A Pretty Penny

The Chinese ideal of yin and yang is the inspiration behind the interiors of Greenleaf in London

Creative design agency 7Gods has completed the branding, interior design and project management of Greenleaf, a Chinese restaurant and karaoke bar in the heart of central London.

Established 10 years ago by Ronald Gomes, the firm has prior experience with hospitality, retail, commercial and residential clients in the architectural, interior and branding design arenas.

With a creative balance of yin and yang energies, the practice has renovated two levels of an existing site into a contemporary setting, which includes a number of items it created and made especially for the venue. The 30-seat restaurant is located on the ground floor of the building in Holborn, London.

“When designing Greenleaf Restaurant and Karaoke, our brief was to look to the future and create a space that reflects the spirit of a worldly, contemporary Chinese culture rather than perpetuating the clichéd pastiche that predominates in areas such as Soho,” said Gomes, about the design brief.

The establishment’s primary target market is the affluent Chinese students who live nearby. There are also many legal practices in the area, along with residential buildings, and 7Gods wanted to create an atmosphere where everyone felt welcome.

The owners purchased the site in 2010, with 7Gods brought onboard a few months later to create the entire branding and interior design concept for the restaurant.

“The first stage in our approach to the project was to define what this would be, and then the interior design grew out of that,” said Gomes.

The design team worked on the concept through early 2011, developing the design to its current form and construction started in the spring.

“All in all, we went thought nine different iterations of the design, refining it until we arrived at the current version,” he added.

After visiting his exhibit at the Tate Art Gallery last year, the design team was inspired by Ai Weiwei, an artist and revolutionary passionate about bringing political transparency and the free exchange of ideas to China.

“He has a vision for China’s future as an open society, and we wanted to create a place that reflects an educated understanding of the momentum growing within the younger, social media-savvy generation,” said Gomes.

Drawn from this desire to promote a more progressive China, nothing in the space is overtly Chinese other than the character in the logo which translates to the word ‘Greenleaf’.

“Instead, with a creative balance of yin and yang energies, we selected functional yet beautiful materials to bring a sense of serenity and openness to the restaurant and with it, a youthful, vibrant modernity to the karaoke rooms,” he added.

With a subtle nod to yang energies traditionally represented by the colour white, the restaurant’s cool palette allows the ingredients of the Asian cuisine to appear even more vibrant.

Smoky grey Ghost chairs from Philippe Starck, deep buttoned fawn leather banquettes, Carrera marble tables, limestone floors and glossy white wall glazing — some of which doubles as operable cabinetry — are used alongside bespoke décor crafted by the design team. A wallcovering system of circles cut from taupe toned felt provides a stylishly retro vibe as well as sound absorption.

7Gods created bespoke pendant lights for the restaurant. Made from loops of white webbing, the fixtures above the dining tables are stationary, whereas those in the front window are fashioned from motorised, laser-cut loops of PVC, which open and close like blossoming lotus flowers. 7Gods has plans to take these into production and create an iPhone app for controlling their movement.

With the entrance to the toilets the team makes an imaginative use of spare change where walls are clad with 16,000 pence coins. As a result, the total installation costs came in at under GBP£30 per square metre.

Explaining the inspiration behind this decision, Gomes said the design team was in the firm’s studio brainstorming how to give the toilet areas their own identity. “One of our team members joked about using the coins from our office’s penny jar to decorate the walls. It dawned on us that this crazy idea could actually be fun in the space, but we weren’t sure about the best way to accomplish it.”

A 10cm x 10cm sample created from all the pennies in 7Gods’ jar was presented to the client, who liked the concept. The team then carried out an analysis to see if the larger, two pence coins would cover up a greater surface area and therefore be more cost effective than one pence coins but the smaller size worked better in the space.

“Another appealing aspect was that by using pennies minted in assorted years we would get a range of copper shades that would eventually corrode to show a lovely verdigris patina (the green patina that forms naturally on copper and bronze).

But to get this result, we couldn’t seal the coins with resin when attaching them to the walls as this process would not allow for oxidation. Instead, hot glue was used to affix the coins one-by-one to the surfaces,” said Gomes.

The project’s contractor then ordered 16,000 pennies from the bank.

“Understandably, the teller was rather surprised by the request. She brought out GBP£20 worth of pennies to emphasise how heavy GBP£160 worth would be. A quantity of this size had to be specially ordered and then, due to its weight, transported to the bank branch in a special van,” he added.

In the final design, the coins are evenly distributed on the vertical surfaces with a solid base beneath so their weight doesn’t pose a problem for the building structure.
Similar in style to those in the restaurant, a pendant light made from black webbing illuminates the varied shades of copper in this area.

Downstairs in the karaoke space, high-gloss lacquers and deep jewel-tones shape its yin energies — traditionally associated with the colour black.

At the reception area, LED and MR16 spotlights have been inset into the soffits and toe kicks of the walls, and the black granite-topped bar has an ethereal glow which makes the surfaces appear to float.

Deep-buttoned banquettes covered with iridescent upholstery wrap around each of the two karaoke rooms and are backlit to create a theatrical effect. Vividly striped padded velvet walls contribute to the ambience and aid the acoustics for the state-of-the-art karaoke system featuring 42 inch monitors.

“Some of the bespoke pieces took a while to arrive, such as the marble tables from China, and then we needed to get the custom-sized white and black glass cladding for the walls and the curved karaoke bar downstairs exactly right,” he said.

7Gods faced some challenges while working on getting the look of the restaurant absolutely right.

In an earlier version of the design, the designers wanted the walls to be created with backlit white acrylic, studded with thousands of porcelain versions of Chinese knick knacks.

However, once they itemised the actual costs, they realised it wasn’t working with the allotted budget. Instead, they devised a wallcovering system of circles cut from taupe toned felt, which added to the atmosphere and contributed to better acoustics.

“We also needed to contemplate very thoroughly on how to make the most of the building’s rather narrow footprint and planned the restaurant to comfortably seat the maximum number of guests without making them feel crowded,” said Gomes.

To create depth and openness in the restaurant, the designers selected light and neutral colours and highly reflective materials, such as the back wall’s mirror and the entrance’s floor-to-ceiling glossy white glazing, which doubles as operable cabinetry.

Another consideration was how to make the best use of the budget. Since 7Gods designs products, it created the stylish bespoke pendant lights made from relatively inexpensive materials.

Overcoming all the challenges, Greenleaf opened in October 2011. “Everyone is really happy with it, as it is a beautiful balance between practicality and aesthetics,” added Gomes. He said the restaurant has been full since its opening, which has helped in spreading buzz about the venue.

7Gods is working on a number of other projects including: Aqua Sheko spas in Kensington, Soho and Selfridges Oxford Street in London; Assam Resort in the Himalayas, India; Stink Digital, London; Apocalypses Resort, Polynesia; Orit boutique, Notting Hill in London; Chiswick Road offices, London; and an eco-tourism resort, New Delhi.

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