Union Restaurant

May 22, 2013

In an industrial pocket of Basel, Swiss architect Aurélie Blanchard realises a seductive interior wrapped in a skin of deep green and rich, burnished copper.

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  • Profile: NZ furniture & lighting company Resident
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  • Interview: Sydney-based interior design practice Luchetti Krelle

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In Australia, the growing food movement and its staggering influence has made us increasingly attuned to the experience of eating. Whether this be recreating one of Jamie Oliver’s 15-minute meals at home or whiling away the hours with friends at a new restaurant, food is now the star of its very own type of theatre. On a global scale, the trend is vast and includes a supporting cast of countless celebrity chefs, professional and amateur critics, reality TV cooking shows and ‘foodies’ of all shapes and sizes. Keeping pace with this spike in culinary appreciation is the growing number of restaurants and bars opening with unprecedented frequency.

Within this exciting milieu, new awards programs have been instigated to recognise excellence in hospitality design, where the competition is fierce, not to mention extensive. A new restaurant or bar may open in Melbourne or New York seemingly every second, but the scrutiny to which these new interiors are now subject has increased the emphasis placed upon the experiential qualities of a fitout. On this highly competitive stage, a project such as Union Restaurant turns heads because it succeeds in its deliberate attempts to envelop the diner with a warm and inviting atmosphere.

The warm, russet tones of the copper contrast the deep green walls in the restaurant beyond


Located in Kleinbasel, a decidedly industrial neighbourhood on the bank of the Rhine in the north-west of Basel, Switzerland, Union Restaurant is the first commission for sole practitioner Aurélie Blanchard. It is an elegant study in well-considered lighting, sensual materiality and seductive ambience. Where the fitout finds its most dynamic expression is in the generous application of copper and timber, which results in a pleasant balance between rustic domesticity and high-end glamour.

“The clients’ brief was simple,” Blanchard says. “Two spaces – one restaurant and one bar – with a metropolitan flavour to distinguish them from the other restaurants and bars in Basel, and to also complement the menu’s focus on ‘reimagined’ traditional American food.” Inspired by the mood of New York restaurants and bars, Blanchard has borrowed their gritty yet cosy charm and translated it for a European market. Although the design doesn’t feature exposed brickwork, it does gently nod its head to the dimmed, small spaces of its New York counterparts.

Copper Shades by Tom Dixon continue the copper theme in the restaurant


Union Restaurant’s strikingly dark interior was an intentional strategy on the part of the Basel-based architect. As Blanchard explains, “the space is very large – 200 square metres – and painting it in a dark colour made it more intimate.” The restaurant’s deep green walls are a reference to the colour of Basel’s traditional painted wooden doors, and Blanchard’s subtle connection with the city’s streetscape provides a pleasing entry point.

Dark walnut timber is a fine complement to the green walls, and is used for both the tables and floors. Custom-made by Van Rossum Design, the communal dining tables were crafted longer than the standard model to fit the large-scale restaurant. They are robust in form and, sitting uniformly in a space devoid of decorative flourishes, they make a bold statement. The fitout’s rigid geometry of light fittings and tables not only provides functional circulation paths; it also lends a visual clarity reflective of Blanchard’s refined aesthetic. That the light fittings and tables also align with the arched windows is further evidence of the architect’s tight conceptual articulation.

The light fittings and tables align with the arched windows in the restaurant


The dark walnut floor extends from the restaurant into the bar and unifies both rooms, making for a seamless transition. Here, the standing-height table in the middle of the room and the bar itself have also been made of dark walnut. To add colour and warmth, Blanchard introduced generous applications of copper, which especially contrasts with the restaurant’s green walls and the burnt caramel tones of the timber floor, tables and bar. Lining the walls and the tops of the bar and standing-height table, the rich-hued material reflects light and casts an inviting amber glow throughout the room.

The syrupy reflections in the copper’s surface oscillate between yellow and gold, and provide the otherwise still space with a sense of movement. It is an incredibly beguiling effect, which lends the bar area a sense of old world vintage glamour.

The copper-covered bar, counter and walls are paired with Tom Dixon’s Void pendant lights


The copper was installed by metal-worker Peter Betschart, the craftsmanship on display expert and meticulous. Copper requires care in its application, and Betschart’s attention to detail has resulted in a tightly resolved interior that was an unexpected risk on Blanchard’s part. Cleverly continuing the copper theme in the restaurant with Tom Dixon’s hugely popular Copper Shades, she further succeeds in creating instant appeal. The light fittings’ round forms contrast deliciously with the rest of the room’s hard edges.

Working for Herzog & de Meuron for five years before starting her own practice, Blanchard is no stranger to designing for large-scale spaces. Her past experience no doubt served her well when approaching Union Restaurant, but it is her astute eye, uncompromised vision and intuitive use of materials that has transformed these two rooms into a cohesive, elegant and memorable dining experience.

This article originally appeared in Inside issue 75: The Hospitality Issue.

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