Endorsed by

“Make it awesome”: Phamily Kitchen

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.

Using the power of colour, the architect divided the space into three horizontal bands.

Using the power of colour, the architect divided the space into three horizontal bands.

Image: Daniel Aulsebrook

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.

Ordinary objects have a heightened sense of theatre in the context of the space.

Ordinary objects have a heightened sense of theatre in the context of the space.

Image: Daniel Aulsebrook

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.

Products and materials

Walls and ceilings
Walls painted in Dulux ‘Antique White,’ ‘Santorini,’ ‘Iced Vovo’ and ‘Timeless Grey.’
Existing copper-clad wooden reveals.
Existing doors.
Marmoleum Real in ‘Laguna’ and Surestep in ‘Charcoal,’ both from Forbo.
Fluorescent tubes.
Postura Chair (Classic) in ‘Aqua’ from Sebel. Tables and bench seats covered in Abet Laminati laminate in ‘Sei-Blue Panarea.’
White pegboard. Graphic design and artwork by Michael Pham. Vinyl window signage by Signtorque. Bar- front tiles from Bunnings.


Design practice
Mathew van Kooy Architect
Melbourne, Vic, Australia
Project Team
Mathew van Kooy, Michael Pham
Builder Oliver and Ash Smith
Engineer ASSE Consultants
Site details
Location Collingwood,  Melbourne,  Vic,  Australia
Site type Suburban
Category Interiors
Type Hospitality, Restaurants
Project Details
Status Built
Design, documentation 2 months
Construction 4 months



Published online: 28 Sep 2015
Words: Ella Leoncio
Images: Daniel Aulsebrook


Artichoke, June 2015

Related topics

More projects

See all
The primary living space in Tierney Drive House is bush-bound, locating its inhabitants in a kind of pre-suburban site condition. Subtle occupation: Tierney Drive House

At once fluid and contained, this family home embraces the opportunities for connection and retreat offered by its sloping, bush-bound site near the Gold Coast’s …

The commercial kitchen is visible through the glass walls of the kitchen, allowing customers to see the food production and delivery. A study in yellow: McDonald’s in the Sky

Landini Associates’ design of McDonald’s In The Sky at Sydney International Airport combines familiarity with inventiveness to deliver a memorable customer experience.

Twin skylights meet to form an abstract infinity symbol, which represents the owners’ relationship. Coming together: His and Hers House

Sculpted around the simple daily enactment of the owners’ newly shared life, this addition to an inner-Melbourne terrace by FMD Architects represents a binding together …

Rather than demolish the original cottage, the designers and their clients opted to refresh
it with an extension that addresses the street and landscape. Coastal character: Piz House

This characterful addition to a beach shack in a former coal mining village in New South Wales, by Barnacle Studio, speaks to its historical narrative …

Most read

Latest on site