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Authenticity, DNA and sexy Scandinavians


The setting around a meal says something about the vision. That’s how Anders Busk Faarborg sees it. He is the Creative Director and partner in design agency ATM Design (previously known as Novel Interior Consultants) and Novel Cabinet Makers. Over the years he has used interior design to create a wide variety of environments in a great many restaurants and bars. Here he describes the processes and ideas that underpin his own and his team’s work when they are tasked with creating the

right setting in a restaurant.


WHAT IS THE FIRST THING YOU DO WHEN YOU GET A JOB OF THIS NATURE?

“I ask a lot of questions and, naturally, I really like to see a menu. The type of cuisine is incredibly important; whether, for example, it’s Italian or something else. There shouldn’t be too much focus on the decor; everything must point to what is for sale and in a restaurant it should point to the food. When I study the cuisine, it’s to find out what’s different about it. With that done, I can start to create a story. Of course we don’t change what the chef puts on the plate, but everything must support the product.”



HOW CAN A MENU INSPIRE YOU?

“I’m no foodie, I’m a designer and that’s my focus. That said, it can help to see how the food is served, to know whether the dishes are small or large. But I also look at it from a customer’s perspective; what is my experience, what’s great and what’s not so great – ‘Okay, you can have that as a starter? Okay, so that’s a main course. And what about dessert?’. And then I put my designer glasses on. In that way, I think you get a sense of where people want to go with it. And that’s okay, we help them to progress. Of course, that’s one of the reasons they call us, but we can’t move people forward before we know where they are now and what their vision is.”

DO YOU SUPPORT A RESTAURANT’S CULINARY PROFILE?

“Yes, we do. When I have to explain what we do, I usually say that what makes us unique is

that we’re working with the DNA of the place. There are many people who work with design.

We don’t say design first, we say DNA first. We’re not trying to force a style on someone. We try to adapt it to suit the client – we call it chameleon design, which means that it’s by no means certain that people can see that we’ve created it. There are many agencies – including big-name foreign designers – who like to leave an impression, with everything in their familiar style. I’m proud if you can’t see it’s ours. Because then, it belongs to the client. And that, I think, is really the most important thing – to discover the heart of their story and to tell it.

When we designed the Danish restaurant Bæst, an establishment with a strong focus on organic meat and produce, we could well have opted to make the place much less polished. However, when I found out what the kitchen offered, I wanted to create something calm, so that the product could stand out. Because if we had taken the Bæst account and allowed ourselves to run amok (red. “Bæst” means beast in Danish), then I actually think that the focus would have been taken away from the amazing food. I don’t think you should be able to decode the food 100% from the decor alone. But obviously if there are some recurring references, then that’s really cool.


WHAT ELEMENTS ARE IMPORTANT IN THE INTERIOR DESIGN OF A RESTAURANT?

“I think that attitudes towards lighting can sometimes be uncompromising. It’s an architect thing. Some of the fanciest places in Copenhagen have what I would consider to be terrible lighting design, but people don’t notice it. I do and think ‘yikes!’ But people don’t notice it, because the mood, design and everything else is good. I would love to be able to create the perfect lighting every time but, for me, it’s all about spending the money where it will be seen, and on what’s most important to the client.”


WHICH IS WHAT, FOR EXAMPLE?

“If the client is dreaming of exactly the right wood and lots of it, then we know that’s going to be very expensive to deliver. But if that’s what you want, then that’s where you should put your money. Instead of doing a little here and a little there. Use your money where you want it to have an effect. That’s something I say that to all our clients. For me it’s about the floor, ceiling, walls and lighting as standard elements. Many restaurants take a chance on the floor, because it will be posted on Instagram – that’s the latest thing. An example from a restaurant for which we designed an amazing floor, is that most Instagram posts were actually of people’s feet. That was really funny. If the chef’s focus is only on the table, then that’s where we must spend a great deal of money but if the restaurant wants people to enjoy the experience of the room as a whole, perhaps we also need something else. For example, at cocktail bars, people want to see each other. I’d rather work with large elements instead of saying that the lighting is critical – Yes, the lighting is important, but when we look at a budget and the client doesn’t have the money for a major technical lighting solution, we

compromise and solve it in some other way.”


WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE AESTHETIC SETTING, OR LACK THEREOF,

WHERE YOU HAVE A MEAL?

