Toronto’s hottest new restos are taking their design cues from homes

When Matty Matheson opened Prime Seafood Palace in Toronto, he didn’t seek out the top restaurant interior designers in the city. Instead, he turned to renowned Canadian home architect, Omar Ghandi. The result was a monochromatic, wood-all-over, cathedral-like design that feels less like a restaurant and more like a modern home. Does home design have a leg up on restaurants? 

“Bringing a homey feel into a restaurant space really allows it to be a place where people want to go and feel comfortable and feel welcome,” Dyonne Fashina, principal designer at Toronto-based studio Denizens of Design, says. 

The studio recently designed Queen West’s Florette, and Fashina says the team modelled Florette after the idea of having a person in your life who’s space you always feel at home in, with the layout of the restaurant following that of a house. 

“The dining area is based on a living room space. And the banquette, which is a big long piece in the space, is modelled after a traditional sofa. The bar is meant to look like a dining table with dining table legs, and the back bar is sort of like a curio cabinet,” she explains. 

The decor also picks up on a key piece of home design — mixed styles and influences. “When you decorate your home, you often have modern furniture mixed with heirloom pieces from your grandmother. So we don’t often design to one style,” Fashina says. “Restaurants will often say, ‘I’ll do a mid-century modern design, or I’m going to do art deco design,’ to align with current trends, but that’s why spaces live and die within months — they don’t have authenticity.”

Fashina notes that this is something that is changing, as restaurants are trying to create spaces that welcome people in. “In both restaurants and just commercial design in general, the home is becoming more of an influence on these spaces,” she says. 

However, Jude Kamal, founder of Sansa Interiors, sees that influence go in the opposite direction as well. Her studio has designed both residential homes and restaurants in Toronto, including Tabule and Miznon. “People like having areas in their home that feel like a restaurant,” she says.

Kamal says trends such as colourful spaces, artwork in multiple rooms and bathrooms or powder rooms with colourful walls all came from restaurant design but are now having their moment in residential spaces. Layered lighting — having lighting in the ceiling but also on walls, coffee tables, under shelving — is popular now in homes, but that originated in restaurants,” she says. 

Since the pandemic, Kamal has also noticed another home design trend influenced by restaurants — double islands. “People are asking us for two islands in their kitchens, which is very restaurant-like, because they want more prep surfaces, and maybe they’re spending more time at home to entertain,” she says. 

Kamal believes that the relationship between home and restaurant design is more reciprocal, with both taking elements from each other. 

“Restaurants used to be very dark, but now many feel more like you’re sitting in your living room, very casual,” she says.

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