Architect Mathew van Kooy adds bold colour to a raw and original building to create this Vietnamese restaurant in Melbourne’s Collingwood.
Phamily Kitchen owner Michael Pham entrusted the help of architect and friend Mathew van Kooy to design the restaurant’s fitout. In many ways, Pham gave van Kooy free reign. Other than outlining the basic pragmatic requirements, the brief was more or less summed up in three words: “make it awesome.” Having known one another personally, van Kooy was keen to translate Pham’s exuberant personality into the fitout.
Van Kooy’s usual line of work involves large-scale bridges and towers, so this relatively tiny restaurant required a shift in approach. Working at a much smaller scale with a tight budget and a short timeframe, van Kooy’s usual obsession with detailing was shelved and he sought a design gesture resilient enough to tolerate the project’s various restrictions.
Relying heavily on the power of colour rather than detailing, van Kooy divided the space into three horizontal bands. The lowest band, which van Kooy refers to as the “habitation zone,” is blanketed in a saturated blue. The marmoleum flooring, walls, joinery, tables and chairs – even the accessories on the table – all appear in a perfectly matched blue hue. The effect is like a reverse trompe l’oeil. The solidity of colour flattens depth perception, drawing the background and foreground into a seemingly singular plane. Sitting above the habitation zone is a crisp, bright white horizontal band created using T5 fluoros arranged in a zigzag pattern over white pegboard. In tandem with the blue band below, the effect is highly graphic, perhaps alluding to Pham’s previous life as a graphic designer. The third horizontal band reveals the brickwork of the existing shell. Van Kooy was insistent that the ceiling space remain clear of services in order to celebrate the generous 4.2-metre-high ceiling. The ceiling is painted a pale candy pink, reflecting a dusk-like glow on the surfaces below and offsetting the potential harshness of the fluoro lights. The colours are reminiscent of the mishmash of hues often found in no-frills Vietnamese restaurants, but here the use of colour is so deliberate and unwavering that the result is a hyper-stylized version of the familiar.
With much of the budget eaten up by kitchen equipment, van Kooy was careful to minimize waste. The blue and white datum points sit at 1200 millimetres and 2100 millimetres high respectively, making use of standard material sizes. With the exception of the laminate joinery, all materials were bought off the shelf, largely from hardware stores. The zigzag pattern in the lighting was generated to minimize runs in the electrical cabling and to produce sufficient light output with the minimum number of fittings. The chairs are affordable, mass-produced school chairs. Loose pieces of furniture were sourced from IKEA. The materials and objects may be ordinary, but they so strictly follow the design rules that in the context of the space, they have a heightened sense of theatre.
The space isn’t about slick craftsmanship either. Influenced by the simple and modest insertions of restaurants in Vietnam, Pham and van Kooy were at ease with the crude nature of the construction. If you look closely, material cuts are not always straight, caulking seems unfinished and the sins of construction are largely camouflaged with slathers of paint. Yet there’s something endearing about the modesty of the space and how it is so at ease with itself. Perhaps that’s because the rough construction has little bearing on the impact of the space.
Phamily Kitchen is a great example of how a simple design gesture can transcend the limitations of budget and time when followed through with unwavering commitment.