Polygonal space study

THEN-AND-NOW: Montréal restaurant amplifies Japanese vibe

FOR THE NEW ISAKAYA KINOYA pub restaurant, the Jean de Lessard — Designers Créatifs design firm chose to explore the orthogonality and the verticality of space. The morphology of the narrow two-story premises located on Bishop Street, in Montreal, Que., lends itself perfectly to it.

Principal designer Jean de Lessard wasn’t given a big budget, so imaginatively playing with the interior’s volume required re-using or sourcing inexpensive materials. His Montreal-based firm had worked with the client several times in the past, including the same Kinoya restaurant in 2015, so de Lessard had a good rapport. “We kind of brought back some ideas that we used there,” while introducing new ones.

The 115-seat restaurant ground floor occupies 1,500 square feet, with 905 square feet on the first floor. Materials employed throughout include local barn timber, concrete, metal, vinyl, existing tile and existing masonry painted grey.

The layout of the two levels offer a different dining experience, says de Lessard. “Customers can go on the first floor for the first time and then the second floor next time. Even on the second floor it is not the same feeling everywhere.”

If the function and aesthetics are in line with the first Kinoya, this time the tunnel effect is amplified, on the ground floor and first floor, thanks to the assembly of polygons that are partially concealing the original masonry that was preserved for its rough appearance and for the sake of material economy.

The old isakaya (Japanese pub) look was functional, but tired looking. The economical refresh did reuse certain materials such as the hardwood floors and some barnwood elements.

Encroaching on the circulation axes, the wooden geometries dictate a zigzag path along which basic furniture and platforms are organized. Furthermore, they unfurl in the remodeled kitchen on the ground floor and around the bar counter upstairs, forming nooks and crannies that seem to confine the diners while the alternation of materials of different opacity offers entertaining points of view.

The key element of the project is an imposing scaffolding of made to order metal grids. This stalagmite painted in yellow that rises to the top of the floor hides the staircase from view. Its unrefined workmanship enhances the “rough” plasticity typical of an izakaya (a Japanese bar with inexpensive meals).

According to de Lessard, the complicated metal grid structure design was output on a 3D printer to verify the its setting in the space before sending detail drawings to a metal fabricator. “They built it in the shop and installed it later.”

The 50,000 stickers that adorn the structure add a dynamic irreverent note — one that befits a shabby café at the end of a dark alleyway.

“The project probably took around four months,” says de Lessard, noting that the pandemic hit along the way, but that the client was satisfied with the results. “He would have loved to open but he was happy with the feeling.”

Partially hidden from the street, the restaurant faces a natural challenge to attracting customers, many of whom are of Asian descent from the downtown area, but de Lessard went with some friends one night since the renovation and the place was jam packed. “Like every restaurant, it has to be open for some months before people know the space and then they go there,” he adds. “It is a good meal, so the restaurant will probably survive the pandemic.

“It is a weird time of the year or even the century.”

The finished Then-and-Now project is featured on each issue’s cover. Please submit project suggestions to [email protected].

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