Currently one of Ottawa's hottest designers, Shannon Smithers-Gay of One80 Design has applied her magic touch to some of the city's most popular restaurants by helping to shape them into venues that reflect their unique culinary style. Bubbly and enthusiastic, Shannon shared some of her thoughts about redesigning restaurants to make them into warm, welcoming spaces.
How did you get into the restaurant renovation business? I began working as a designer nine years ago while still in school and many of my first projects were kitchen renovations. I then moved on to doing interior design for infill developments and was introduced by a client to Ivan Gedz who was in the process of creating Union: local 613. I had a great time with that space and it has led to numerous other referrals.
How does your renovation design process work? Some clients have menu concepts in mind or tell me about restaurants they like; I then take their preliminary thoughts and translate them into something tangible and modify as needed. Other times, clients have strong ideas and I just work to tie them all together. Now that I have become more established, people are trusting me more to create something they like - they may have ideas in terms of colour, fabric or finishing but I refine things to make them work.
Do you have a design aesthetic that you try to maintain? I like to let a restaurant's food speak loudly and not have the décor compete with that. There should be little elements that people appreciate but that are not in their face. Lighting is so important - it makes the food look good and adds so much to the atmosphere; it's often my inspiration to set the tone and once I figure that out then it affects paint colours, fabrics, etc. Ottawa is not a huge city so I don't want people to walk in and recognize a restaurant's design as my work; I just want them to think they are beautiful spaces and enjoy being in them.
What are favourite elements of some of your recent restaurant projects? At the Savoy Brasserie, it's definitely the floor. I selected the colours for the custom mosaic which has a bit of sparkle to it - this became the jumping off point to give the space its Brasserie feel. At Union 613, I love the light fixtures above the bar which look like whiskey bottles. The tile floor, banquette and wall of mirrors - which took hours to hang - are three favourite elements at Supply and Demand. At MeNa, I love the painted barnboard which was incorporated to offer texture. Cyrano's now has a coffered ceiling which is very modern, painted in a dark grey that cozies up the space beautifully. At Angelucci's, I love the cool teal wall colour - it's way outside my norm, but we wanted a modern Italian feel and it's now a very fun space.
Do you have a local source for decor elements? I often visit the Tin Barn Market in Almonte - they have a treasure trove of reclaimed, vintage, unique pieces.
What do you hope people will feel when they walk into a restaurant you have designed? I hope all the spaces I renovate are welcoming and not intimidating, providing a relaxed environment that has a bit of an interesting vibe. Ottawa is changing into a cool town and it's great to help create some fun restaurants that are wowing people with fantastic food and great service.