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Interior design for the Internet age

Businesses are focusing on more than just the presentation of food and drinks as they try to attract a new breed of customer

When it comes to interior design, restaurants are courting a new breed of customer: the Instagrammer. While the thoughtful presentation of food and drinks is nothing new in the restaurant world, social media is putting pressure on owners and designers to think about what's visible around the plates of food highlighted in countless photo feeds. From artwork to disposable coffee cups, wallpaper to lighting fixtures, no detail is too small. Amanda Scriver asked the designers behind four restaurants how social media helped influence the look of the spaces.

Bocce, Calgary

Business owners who don't have a good understanding of social media have a hard time appreciating the importance of getting tags, shares and likes online.

But customers see social media as an extension of a business's physical space. "The world is more sophisticated about design and devours it so quickly," says Walker McKinley, architect and partner at McKinley Burkart Architecture and Interior Design. Designing for social media is like theatre, he says.

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"Design is all about framing, lines of view, backdrops, lighting. We have always been treating design in a way that Instagram reacts well to – in particular in retail and restaurants."

The stage is always buzzing at Calgary's Bocce pizzeria, which the firm worked on. One of the restaurant's most Instagrammed spots is the pizza-making room.

"… We wanted to highlight the energy of the pizza-making process. To do this, we design the space around a long, open kitchen and anchored the restaurant with the dough room, framed by blue windows," McKinley says.

Kissa Tanto, Vancouver

With more than 800 Instagram tags to date, the design choices made at Kissa Tanto have put the Chinatown restaurant on the social-media map. Restaurateurs don't usually come into the process trying to create an Instagram-worthy space, said Craig Stanghetta, principal at Vancouver's Ste. Marie, the design firm that worked on Kissa Tanto along with brand and graphic-design company Glasfurd & Walker.

"A sort of narrative emerges through that work and, of course, we're trying to make sure things are intuitively planned, comfortable, lit properly et cetera, all to evoke an atmosphere and a sensibility," Stanghetta says.

Recently named Canada's best new restaurant by enRoute magazine, Kissa Tanto mixes the aesthetics of a 1960s Japanese jazz bar and modernist Italian design with its distinctive blue-on-blue walls, pink booths and purple neon signage.

"It's always cool when you see an image posted on Instagram from a guest who totally gets the through-line and the design intent," Stanghetta says.

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Maman, New York and Toronto

Have you ever admired the Maman coffee cup? That's a Candice Kaye original. The Toronto-based owner of Candice Kaye design created the pattern for the blue-and-white disposable cups used at the café and bakery's locations in New York and Toronto. "Before we even knew that these cups were even going to be anything, when anyone was going to take pictures of them, we put these prints on the cups and then we put the print on the wall, then the fabric, and all this stuff," says Kaye, who specializes in custom-designed wallpaper. "It just sort of came at the perfect time when people on Instagram were noticing design. They wanted their pictures to look pretty. They were taking pictures of these cups up against other prints. It just sort of blew up." Kaye says design can help give a restaurant its own story. "You want someone to walk into your client's restaurant and be like, 'This feels like Maman.'"

Piano Piano, Toronto

Toronto-based designer Tiffany Pratt aims to create little moments that inspire people. While much of her design for the newly transformed Piano Piano is monochromatic, the restaurant has become known for its pink mural of flowers painted on the building's exterior. Pratt said that although chef-owner Victor Barry was hesitant about the bold move, she knew it would get people talking – and become a showstopper on social media. So far, it has worked. People stop all the time to take photos in front of the compelling backdrop. "I don't think that I was so concerned with anything going viral so much as I was wanting people to be inspired by moments," Pratt says.

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