“You can go to places in Italy where the food is so amazing and the decor is so completely

authentic, however; the decor isn’t very pretty. This authenticity is, of course, just another aesthetic. This is probably the most important word when you’re talking design today. Things must be authentic. There are a great many restaurants whose ambition is to look as if they’ve always been there. So the aesthetic setting does means something.”


DO YOU BELIEVE THAT PEOPLE CAN FIND THE FOOD LOVELY, EVEN WHEN THE

SURROUNDINGS AREN’T?

“Yes, when it’s authentic. In Italy, it’s easy to wrap the surroundings into a traditional kitchen. Paris has any number of places to eat where people say ‘go there, it’s simply class,’ and then you get there and think, ‘is this it?’, but then it is just amazing. I believe in authenticity based on the presence of history, on ‘who has sat here before?’, but it’s hard to do from scratch.”


DO YOU HAVE A DESIGN PHILOSOPHY OR OTHER VALUES YOU CARRY OVER INTO YOUR INTERIOR DESIGN?

“It’s important to have a constant sense of who your client is; then we don’t need to use that product from the latest edition of ELLE Decoration. When the chef walks through the door, he must say: ‘Wow! This suits my product.’ Because if his reaction on walking in is: ‘It’s beautiful, but it doesn’t look like a Moroccan restaurant,’ then I’ve failed if that’s what he wants.”

DANISH DESIGN AND NORDIC AESTHETICS CONTINUE TO GO FROM STRENGTH TO STRENGTH THE WORLD OVER, WHAT DOES THIS STYLE SAY TO PEOPLE?

“There’s something attractive in the way we live in Scandinavia, something unique in the way we are. I believe that when people discover New Nordic Cuisine, they associate it with something pure and healthy. People look at Scandinavia in relation to how our system works. So looking in from the outside, I think that people see us as an extremely well-functioning society – which engenders enormous trust in our design and food. There is peace of mind and a calmness to it that is perhaps different. I just think that in someway or another, there’s something sexy in the way we live, because we’re the whole package.”


WHERE DO YOU SPOT THE TRENDS IN RESTAURANT DECOR?

“I follow many vintage furniture dealers around the world, as I’m very interested in things from the past. They’re a fondness of mine. I like the idea: ‘Where in the world are we? In what era? A story... a writer; something that creates entirely different images for a mood board – rather than simply what’s modern. It seems to me that everyone is trying to be unique but that, in the end, everyone wants the same thing. I enjoy the adventure of exploring completely different stories. And then everything that comes afterwards, going

out and finding things that belong to that universe. I often find inspiration in places that

have nothing to do with design. Ugly places. I only get truly excited when I come across

the unexpected and that doesn’t happen in mainstream media such as magazines.”



WHAT IS INTERIOR DESIGN’S ‘NEW BLACK’ IN THE RESTAURANT BUSINESS?

“I think it’s this authenticity and informality we’re seeing in restaurants now. Everyone is looking for something less formal. Most young chefs today prefer an extremely informal setting. This is nothing new, it’s something that’s been around for a while. Things mustn’t be too elaborate. It’s literally from farm to table. Many harvest their own produce and I think that this idea will only grow in popularity.”


WHAT ROLE DOES THE SETTING AROUND THE MEAL PLAY FOR YOU PERSONALLY IN YOUR HOME?

“Having the kitchen close to the dining area is really cool. I have two kids, so being able to cook and remain close to where everything is going on... well, the kitchen really becomes a

place for conversation. It’s a practical thing. Aesthetically, I’ve chosen to build a kitchen that blends into the room. The table top is black granite and the doors are an abstraction of a slat. It’s interesting to integrate a kitchen so that it doesn’t take over the home on a purely visual level. I don’t like kitchens that are just status symbols. You see many people who have big, beautiful white kitchens that stand there shining, demanding to be cleaned as soon as you’ve peeled a carrot. When building a kitchen at home, many chefs tend to go with functionality over trendiness, which I think is cool. I don’t like that whole thing of building the world around your kitchen – it just isn’t authentic. I like it when people think about how they’re going to use it. There’s nothing worse than things that never get used. Things should be used.”


Published by HOUNÖ

Text: Journalist Lousin Hartmann

Photography: Rasmus Bluhme, Moment Studio

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© 2018 by HOUNÖ A/S, Alsvej 1, 8940 Randers SV, Denmark. www.houno.com

Photography: Rasmus Bluhme, Moment Studio and Signe Birck

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