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East meets West Thai dining experience

Korat Thai, Upminister

Commercial – Restaurant – Design and Project Management

Full interior design, procurement and project management

The transformation of a dark, dated and almost dilapidated commercial restaurant into a sumptuous warm and welcoming example of East meets West Thai dining experience. Delivering for the client her lifelong dream of a Western restaurant bringing authentic Thai flavours that she had grown up with to her local community.
The clients brief to me was simple – ‘a luxurious high-end restaurant with a wow factor’!
On this occasion there were no preconceived ideas that I had to follow, no specifics and no details.  This though gave me full creative licence to design and deliver a high-end dining experience, combining a fusion of British luxury with authentic cuisine from Thailand.

I had to navigate the fact that this was a commercial venture with budget parameters in an uncompromising old property. The challenge in this case was not only the design and finish but the actual infrastructure of the building. It was clear from the offset that a substantial proportion of the budget would be spent on the framework, fabric, and elements that the customers would not see.
This really pushed me into thinking in a different way. Every aspect and each component of the design had to work hard to pay its way, everything had to be practical, have longevity – but also look well-appointed and plush.
This translated to long days and late nights of research and sourcing so as not to compromise the overall aesthetic; but still bring my clients dream to life.
I defined and categorised what my clients were looking for me to deliver. This translated to; a stunning Thai restaurant that was held in high esteem for its top-quality food, and that delivered a beautiful architectural and atmospheric experience.
Then I embedded myself in the Thai culture. My focus was not only what was important from a design perspective, but also from a cultural point of view. This gave me a fantastic immersive insight into the warm and welcoming Thai people and the importance of blending natural materials in a holistic way.

Due to the narrow footprint I had to find design solutions to optimise the space. I used techniques such as: creating a ceiling feature to draw the eye up. Using circular mirrors that delivered an infinity effect and that generously bounced light around. Installing floating underlit banquet seating to optimise the width. I created focal points and arches to give the illusion of distance and minimised the vertical space; focusing on the horizontal to give the impression of width.
These ideas were collated onto mood boards that brought all the elements to life through visuals. I also produced hand drawn and computer-generated designs that gave additional technical detail.
I could talk for a very long time about the challenges that this project presented…
The first was a global pandemic. At my initial meeting with the clients in February 2020, they had an aspiration to open the restaurant in October that same year. However, we were hit with national lockdown that created long protracted delays in the timeline.

Additional supports were required for the ceiling. Where previously the large opening had been created – no structural support or calculations had been put in place making the whole ceiling unstable and dangerous.
The electricity and gas meter had been removed causing severe challenges with power and services. This lengthy obstacle meant on opening night power was provided by a generator.
Material prices increased due to the pandemic, Brexit and global logistical factors causing additional stress on the budget.
If that were not enough, we also discovered a rat infestation!
A multitude of small and individual elements combined have made this project a success in both my eyes and those of the client. While we could not forecast a global pandemic, I did just manage to remain inside the forecasted budget, which was important for the long-term viability of the restaurant.
This suburban town now has Thai cuisine and emblems to represent its diverse and multi-cultural mix. East and West coexisting harmoniously in Essex.
Investment was ploughed back into both British supplies and local trades, sustaining them through a challenging economic period. Staff were recruited from the immediate and wider community.

However, for me the lasting legacy of this project is that I am now firm friends with my clients, Martin and Pinney – a passionate and energetic husband and wife team. It is a real testament to the journey we have all been on over 2 years, and I feel immensely proud to have been given the opportunity to make their lifelong dream come true. I am also incredibly grateful for their faith in me, the trust that they gave me and for the whole opportunity – I loved it!
The first sustainable element of this project was recycling and reusing the existing site as a restaurant. The property had its fair share of quirks which included a large ceiling cut out. Instead of working against the building I chose to work with it and designed a stunning wooden feature to fit snugly into the existing cavity.
For the construction I appointed local trades. This kept the carbon footprint low as travel time was reduced and it ensured that resources were spent within the community.
All of my interior choices were focused on sustainability. The banquet seating comes from a producer in Columbia that has obtained Neutral Carbon certification, the first Coated Fabrics producer to gain this distinction in the country.
The furniture and chairs came from a company whose wood-based products are 100% verified by independent third parties according to ISO 38200. This confirms the legality of the origin of the wood. Their wood sourcing plants are certified according to the standards of FSC and PEFC.
I chose Karndean flooring which is manufactured in factories certified to the ISO 14001 Environmental Management and ISO 9001 Quality Management International Standards.
The Autentico paint is a water-based environmentally friendly chalk paint.

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