the most of a single site; on the other, the poor unsuspecting interior designer can go slightly schizophrenic as a result of all the conflicting requirements.

Across the world, true professionals are showing admirable clout in the face of diversity. In Los Angeles, Ooga Booga is a new multifunctional outlet offering a mix of art, retail and hanging space. Held up as a welcome antidote to Hollywood, Ooga Booga is ‘primarily’ a fashion store, but also offers mixtapes by legendary West Coast musicians like Calvin Johnson and art books by Wolfgang Tillmans. Over in Philadelphia, the Ubiq store similarly gives the illusion of being a premium sneaker store, but on closer inspection customers will suddenly find themselves inside a gallery space. Luring unsuspecting sneaker-heads into the cultural realm while they clothes shop is so far proving very successful, and sales are high.

Multipurpose is a current trend in retail design in the spatially challenged Tokyo, too. Venues such as Tokyo Midtown and Gyre have been hugely influential, as have initiatives by some of the major international brands, such as Armani and Bulgari, which have both opened their own multi-retail complex with own-brand bar and restaurant area in Ginza.

Staying in might be the new going out, but going out can also be quite homely. Even in Las Vegas. Lo-fi, earthy design was, until recently, anathema to the brash, flash casino capital, but Social House, a new Japanese-inspired restaurant designed by New York-based architectural firm AvroKO is one new venue changing that with abundant use of organic materials.

Back in London, designers having been digging for victory for years, of course, and already do a nice trade in down-to-earth and wholesome. Camden newcomer Market is the latest British no-frills, fuss-free eatery on a small, cosy site with blasted brick walls, zinc-topped tables and an open kitchen.

The organic movement is at last taking hold in New York, too, and although for now the top trends within this market relate to food provenance, it is reflecting the same ideas as interior design. Acting as an interesting counter to the more scientific approach to cuisine that has been popular over the past few years, a few new outlets are bucking the trend: Roasting Plant is a new Lower East Side coffee shop that roasts beans on site. Merging technology and a traditional coffee-shop feel, Roasting Plant is all about demonstrating the ‘realness’ of the product through design.

With its locally produced, sustainable and organic fare, BLT market – at the Ritz-Carlton on 59th Street – plays up the rustic, artisanal feel as well. The interior echoes the French-style grocery store and the fresh produce itself becomes a valuable part of the design. Photographs of the restaurant’s purveyors with their truffles and barnyard ducks line the walls, while an old plough stands by the entrance. Water is served in milk bottles and waiters are dressed in kitchen aprons. You can almost smell the mud.

Bacaro takes the trend into the eastern fringes of New York’s Chinatown. In a converted former aquarium, the new restaurant is all exposed brick, salvaged barn wood, and nooks and crannies all serving to make the whole place resemble a farmhouse kitchen, rather than an upscale restaurant in Manhattan. Cookshop, too, situated in Chelsea, is setting a new trend for the city by putting up a chalk-board, in a stylistic nod towards the European farmhouse restaurant.

The world seems to be going mad for Asian design, with huge numbers of venues opening to answer the global demand for sashimi, dim sum and oodles of noodles. Residents at the new Raffles Dubai have a vast choice of six different Asian experiences, while in Australia’s Melbourne new bars Cho Gao, the Red Hummingbird, Seamstress, Double Happiness and New Gold Mountain all channel the Chinese vibe almost as well as we do in Europe.

Meanwhile, the new glamorous midtown Manhattan venue Wakiya – a much-hyped collaboration between Ian Schrager and chef Yuji Wakiya – filters Chinese gastronomy through a Japanese prism, resulting in an Asian-fusion design perspective. In London, there’s the new venture from Alan Yau (he of Wagamama, Hakkasan and Yauatcha fame). Sake no Hana, designed by Kengo Kuma, transports its clientele by the means of two gold and black escalators before depositing them in an otherworldly space full of Eastern promise with a network of blond wood poles floating overhead and timber-lined walls. Diners can choose whether to eat Japanese-style on tatami mats or to keep their shoes on and sit on a chair.

The trend is not altogether new, but it has been growing considerably this past year, and what seems to have happened lately is an interesting shift in the balance. For all the years spent plundering the West for design ideas and influence, China’s new generation are at last tapping into their own heritage, and the Japanese have developed a clear preference for traditional Japanese design over Western intrusions. It seems Japan, in fact, is more confident than ever in persuing its own traditions. Although Tokyo has seen chains of newly opened luxury hotels by various international large corporations – Peninsula, Conrad and Mandarin Oriental, for example – in the past year or two, hotels in Japan have been generally getting smaller. It looks like Japanese consumers want a better, more personalised and intimate service from hotels. In Kyoto, for example, there has been a series of renovations of machiya (traditional Kyoto town houses or tea-houses) into new accommodation, keeping the old styles, but improving them with contemporary modern conveniences.

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