• October 17, 2019

SMALL SPACE, BIG IMPACT AT POKE 5

When the owners of Poke Five came to us to design their restaurant, they asked for a clean, minimalist, all-white modern look for the 400-square-foot space they had secured on Commercial Drive. It’s a popular request, and while there’s nothing wrong with white, this highlights one of the fundamental differences between residential and commercial design.

In a commercial space, you are creating an experience. Guests aren’t supposed to live in the restaurant, but you still want them to be really excited about spending time there. With Poke Five, our goal was to show the owners how being bold and more adventurous in the design is what would make the space memorable. Mistakenly, some think that a restaurant is either all about the food, or all about the design, but in truth, it’s a perfect marriage of the two. The food has to be good, and the design has to be a reflection of the food.

For a millennial quick-stop spot like Poke Five and its fusion poke menu, we envisioned a fresh and youthful space that feels both Japanese and Hawaiian. Wasabi is an ingredient used in a ton of their poke bowls, so we washed the narrow eatery in a light tint of wasabi green paint. The Japanese aesthetic is very clean and paired down, and so we furnished the room with simple, small-profile tables and chairs (which had the added bonus of letting us fit in more seating). To inject that friendly, energetic Hawaiian feel, we gave the place a luscious dose of tropical plants, added contrasting pops of colour to the tables with coral planters, and custom-designed fun 3D mirror and millwork details to create the minimalist-with-a-twist walls. The playful sconce light fixtures, which look a bit like cartoon waffle clouds, were originally gold, but we painted them white to better suit the clean and modern wasabi paint. Wood, white, light green—overall we made sure to choose a palette that was extremely minimal, although colourful, so that it would make the space feel larger than its modest footprint.

With any project, budget is paramount, and with commercial spaces, you have to make sure you are investing in the right areas. The custom ladder- and grid-like wall treatment was a way to add impact and visual interest at minimal cost. On the other side of the spectrum, we opted to spend more on the cash area that greets guests entering the restaurant, creating a statement piece of variegated forest green and mint marble. Although the materials in this restaurant are not highend, we chose a few key pieces that are, such as the white sconces and the marble cash desk, and so the overall feeling is high-end. Another request from our clients at Poke Five was that they wanted us to design a restaurant that was “instagrammable,” which is a requirement we can both appreciate and mildly detest, but it hits on an undeniable, contemporary truth: the way your food, your space, your packaging, your whole restaurant’s experience is photographed by strangers on their smartphones is vital to your company’s success. And we knew that if we did an all-white minimalist space for Poke Five, it wasn’t going to be something that was interesting, because everyone else is doing that white modern space. With commercial projects, and this goes for everything from restaurants to wedding boutiques to tattoo parlours—you shouldn’t err on the side of caution. If you have the same space as all the others, it’s impossible to stand out. Instead, you should push the limit and try something new, because that is what’s is going to make your space memorable (and light up those likes on social).

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