Storytelling in interior design is probably the most underrated element. Lately though, there has been an increased emphasis on strong narratives in interiors. Design firm Stickman Tribe took it to the next level in case of Little Miss India, a specialty Indian restaurant in Fairmont The Palm hotel.
The studio developed a complete story with a lead fictional character, location and even a historic background, going beyond the client’s (IFA Hotels) original brief, which was to convert the private dining room of the all-day dining restaurant within the hotel and enclose its partial terrace to create a standalone Indian restaurant for the group. The plot’s central character is Mohini, an heiress to a rich business dynasty in colonial era India, who has inherited rare antiques and artworks along with a mansion, which she has now thrown open to the public.
“We created the fictional brand and identity of Little Miss India — a story that allowed us to create a very unique and cosy space that everyone can easily relate to and feel at home within,” says Marcos Cain, project designer and founder of the design firm. “But the design did not just stop at the interior, but also needed to carry through to the show kitchen and tableware to ensure every element is authentic and befitting of the concept.”
Having said that, Cain and his team didn’t want to explore the colonial theme through a pigeonholed vision. Their approach was to reinterpret the classic influences associated with East India Company, give them a contemporary twist and weave them into the story. So even the kitschy characteristics come across as part of the narrative and do not seem contrived.
While this mélange may feel busy, it creates an environment that relates to the premise. “We wanted to enhance the space by providing unexpected moments that set the design apart from the norm. The unusual approach came with its own set of challenges, and the team worked around them to keep the thematic continuity. “The original space used to be the private dining room of the all-day dining restaurant which was quite small, limited on natural light and overall at a disadvantage to become a standalone venue, a challenge we welcomed with open arms,” says Cain.
The team tackled this issue by enclosing the terrace space and transforming it into the atrium of the ‘mansion’. “This naturally entailed a lot of MEP work that needed to be integrated subtly without the guests noticing,” says Cain.
Other challenges, which the team had to address, included visually and physically separating the space from the all-day dining restaurant and creating a front-facing entry point to entice the guests. The 4m-high solid wooden door frames the entry to Little Miss India’s lush garden, heightening curiosity about what lies ahead.
A colonial theme can often seem coerced, and at risk of playing on old clichés. But when reimagined in a contemporary form, the effect can be outstanding, as in the case of this restaurant. “Colonial design tends to be rich in details and profiles which, when refined to suit the current context, can truly transport the guests to an effortlessly glamorous time,” says Cain.
Keeping this in mind, the team has been able to create an old world charm with quirky and eccentric pieces, which complement as well as challenge its surroundings. This comes through in details such as the handmade bronze bird, custom-made floral screens, a peacock-shaped wall sconce, and the vintage brass fireplace screen, which was retrofitted to create a rich and vibrant environment.
The wall panelling has been simplified from its usual elaborate profile to a clean geometric recess with piano lacquer dado skirting adding an unexpected twist. Similarly, vintage patterns and motifs have been subtly etched on to the brass sheets in the show kitchen.
Seen throughout the restaurant, the artwork and accessories play a huge role in authenticating the narrative, as the design story focuses on how Little Miss India gathered unique and eclectic pieces from all over the globe to display it in her family home. Every piece ranging from the limited-edition oil paintings to the velvet-lined saxophone case and the vintage Wilson tennis racquet were handpicked to reflect the lead character’s peripatetic life. “The artwork was personally curated and sourced by our own designers ensuring that every item is worthy of the design ethos. The pieces were sourced from all over the world including India, UK, Thailand, Pakistan, USA, Australia, and of course, the UAE.”
Even the decorative elements, such as the geometric wallpaper and wall-mounted monkey-inspired lights, add a playful touch to the serious colonial setting in the atrium space.
There are lots of biophilic attributes in the interior space, a conscious attempt on the part of the designers, given how strong the trend is currently. “There was a strong advantage to this space by enclosing the outdoor terrace, one being the generous ceiling height, and another is the abundance of natural light, which in return made it the perfect atrium space for the concept. The layered greenery contrasting with the natural bentwood fans and white clay beaded chandeliers add a lively and lush atmosphere to the space,” says Cain.
One of the main highlights and talking points of the restaurant is the signature jingle truck which is, in fact, a vintage Bedford truck refurbished to become the feature bar within the restaurant. “We commissioned a truck artist based in Pakistan, and flew her over to Dubai along with her team to hand-paint the truck and restore it to its former glory,” shared Cain.
The British colonial era leitmotif extends to the dining room, where the design team has installed custom-made hammered brass tandoor ovens, creating a focal point within the main dining room. Even the tableware has been carefully picked to include an array of mismatched copper and chrome cutlery. “We worked closely with the operations team at Fairmont hotel to ensure every plate, bowl and glass matched and complemented its corresponding dish perfectly,” explains Cain about the highly detailed presentation.
While the theme remains consistent throughout the property, the effect and the mood have been given a modern luxury spin. Cain and his team combined contrasting finishes in the space that play well off each other. For instance, the dark hardwood flooring is met with the polished and etched brass cladding on the show kitchen, while the deep navy-blue walls of the atrium are balanced with the mustard velvet curvaceous sofa that sits in front of the fireplace.
Spatial flow is extremely important in dining venues, especially in a fine dining destination such as this, to direct the movement of staff in a more discreet manner. The team made provisions for the operational aspects of the restaurant in their design narrative. Not only did they link the previously disconnected indoor and outdoor spaces spatially, but also determined the various functional areas, ensuring they align with the overall concept.
Cain says that working with a scripted story allowed the design team to create a relatable persona by manifesting her passion for arts and travel, her fond family memories as tangible moments that stay with the guests long past their departure from the restaurant, making it a story worth revisiting time and again.
Sticking with the theme of storytelling in design, last year Stickman Tribe completed the overall design concept for the Fairmont Fujairah Beach Resort, inspired by a “bedouin bohemian” theme.