The Art of Designing Restaurants: A Conversation with Interior Designer Paolo Castro

September 28, 2023



Rick Formalejo

Designing a Filipino house interior, or any type of home, is one thing. But designing a restaurant is a different scenario. Not only interior designers have to consider the vision of the client or the restaurateur but also they have the customers and staff to keep in mind. With many food and beverage establishments popping up everywhere, having standout interiors that look like they came straight from Pinterest might not be enough. 

IDr. Paolo Castro
IDr. Paolo Castro, Principal Designer of Bespoke 88 Interior Design + Branding

“When designing a restaurant, it should be experiential. It’s also a multi-sensory design. It’s not only designing [the space] visually but also designing it with different senses,” shares Interior Designer Paolo Castro, Principal Designer of Bespoke 88 Interior Design + Branding. The firm focuses on hospitality commercial spaces whose projects include The Fat Seed Cafe + Roastery in Greenbelt Mall, Makati. 

A Shared Vision of The Designer and The Client

In any design project, the collaboration between the designer and the client is vital to achieve the desired outcome. To Castro, designing a restaurant is not only a vision of the designer. He emphasizes that it is also a vision of the client or restaurateur. Interior designers interpret their visions to create an experiential interior design. 

A splash of orange and green colors on the walls give the space a more welcoming vibe.

Bryant Dee, owner and master roaster of the Fat Seed Cafe + Roastery, has a specific vision for his restaurants. Having worked in the food service industry in the US, both as a front of house and a kitchen staff, he wanted to start a business that offers great coffee, great space, and great experience. He wants the diners of the Fat Seed to leave happy and satisfied. 

The cafe and roastery currently have three branches. Unlike other food and beverage establishments that have the same design for every branch, Dee wanted each branch to have different design concepts. “Same, same but different,” he quips. 

For the Greenbelt branch, Dee was specific for the design of the restaurant. He wanted it to be a little more vintage which features vintage green, light fixtures, and aged bricks. Guests should feel like they are back in the ‘50s but with a modern twist. 

Filipino elements such as crafted wood, solihiya, and locally sourced fabric are also seen in the furnishings.

Dee knows what he wants for his restaurants. To him, the design should come from within and should reflect the values of the brand. 

The statement mural by artist Jay Pacena is a major focal point of the Fat Seed Cafe + Roastery

One non-negotiable for the owner is that each branch should have artworks, particularly one from local artist Jay Pacena. Another priority for the design is the back of the house. Because of his experience of working in a restaurant, Dee had to make sure the staff can work comfortably and safely. It should also follow the design standards of restaurant spaces.

Elevating Dining Experience Through Experiential Design

Castro explained that the design started with the mural of Jay Pacena, which is one of the highlights of the restaurant. It adds an interesting focal point to the space as well as a contemporary touch.

To achieve the vintage look, Castro, in collaboration with interior design graduate Nina Lee, used a combination of wood greens, vintage greens, and walls made to look like a ruined structure with modern features. The furniture also features solihiya as the main design detail to add an old European aesthetic while maintaining the modern look. The designers also worked with Luccon Builders to help bring their visions to life.

Warm lighting fixtures makes spending time in the cafe a laid-back experience.

The choice of lighting is also crucial according to Castro. Designing a restaurant like the Fat Seed, proper layout of lighting design helps complete the dining experience as they complement the smell of the food and the sound of the coffee grinding. Castro pointed out that the vintage light fixtures were imported from the UK and were already used decades ago.

He emphasizes that visiting the restaurant should be an immersion and not just enjoying the food. To him, one should experience the whole thing. 

Moreover, an interior designer should understand the market of the restaurant. For Fat Seed, it markets to the younger generation but is not intimidating for older generations. The overall design of its Greenbelt branch is a mixture of vintage look and young setup that appeals to any generation. 

Castro also highlights the importance of designing profitability since restaurants are businesses after all. He explains that designers have to study the seating layout of the space. Interior designers should consider how many seats should be placed, the turnover rate, the size of the bar, the target market, and the price of the food. These factors can affect the overall design. 

The choice of materials is another vital factor to consider. Since it requires regular cleaning and sanitation, the materials should be durable and long lasting. This can avoid unwanted repairs and renovations in the long. It will help minimize the expenses of the owners.

Brighter lighting then gives more energy to the space.

Dee shared that he is satisfied with the outcome of Castro’s design for the Greenbelt branch of the Fat Seed. One of the highlights of the space is the coffered ceiling which helps maximize the high ceiling without covering it completely. The holes allow visitors to see the dimension of the ceiling.

Excellent food and service are crucial for food and beverage businesses to satisfy their guests. The design of the space, however, can complete the whole dining experience when done right. 

This project was also a collaboration between Geewel Fuster and Nina Lee

RELATED READ: 3 Newly Opened Cafes with Different Characters in Metro Manila

Photography by Ed Simon

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