Wood Shines in Hospitality Design
By Clare Tattersall
On a recent shopping trip to Yorkdale in Toronto, I dined at the Michelin-starred Konjiki Ramen & Saryo Café. First opened in early 2022, the Tokyo noodle house is known for, what else, its ramen, but what struck me most was the restaurant’s design. The two-story mall-facing façade is decorated with a unique custom mosaic that combines both floral and natural elements inspired by traditional and modern Japanese art.
Dreamed up by local design studio Dialogue 38, the eye-catching lush mosaic extends inside along the entry corridor, guiding patrons to their seats. The jewel-toned embellishment frames the open kitchen, which is on full display and provides the dining area’s principal colour hit.
However, what’s most striking here is not the floral landscape mosaic but the blond-wood wall panels inspired by traditional shoji screens that wrap the interior. Comprised of light, honey-toned oak slats by Egger Wood Products that are angled horizontally and vertically and feature a super-mat finish, the ‘to screens’ contrast with the jet-black ceiling, sleek black pendant lighting, and slate grey tile flooring, adding warmth to the space as well as its theatrical flair.
As the space is split in two, with the café at the front and the restaurant at the back, the wood slats also create privacy for people in the dining area while generating curiosity in potential customers passing by through Saryo Café.
Konjiki Ramen’s prominent use of wood in its restaurant serves as just one example of this growing trend in hospitality design. The natural material is showcased in other recently opened Toronto establishments, including coffee house Milky’s, which is wrapped completely in oak wood paneling from floor to wall to ceiling, and the Guido Costantino Projects-designed Osteria Giulia in the city’s most celebrated neighbourhood for style and culture, Yorkville.
The award-winning dinner spot’s curved limestone walls pair seamlessly with a long, blond-oak feature wall that matches the rounded-back wooden chairs and honey-coloured tables to create a quiet, simple aesthetic. This wall is paneled, providing a soft textural quality that also helps to dampen sound. On the floor is seven-inch-wide plank white oak, chosen for its natural characteristics and honey-brown tone. Each plank is muted by soft white oils and finished with a hand-sanded, wire-brushed texture.
Toronto’s hospitality scene also highlights wood prominently used in newer and renovated hotels. Situated in the city’s Queen West neighbourhood, the Drake’s colourful, retro-inspired Modern Wing nearly triples the number of rooms, adding 32 and a rooftop suite to the hotel’s existing 19. The Diamond Schmitt-designed five-story building, with creative concepts of interior spaces by DesignAgency in collaboration with original hotel designer John Tong of +tongtong and the Drake’s in-house design team, includes a new ground floor living room-style main lobby.
Its focal point is a meticulously crafted walnut cane-and-tambour wood midcentury-modern banquette with original vintage upholstery. Flanking the banquette are two large pillars made of the same wood and donning the same ribbed detailing that was all the rage decades ago and is ‘in’ once again thanks to its ability to create dimension and add visual interest.
This fluting makes another appearance on the rounded kitchen island in the rooftop suite. Each guest room also has a built-in wood bed with headboard-integrated bench seating, storage, and a desk, which pays tribute to the original railcar-inspired rooms in the Drake’s Classic Wing.
Clare Tattersall is an interior designer and decorator in Toronto, and the editor of Canada’s floor covering magazine, Coverings.