Kitchen confidential: The design secrets of three of Auckland's trendiest restaurants

Pasture in Parnell.
Pasture in Parnell.

Good restaurants are sensory experiences. Subtle lighting, sexy decor, ambient music, seating that makes us want to linger - and that's before you get to the food. Commercial designer/architect Paul Izzard, who helped design Woodpecker Hill, says it's to do with entertainment. "When you walk in the door you want to forget about the outside," he says.

It's not so dissimilar back at your place. Homes are meant to be sanctuaries. And while you might not want 80 people stopping by every night for dinner, it doesn't mean you don't want to entertain occasionally, or that you don't want guests to feel comfortable when you do.

Pasture

It would be unfair to say that some restaurants don't much care about what you eat - as long as you eat something. But Pasture, in Parnell, has not only your tastebuds - but also your health - on its watch.

Everything from the hand-made pickles to the fermented juices is designed to taste good and - you suspect - to be good for you. Come in, sit down, we do care, this place says.

Co-owner Laura Verner's touch shows up in everything from the botanical illustration used to promote the restaurant to the hand-grown oxalis potted in containers (sourced from Nest) on the tables.

"I wanted it to feel like a home environment," she says. "To be a considered space; to feel calm." Wooden slides separating the dining room from the adjacent lobby are deliberately designed so that chefs can see you enter and greet you personally. Jars of preserves line the shelves behind the bar seating; twigs and branches for table arrangements are hand-foraged by Verner from the Domain up the road.

It's a contemporary environment but not a definably modern one - muted fixtures and fittings in stone and wood were chosen for their timelessness rather than any sense of trend.

A combination of ideas picked up during the time she and her husband, co-owner and chef Ed Verner, spent in Denmark and Japan, the deliberate Scandi/Japanese aesthetic is spare but in no way cold. Like his food, the interior is thoughtful and considered from the wooden cutlery holders to the cloth bags the bread comes in, both handcrafted by Ed's father, Simon.

STEAL THE STYLE

Focus on fundamentals.
If you want your guests to enjoy their meal make sure they are comfortable. Padded dining chairs are usually better at encouraging guests to linger than cold metal or plastic ones.

Keep it real.
Sustainability is a big part of Pasture's sensibilities. Natural materials like wood, linen, leather and stone emphasise that.

Keep it in the family.
Like little family heirlooms, Pasture's handcrafted cutlery holders and kokedama bread wraps add a personal touch that creates intimacy. Don't be shy about making a show of your family photos, homewares and hand-me-downs.

WHERE TO GET IT

Art print from Father Rabbit
Platters $60 and $40 and bowls $15 and $13 from Citta
Side table/stool $199 from Freedom Furniture

SITES TO BOOKMARK

Father Rabbit
Nest
Design Denmark
Everyday Needs
Douglas + Bec

Woodpecker Hill

Woodpecker Hill.
Woodpecker Hill.

If Paul Izzard is right and good restaurants actually are all about show business, Parnell's Woodpecker Hill is certainly out to razzle dazzle 'em. Looks-wise, it's a sumptuous fusion of East-meets-West, with items chosen by the discerning eyes of owner Mark Wallbank and chef Che Barrington.

Spend too much time analysing the decor and you may start thinking you've slipped into an alternative universe. Outsized orchid pots suspended from the ceiling, indoor sun umbrellas, gigantic pendants in the shape of clamshells, a red crazy-paving wall, huge metal light shades that look a bit like upside-down flowerpots, ornate metalwork detailing, banks of wooden logs, checks, stripes and - everywhere - stained wood, furs and more furs. It's an East/West fusion of Aspen ski lodge and old-world Chinese opium den.

But look a little closer. The dark octagon tiles have a sophisticated burnished look and would look great as a splashback in a contemporary wood kitchen. And basalt tiles, with their soft grey glow, are fantastic in modern homes.

STEAL THE LOOK

Mix metals with matte.
Accents of copper and burnished gold have an enduring appeal. Update the look by combining it with matt finishes. A small collection of matt vases, for example, will come alive placed next to a copper bowl or candle holder.

Focus on fur.
Cow hides and sheepskins add luxury and comfort, especially when teamed with other natural materials like wood, leather and stone. Faux skins and furs work too.

Banish the bland.
Pale wood is fashionable but it doesn't suit every home. Wood stained the colour of bitter chocolate is timeless and adds depth, warmth and glamour.

Bring in the outside.
There isn't a home - or restaurant - that doesn't benefit from nature. Woodpecker Hill does it with supersized pots of orchids and banks of mother-in-law's tongues.

Go large.
Everything at Woodpecker Hill - from the pendants to the silverware - is oversized.

WHERE TO GET IT

Rug $2290 from Citta
Side table/foot stool from Citta
Cushion $229 from French Country

SITES TO BOOKMARK

Gorgeous Creatures
Koko Classics
LA Imports
Republic Home

Paris Butter

Photo / Tatiana Skorik
Photo / Tatiana Skorik

Designed to look and feel like a modern Parisian bistro, Paris Butter is all French flair and multiple shades of calming grey. Interior designer Olga Skorik originally resisted the idea of remodelling the former - and legendary - Vinnie's, but she was out-gunned. She is married to co-owner Jeff Costello, and time and budgets were limited.

The fit-out, which started with a sample of teal-coloured leather since made into a buttoned banquette, is unassuming and welcoming. Unusually for a modern restaurant, there are fabric blinds on the windows, curtains to delineate spaces (and cut down noise) and wicker baskets instead of metal bins in the bathrooms. It feels like a posher version of home.

"I wanted mirrors," she says (and there are banks of custom-framed antique-finish mirrors). "I wanted wooden floors." (Paris Butter's are inlayed with patterned tiles.) "And I wanted crystal." (Overhead are several impressive chandeliers.)

The napkins are custom-made, as are the plates and bowls, which come in four shades of grey.

There's still a little of the old - Vinnie's remains in the beautiful metal doors, impressive coving and in the repainted bar stools - but Paris Butter is as fresh as the salade nicoise.

STEAL THE LOOK

Be considered.
Paris Butter's calmness comes largely from a restricted palette - multiple shades of grey linking everything from the plates to the antiqued mirrors to the custom moulding that adds detail to the walls.

Heaven is in the detail.
Don't skip when it comes to quality. While the budget for the restaurant wasn't huge, Skorik refused to compromise on the little things, like expertly made curtains and custom-made napkins, homely touches that make guests feel special.

Set focal points.
In a living room it might be a fireplace, in an-open plan kitchen it could be an island bench; whatever it is, rooms need focal points. Paris Butter has several enormous art-chalk paintings by Russian artist Olga Osnach that not only reference the menu but also provide visual interest and a talking point.

Find clever ways of cutting costs.
Skorik wanted patterned tiles inlayed into the wooden floorboards but she discovered not only did it look good but the overall flooring cost was cheaper because the tiles turned out less expensive than the wooden flooring. She also turned leftover floor boards into table tops.

WHERE TO GET IT

Chandelier $1150 from French Country
Cross-back chair $249 from Corso de' Fiori

SITES TO BOOKMARK

French Country Collections
Indie Home Collective
Leopold Hall
Le Forge
Corso de' Fiori

- Canvas

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