Design Anthology - Asia Pacific Edition
At new Chinese restaurant Jishan Garden, 19th-century architecture, swathes of light grey and minimal Ming-inspired furniture set the scene for a subtle, special experience
Entering Jishan Garden from a busy Melbourne boulevard is a slow and steady experience. The gradual reveal opens into the verdant courtyard of an elegant 19th-century mansion, the street sounds transitioning into the quiet hum of a serene fine dining and high tea restaurant. Pitch Architecture + Design creative director Bo Chu was tasked with creating this urban culinary retreat for clients who wanted to cultivate a Chinese look and feel within the Boom Style architecture of the grand property.
The building’s heritage-listed status meant no structural work was permitted, so all the original mouldings, cornices, architraves and roses were left untouched, save for a coating of light grey paint. The monochromatic scheme creates a sense of subtlety, with the traditional decorative elements revealing themselves on closer inspection. ‘The palette acts as a canvas so that it doesn’t compete with the Chinese furnishings we’ve introduced into the space,’ Chu explains. ‘Ultimately, the challenge was how to successfully incorporate this contrasting design language to create a cohesive interior. It was about achieving the right balance between East and West.’
Chu’s clients were inspired by the design characteristics of the Ming Dynasty era (1368– 1644), renowned for its emphasis on minimalist furnishings, clean lines and seamless joinery. Celebrated for its advanced construction and craft, the style was a break from the historically ornate period of regional design before it. ‘Now, in the twenty-first century, with everything restrained and simple, this aesthetic language is still relevant,’ says Chu, who referenced relatable stylistic cues such as slender furnishings, graceful silhouettes and straight-backed seating made from precious old elm in a deep, rich stain. The entirely bespoke fit-out features customised tables, chairs, cabinetry and shelves that are sharply geometric yet tempered by splices and gaps. Sisal carpeting was chosen both for its contemporary appearance and its rusticity. Overall, it’s strikingly simple yet executed in a highly sophisticated fashion.
Instead of maximising the space to reach full capacity, Chu cultivated a sense of privacy by gently dividing the dining zones using suspended matchstick blinds. ‘Making the blinds solid or opaque would’ve added a heaviness, so we made them translucent to avoid blocked-out segments,’ he says. ‘The partitions offer a sense of intimacy, but their sheerness encourages an easy flow and good circulation.’ At night, pendants glow between the slats, casting a peek-a-boo light from overhead. This atmosphere is one of tranquillity and calm.
‘When a restaurant is full, it often feels loud and busy,’ says Chu. ‘For Jishan Garden, the clients wanted a completely different experience, both from a culinary fusion perspective and a spatial, auditory sensibility.’ The owners regularly add to the acoustics with the expressive sounds of the pipa, an ancient pear-shaped Chinese string instrument, its sounds vibrating softly with the murmur of patrons.