For some time, I've wanted to write a column about the great decorating ideas you can take from restaurants into your home. Three trips to Vancouver eateries with wonderful interiors have finally set me in motion.
By sheer coincidence, the three restaurants all have the same designer, Craig Stanghetta, whom I've never met. Bao Bei (Chinese for "baby," the term of endearment) is in a freshly gentrifying corner of Chinatown, one of the city's oldest precincts. Meat and Bread sits amid the trendy lofts and boutiques of Gastown. And Stackhouse occupies a plot on Granville Street, in the city's entertainment district.
Why these three? They're all accessible. In ambitious and well-executed interiors like that of Market (at the Vancouver Shangri-La), say, or recent additions to the Cactus Club chain, big, costly build-outs are the norm. But the small budgets of independent bistros force a designer to be innovative, and Stanghetta is doing it better than anyone in town. His interiors are there to admire – and they can inspire invention in the design of your own home.
Stanghetta's work is organic, by which I mean it's natural – more tree than telephone pole. It's clear that he spends time with the sentiments and ideas of his clients, adding crucial design elements as the spaces evolve. This is an important lesson for homeowners; it's very much the way a good DIY renovation or decorating job goes.
On to the restaurants, then. From each, here's one fresh idea anyone would be wise to bring home.
From Bao Bei, vintage floral wallpaper.
It seems appropriate to start with the interior where Vancouver first saw Stanghetta's talent – Bao Bei, Vancouver magazine's best new restaurant of 2011. Stanghetta collaborated closely on the design with the owner, Tannis Ling, whose parents emigrated from China.
The room evokes the collision of generations in its tension between nostalgia and industrialism. The design feature I can't resist is the vintage wallpaper. Robin's-egg blue, with coral and petal pink flowers, it dresses the rear wall of the long, narrow room, making it feel more like a home than a business.
Vintage wallpapers (or "vintage" new prints) are a great way to add visual tension to a bland room. Their high contrast and dramatic pattern impose a feminine grandeur on a space. The key to preventing wallpaper looking indulgent and overwhelming is to follow Bao Bei's lead: Put the paper on one wall only and make it more artwork than wall finish.
Great places to do this at home: standalone, narrow sections of wall in a kitchen; the living room; or the bedroom. Near the wallpaper, it's a good idea to blend contemporary furnishings with accent pieces that glance over their shoulder. (In Bao Bei hangs an overscale photograph of Ling's father in his high-school rock band.) Find items that hit a similar note for you. They give a room warmth.
From Stackhouse, utilitarian light fixtures.
At Stanghetta's most recently launched interior, Granville Street burger joint Stackhouse, you'll find a tightly edited interior, where the space and shapes between objects are as important as the objects themselves.
The utilitarian light fixtures give the space a satisfying edge. The fixtures are simple: exposed light bulbs on the end of a cantilevered arm, anchored by a metal plate on the wall.
It's the extension of the arm, reaching into the room, that I find thrilling. Rather than hanging from the ceiling – where, hardwired, their electrical source would be concealed – the cords hang down and plug into the wall.
There are a couple of ways you can take this idea home.
Most literally, you could find similar fixtures and mount them on either side of your bed for a chic, eclectic look. Or you could go broad and incorporate industrial lighting in your space – over an island or in a breakfast nook. The key is choosing fixtures that are spare and utilitarian without being chunky and indulgent. You want something that looks delicate and almost feminine, not overwhelming and melodramatic.
From Meat and Bread, nostalgic typeface.
Meat and Bread is really the restaurant that made me a fan of Stanghetta. There's a well-calibrated balance here of rustic materials, nostalgic elements, and practical design. It's my favourite Vancouver room for a languid meal on a Sunday afternoon.
Among the retro design ingredients is the huge typeface menu on the wall. White vinyl text on a cold-rolled-steel background, this overscale piece really contributes to a vibe of simple, effortless goodness.
Now, you obviously don't need a menu on your kitchen wall – but that's why I like the idea. It's playful – and a fun gesture for foodies and weekend chefs alike.
While it's possible to fabricate a framed piece of steel for your home kitchen, it's more practical to just put plain white words on a black background. One good way: paint an entire accent wall with black matte paint and then install some vinyl lettering. Any sign shop can create a graphic for you – just bring them your menu or an old-school recipe and have them design it for your wall.
Either approach will give your kitchen an approachable and casual air.
What unifies Stanghetta's three designs is that they're spare and homey. His ethic of elegant lack of pretension is worth remembering as you decorate your home. For my money, the great pleasures of design and of life combine the fresh and the familiar.