Design of the Year 2009

Full disclosure: Some of our judges for this category design and own restaurants, and so have their biases. Because they own and design restaurants, however, they understand and respect the work it takes to put a project together, whether a 25-seat takeout joint or a 6,000-square-foot Temple of Hedonism. This year’s Gold winner embodied all the qualities they deemed important in successful restaurant design.

Ping’s Café on Main Street considered location, food concept, and customer dynamic to achieve a holistic, branded concept. The street appearance is discreet, utilizing original “found” signage, creating a hole-in-the wall Yoshoku-style restaurant that pays homage to the previous Chinese-Canadian café. As so often in small-scale projects with a tight budget, ingenuity was key. The owners did much of the work themselves but collaborated with designer Omer Arbel on the abstract interior finishes and dynamic porcelain pendant lighting. Rodney Graham was commissioned to produce the large-scale painting adorning the back wall. The resulting minimalist design is visually pleasing, warm, and inviting—it works. The room is proof that you don’t need big bucks to make a big splash.

Silver medallist Voya is yin to Ping’s yang. Located in the Loden Hotel, it also looks inward, in a look-at-me way, with open-table planning organized under a canopy of glitzy crystal chandeliers. As the room’s in a hotel, the designers had to appeal to a broad clientele, and they’ve done so with a muted yet glamorous palette of pale blue, white, and black. With its lack of natural light, the room is more successful at night, when the well-layered lighting scheme really shines. Less successful is the adjacent lounge, where overly large furniture requires athleticism to make your way to a window seat.

If the Gold and Silver winners are good examples of introverted dining rooms, the Bronze winner is their extroverted sibling. The Cactus Club has long been the design leader when it comes to chain restaurants, and kudos to it for “upscaling” casual dining. At the new Burrard and Dunsmuir location, architect Acton Ostry and an in-house design team brought warmth and human scale to this large glass box with detailed, quality finishes. Further points for the original works by Andy Warhol, Sir Anthony Hopkins, and Michel Basquiat (but points deducted for the projection screen that descends from the ceiling to cover Basquiat’s bold work on game night).

Thanks to our judging panel: Juli Hodgson, Hodgson Design Associates; Robert Edmonds and David Nicolay, Evoke International Design Inc.; Charlene Rooke, editor-in-chief, Western Living magazine