Good restaurant design stands the test of time

By Judy Henderson

As hospitality designers, it’s our job to provide clients with a finished space that looks current. In my view, we also need to create a design that will stand the test of time and provide the client with true value. The photo above is a restaurant project my firm did in 2006. The photos were taken just before we opened. Looking at the photos again a decade later, I believe we took the right approach to the design.

Our approach was simple: those elements that are not easy to replace were kept neutral. The stone floor for example — I remember looking at the budget and being taken aback for a second at the cost of the floor compared to the cost of other design elements. Flooring is not easily replaced but natural sandstone never looks dated. In fact, a good quality stone floor only looks better with age. Looking at the floor today, it has stood the test of time. When it’s time for a refresh of the space, the floor can stay. The same floor purchased today would be almost three times as expensive so it also provided significant savings in the budget. Knowing where and when to spend a little more to get longevity and impact is key.

The chair upholstery we choose back in 2006 makes me smile a little. Fabric has a surprisingly short shelf life, and that’s okay. If yours is a busy restaurant, upholstery will wear out quickly. Trendy patterned furniture and fabrics are risky if they hang around for too long, while trendy accents are easily replaced as trends change.


Since this project was completed, I’m pleased to say there have been great strides in LED lighting. Better colour temperature has made LEDs much more appealing – they deliver a warmer yellow light much like a candle. And for restaurants and other commercial operations, like hotels, they significantly reduce energy and maintenance costs – something to think about when you have 30-foot ceilings!

Changes to lighting and paint are the most cost-effective ways to update a space and that’s true for restaurants too. I don’t know about you, but every time I stumble upon a red sink, I shake my head and wonder who has been giving them design advice. If you’re a super-high-end restaurant then go crazy with the latest style, but if you’re a little more conscious of budget and your footprint on this planet, white porcelain fixtures never go out of style.

A designer knows upholstery eventually wears out but stone floors do not. Understanding this ‘life span’ helps us deliver relevant design. Paint can always be changed on a whim but other elements need more budget and more planning. Simpler designs are far more likely to pass the test of time. Remember to keep expensive items more neutral and timeless.

Splurge on signature signage, feature walls, and the bar. The extra investment here will ensure these areas stand the test of time. Budgets are always important, of course, but certain quality finishes like a solid wood bar or real stone flooring and architectural details like exposed beams will add longevity to the space.

About the author:

Judy Henderson is the owner of Inside Design, a Vancouver firm that focuses on modern hospitality design. Based in Vancouver, B.C. with a list of global clients including Hilton, Western and Coast Hotels, Inside Design has an experienced team with a reputation for innovative design and precise project management.

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