Cover Sarah Rahman's paper installation in Niko Neko 1.5 designed by Studio Bikin

Despite being affected by incessant lockdowns, F&B outlets have upped their game when it comes to interiors. We've chosen five such spaces that don't just boast beautiful design, they're home to inspiring art and craft installations.

1. Wildflowers

Wildflowers in Petaling Street occupies two double-storey heritage corner shophouses. Designed by POW Ideas, the space contains a bar, a restaurant, two private dining rooms and a kitchen. Design cues were taken from the abstract imagery of flowers with both levels having contrasting "personalities." Rather unusually the bar and private dining rooms are located downstairs and have a floral garden meets film noir feel with interactive coloured lighting, floral wallpaper and bespoke rope curtains designed in collaboration with Penang-based macramé artist, Tumbleknots.

Tumbleknots is the name Jamie Oon goes by and she was inspired by pansies for the rope curtains. "Wildflowers from what I know is based in a building which used to be a brothel. I was asked to include a floral motif so I thought of the pansy because it's pretty and edible," says Oon. "The curtain works as a soft screen which can be tied up to merge the space and when it's down, it provides privacy yet it can be parted to walk through it. To add a glitchy touch, I thought it was a little futuristic to walk through the flower, disrupting it."

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The upstairs has a brighter feel with ample natural light in the day courtesy of a sky light and large surrounding windows. Beneath this circular skylight hang five of Oon's oversized macrame chandeliers. Measuring about 6 feet each, the chandeliers feature tiers comprising of wool which have been sprayed around the edges for added definition.  


2. Hoshun

It's not often in in Malaysian restaurants that you get to enjoy your meal in the company of artwork by a world renowned artist but Hoshun is a restaurant of firsts. The first Japanese Fine Dining restaurant in the country to serve full fledged Kaiseki and Sushi Omakase menu, The High Grind who conceptualised Hoshun's brand identity, engaged "Red" Hong Yi to elevate the already exquisite dining experience further.

Hong Yi, who's known as the artist who paints without a paintbrush, contributed two pieces to the serene space designed by Via Studio. For "Fish Imprints", she was inspired by Insta-famous chef and fisherman, Taku’s (@outdoorcheflife) video on “gyotaku,”, a printing method used by 19th century Japanese fishermen for recording the sizes of their catch. In her piece, Hong Yi used a large fish chosen for its prominent scales which she then imprinted with sumi ink on 1.5m of silk. 

For "Look to the Mountains" which forms the poetic backdrop for the sushi bar, Hong Yi employed the simple art of vegetable stamping to sophisticated effect. Okra, lotus roots, celery sticks and four winged beans were cut down through their centers, these were dipped in black ink then repeatedly stamped on silky white cloth. Slowly, a long mountain range emerged which Hong Yi explains was inspired by the chef's provenance: "The chefs of Hoshun are from Sendai, Japan. This mountainous landscape is inspired by an image of mountains in Sendai. I created it so it would remind the chefs of home and also show how the chefs are presenting a glimpse of their home to the visitors of Hoshun."

See also: Red Hong Yi, The Malaysian Artist Behind Time Magazine's Climate Cover, On Pushing Boundaries

3. Small Shifting Space

Designed by Wunderwall Design, Small Shifting Space (SSS) in Petaling Street was one of the first outlets in the area to move away from the heritage route design wise. While the space clearly retains the spirit of its shell with original timber floorboards and old brickwork, it also proudly sports a futuristic quality with a reflective stainless steel facade. 

This continues inside where grey and silvery materials of stainless steel, silver travertine and grey pebble wash dominate the interior finishes with walnut veneer used sparingly to maintain warmth within the cold steel palette.

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The artwork  creates an optical illusion of lines with hidden S's alluding to Small Shifting Space
Above The artwork creates an optical illusion of lines with hidden S's alluding to Small Shifting Space

Multidisciplinary artist, Nawwar Shukriah Ali, better known as Bono Stellar, was commissioned to add an installation to the space.  Appropriately so as just like how SSS intersects the heritage shophouse's past, present and future, Nawwar's body of work merges references to art history, her experience, and personal reflections on her past, present and future.

Placed along the staircase, the idea for the piece was to create an optical illusion of lines to create movement along the staircase and play with depth, with a hint of a few S's hidden in the artwork to reflect the brand. The large scale artwork is printed on acrylic/plexiglass and then on sticker. "To match the use of acrylic in the other little details of the overall bar/cafe design, a light use of black lines creates textures and pattern to the interior so as not to overshadow the whole interior and create transition from the lower floor to the upper floor," she states.

4. Three Plates Full

Located in a three-storey shophouse in Subang Jaya, Three Plates Full was designed by Whitespade around the tall and narrow lightwell which pierces through all floors. The designers took a non-decorative approach in order to preserve the building’s prevailing old charm with walls, floors and ceilings mostly conserved or repaired. Bespoke plywood furniture designed with gentle forms work as warm accents to the space while pastel walls give the spaces visual softness and eliminate harsh shadows.  Within the lightwell, Catie Lee of Floratorie was commissioned to create floral art in places where natural light falls to breathe live into corners - like how mushrooms grow on a fallen tree trunk.

See also: Floral Arrangements: How to Decorate Your Home With Fresh Flowers and Foliage

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A cross section of the cafe designed by Whitespade
Above A cross section of the cafe designed by Whitespade

While Lee doesn't usually name her artwork, she muses that her installations could be named ‘Graceful Collision’. Indeed, the installation are worthy of such a lyrical name and comprise of imported preserved flowers and big dried leafs mounted on a wire mesh structure. On the ground floor, the avant garde art piece was designed to take advantage of the daylight it captures during the day, hence the rich colours and bold choice of flora species.

For the first floor, Lee imagines a cloud and came up with a floating art piece with lightweight and delicate ingredients: I wanted to achieve a pureness and lightness with this. Also to commemorate the environment with a feminine approach. All colours and textures were carefully picked to match the calm quality of the space."

5. Niki Neko 1.5

Tasked with expanding Niko Neko’s flagship café-gallery space in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, Studio Bikin design intention was to retain the minimalist approach of the brand within the scheme. The new dining space was stripped down to concrete ‘elements’ along its perimeter, on which customers can sit surrounding a central stage, within the ethereal, monochromatic dining space.

As a centrepiece to this space, Sarah Rahman and Sha Gaz were commissioned to create a suspended paper installation based on the designer's spatial studies. The installation uses 80 layers of 250 gsm watercolour paper with each piece hand-torn manually to replicate the inconsistent morphology of nature. According to Sarah, the idea of hand-tearing at the paper edges creates textures and density for the installation.

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The installation was inspired by the Japanese Wabi-Sabi philosophy, rooted in Zen Buddhism where masters prized bowl that were handmade, irregularly shaped, and beautiful in their deliberate imperfection: "The idea is to apply the wabi-sabi principles, including asymmetry, roughness, simplicity, and appreciation of natural objects embedded in the installation. The aesthetics presented in the paper installation is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete." 

"We don’t have a specific name for the installation. We call it Paper Installation. I guess the reason behind it is that we don’t want to restrain our viewers from a particular perspective. Or limit their imagination to a specific situation. Some people called it the clouds, and some called it a paper cave. It’s interesting to hear how the installation forms different perspectives," she opines. 



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