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What makes good restaurant design and why is it so important?

Interior design can make or break a dining space. 

The restaurant world is a crowded one, especially so in Singapore. Here, dining is a way of life: every street is lined with restaurants and every meeting revolves around a table lined with dishes. 

Good food and service may be the foundation of any restaurant, but the environment you dine in is indispensable in making the whole dining experience really come together.

good restaurant design
Joyce Wang of Joyce Wang Studio, an award-winning interior design practice with a reputation for luxury interiors. (Image credit: Joyce Wang Studio)

For interior designer Joyce Wang of Joyce Wang Studio, restaurant design is important in the culinary world today because, “restaurant spaces grant us with the opportunity to create environments that sculpt narratives and allow diners to immerse themselves in the sensorial journey.” 

She added: “Weaving a story; taking inspiration from the food, its raw ingredients and the culture that surrounds that type of cuisine…. we want to create spaces that make diners want to come back.” 

Wang’s design studio, was most recently roped in to the creation of Marina Bay Sands’ Mott 32, so we decided to take the opportunity to speak with her about the inspiration behind the restaurant’s interior, as well as what good restaurant design meant to her.

You are quite the global citizen — being born to Shanghainese parents in Honolulu, raised in Hong Kong then whisked to UK, Boston and the Netherlands for school. How have these experiences shaped your designs? 

Besides my studies, growing up my mum and I would travel with my dad whilst he worked. This was such a valuable learning experience for me, I got to see the world and that opened my eyes to the power and potential of design across many, varied cultures and times. 

A playground designed by Japanese-American landscape artist, Isamu Noguchi (Image credit: elaarteyexpresion)

Are there any designers or spaces that really inspire you? 

A few for sure, The Gund Hall at Harvard Graduate School of Design humbled me. Noguchi’s playground made me realise that design for children could be joyful yet sophisticated. Adolf Loos’ Knize shop in Vienna showed me that design could take people on a journey. 

We heard that cinema is a big part of your life when it comes to design as well. 

I enrich a lot of my designs with cinematic reference. I can’t help but be envious of how a film can inspire people, and how long-lasting that inspiration can be – a film such as Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, which has so much nuance and layers of complexity, holds so much intrigue. I hope that with our work people want to go back and see more, to add to their experience after each visit. 

You’ve done quite a number of commercial restaurant work — from Mott32 to Kyubi, The Arts Club, Jin Gui and ICHU. In your opinion, what makes a good restaurant design? 

Our projects share in the rigour to challenge the norm and to deliver something truly visionary, personally I feel good design should be about pushing you further and bringing joy to everyone who experiences it. For a restaurant the design language must be welcoming – you have to humanise hospitality, creating spaces that allow one to be private and intimate with their loved ones is the ultimate luxury. 

good restaurant design
(Image credit: Mott 32 Singapore)

Could you walk us through the design process behind Mott32 Singapore? 

Mott 32 Singapore was our interpretation of an intimate, luxury, greenhouse dining setting. It was important to us that the botanical theme extended to every surface – we made sure to adorn the restaurant in overgrown foliage to pay tribute to long balmy evenings spent outdoors with family in the Garden City. When entering, the guests are greeted with a colonial façade that embraces the beauty of the traditional Singaporean shophouse architecture, the colour scheme of earthy tones such as terracotta, volcanic grey terrazzo, teal and rust throughout the space create a cosy dining ambience. 

good restaurant design
(Image credit: Mott 32 Singapore)

The centrepiece for Singapore is really unique too. 

We loved creating this custom chandelier which nods to each of the other Mott 32 sites. The outer shade is crafted with metal mesh in reference to New York’s signature industrialism which contrasts with the softer inner fabric shade with hand-painted foliage detailing. There are also small pendants of the same aesthetic that hang over the perimeter of the bar top, exuding ambient light onto the finely embroidered linen shades. 

good restaurant design
The Orangery (Image credit: Mott 32 Singapore)

Are there any personal favourite interior details in the Mott32 Singapore outpost? 

I love the embroidered fabric shades we created with floral chinoiserie that hang atop the glass pavilion as an ode to the Garden City. The Orangery is one of my favourite spaces as it feels like an intimate greenhouse fit for tai tais (a Chinese term that typically means wealthy married women who do not work) to yum-cha and gossip. The Lantern Private Dining Room is also incredibly dramatic featuring a hand-painted wallcovering that makes the room seemingly bask in golden light. 

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced when coming up with the design for Mott32 Singapore? 

One of the main challenges was to create something flexible enough to cater to a whole host of different dining configurations, balancing a certain level of intimacy for private dinners and the atmosphere needed for smaller gatherings. 

good restaurant design
Private Dining Room (Image credit: Mott 32 Singapore)

How was this different from the other Mott32 restaurants that you’ve designed in Las Vegas and Vancouver? 

For Mott 32 Vegas our Studio’s vision was to celebrate the hedonism of the location whilst paying homage to the Chinese imperialism meets New York Industrialism aesthetic of the Hong Kong location. Mott 32 Vancouver embraces the more casual and laid back local dining scene through our integration of group dining booths and communal tables. Each Mott 32 celebrates the local dining culture. In Singapore, we looked to The Garden City for inspiration in the way we approached spatial planning to our selection of finishes and custom detailing. 

Do you think your approach to design has evolved since you first started designing? 

Definitely, as a studio, we care more and more about comfort and privacy. One thing has stayed constant; creating cinematic compositions and narratives is still really important for me. 

Lastly, there are so many aspiring interior designers out there. What are some words of advice you can give to them as they embark on their design journey? 

Stay open, be honest and inclusive; and above all, work hard. 

Jocelyn Tan
Senior Writer
Jocelyn Tan is a travel and design writer who's probably indulging in serial killer podcasts or reading one too many books on East Asian history. When she actually gets to travel, you can find her attempting to stuff her entire wardrobe into her luggage. Yes, she's a chronic over-packer.