Whilst refurbishing an old restaurant at Kemps Corner, Mumbai, DCOOP Architects have not only restructured spaces but also introduced a casual, relaxed ambience in keeping with the Neapolitan fare.
It was a tired old place. Dingy, ramshackle, falling apart. But after several decades, Chinese Room at Kemps Corner changed hands. Now dubbed Gustoso, the new cuisine on offer is Italian. A revamp was clearly called for. “The original décor belonged to the 70s, with a false ceiling and a mezzanine. In Mumbai, a mezzanine usually means you’re going to knock your head on some beam,” says Quaid Doongerwala of DCOOP Architects.
“At the back of the restaurant was an open dump yard being used for garbage. Even residents on upper floors would throw stuff in it. The space was thus greasy, infested with rodents and smelly.” One portion was a covered area and was being used as a store room. So began operation clean up…to gradually reveal a space which is now almost the star attraction of the restaurant. “It was a quaint pocket and the possibility of having open-air dining similar to that in Italy and France, became an attractive prospect. This would revitalise the space,” says Quaid.
“Before doing anything more, we also had to take stock of the stability of the structure.It was old and no repairs had been undertaken for decades,” says Quaid. “Structurally, it was falling apart. There was leakage, decay had set in and props were being used for support in some places.” To restore the spatial quality, the mezzanine was removed, as it was detracting from the volume of the space. The higher ceiling thus obtained revealed the original jack arches.
None of the walls could be knocked down to create one large room, as they were load bearing. So a layering of spaces, facilitated by the layout, has been used to advantage in the design. “You discover more as you go further in. Encountering one space after another, the sensorial experience of textures and materials and the verdant courtyard all come together to create a world-within-a-world quality in the restaurant,” says Quaid.
Integrating the services was another challenge, as the air-conditioning had to be sensitive to the space. “There was no false ceiling for the conduits, so we had to create seamless detailing which was not obtrusive,” says Quaid. Consequently, ducting for the air-conditioning follows the beams.
“The restaurant is entered at the corner of the block in which it is located, leading into a tall space with a bar at the entrance and the pizza oven glowing at the other end. There are different volumes and scales, intimate seating and the open dump yard at the rear has been transformed into a romantic landscaped courtyard with candles.
This comes as a surprise when one comes upon it from the hustle and noise outside – a rare jewel in a city which has few places which can give one an outdoor dining experience. The covered storage room is now a private space for groups, with flexible seating to accommodate different requirements,” says Quaid.
Previously, multiple water tanks belonging to different owners in the building were spread out haphazardly in the courtyard. These were consolidated into one large tank, concealed by placing a metal grill and plants around it. A standing counter for parties has been incorporated. The light in the courtyard changes over the seasons and through the day. The tree canopy over the court creates dappled shadows shading the court through the day and then settles into a gentle glow in the evening.
“Throughout, our aim was to use restraint and do less, with natural materials such as wood and copper,” says Quaid. The flooring is in cement tile; repeated combinations of nine tiles bearing floral and geometrical motifs create a subtly complex pattern. The courtyard in granite acts as a counter balance.
Some of the lighting is by the French design duo Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec and is adjustable in height. A chandelier by Moooi and chairs by Thonet complete the aesthetic of the space. Since natural light enters the space only from the front and the courtyard at the back, much support is required from artificial light even during the day.
“The challenge in designing the restaurant was creating meaningful spaces from an existing set of rooms of different sizes. Instead of trying to unify the spaces, we decided to use the multiplicity as a design and organisation idea. The restaurant is planned as a narrative comprising of a number of experiences layered one after the other.
The textures, materials tie these together to give a coherent experience. The multiple spaces give the user a choice from amongst many dining experiences within the same restaurant,” says Quaid. Deceptively simple, the aesthetic brings together muted tones, to create a restful balance.
Text By Devyani Jayakar
Photographs Sebastian Zachariah