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Q&ADR: Paul Kelly of Paul Kelly Design

Q&ADR: Paul Kelly of Paul Kelly Design


Every week in our Q&ADR column, ADR interviews an architect, designer, object maker or industry person about who they are beyond the work – their life, inspiration, challenges and aspirations.

This week we catch up with Paul Kelly of Paul Kelly Design – a practice that specialises in hospitality interiors and has designed a number of recognisable establishments across the country, including Darlinghurst’s Supper Club, the Betty’s Burgers restaurant chain and the Lakes Bar and Bistro in NSW. We chat to the studio’s founder about his passion for hospitality interiors, being inspired by the ravages of Mother Nature, and the legacy of the Sydney Opera House.

What do you love about designing hospitality interiors?

I love the idea of learning about the different types of people and trying to create spaces for a diversity of demographics.

What do you often see done wrong when it comes to hospitality interiors?

People thinking that it’s all about the way it looks; the customer wants to be taken on a journey and this is reflected in lighting, product, sound, textures and, most importantly, service.

Betty's Burgers by Paul Kelly Design. Image courtesy Paul Kelly Design.

Betty’s Burgers by Paul Kelly Design. Photo courtesy Paul Kelly Design.

What do you see for the future of Australian hospitality design?

The hospitality market is definitely growing. We have just completed our 500th project and hit 20 years as Paul Kelly Design, and the variety of quality venues we are producing is giving the customer such an amazing choice. The future is definitely looking bright. Customers are spending more than ever on eating and drinking out – the US just hit a target of an average of more being spent on eating out than purchased on groceries, so watch this space!

Where do you turn for inspiration?

The strangest of places. I was taking my son for run through the Sydney Harbour National Park last weekend and saw a cluster of rocks that had been eroded by wind and water. It gave me a great idea for a project we’re working on at the moment called the Harbord Diggers; it was the idea I had been waiting for.

What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learnt so far in your career?

That work and life need to be balanced to achieve success. Hospitality design is about people’s experiences and if you don’t have any of your own then how could you inspire a patron?

Ivanhoe of Manly by Paul Kelly Design. Photo courtesy Paul Kelly Design.

Ivanhoe of Manly by Paul Kelly Design. Photo courtesy Paul Kelly Design.

What has been your biggest career achievement so far, or what is your favourite project you have completed?

Our most beautiful project to date is the Ivanhoe of Manly, a three-storey hotel complex in Manly. The project is five years strong and still amazes me with its timeless character.  That one is the project that people still comment on. We’ve also completed two of the busiest restaurants at The Star Sydney, Black and Sokyo which I love for their intensity and bravado.

What is your favourite space/place in Australia – is there a spot you wish you had designed?

The obvious answer here is the interiors of the Opera House. It’s the one space that for me never gets old and was opened the year I was born. It’s a place that has so much history and something that feels like it’s a cultural heart.  The fascination is in the idea that unlike our projects, it was not built with a business model in place and was about the performance and imagination of the human spirit. It seems like this theory and approach is hard to find these days.

Sydney Opera House interior. Photo by Jason Tong.

Sydney Opera House interior. Photo by Jason Tong.

What are you working on currently?

We’ve just relocated to our new premises in Surry Hills and have about 20 plus projects running. We have a restaurant opening called District Dining in the Sydney CBD in April, which is beautiful.

We also have a really cool concept we developed called Kenny Ren – a Japanese Whisky and Robata bar in Woollahra which is opening in March. We developed a brand called Betty’s Burgers – we’re working on seven of these, and that involves an amazing business and great operator. We’re also working on a very special project on the Headland at Harbord on Sydney’s northern beaches called the Harbord Diggers. It’s part of a $200 million development and we are looking after the heart and soul of the venue and the interiors. It’s all very exciting.


We’d love to hear your inspirations and experience in the architecture and design community. Simply email adrteam@niche.com.au with a little introduction of yourself to be featured.


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