Uncle is a casual restaurant, bar and rooftop split onto two floors in St Kilda, serving Vietnamese street food. A key factor in the new design and refurbishment by Foolscap Studio was balance and harmony.
The design studio were called in on Uncle’s 12 month anniversary to rework the space, as “the two spaces had a split personality that wasn’t working,” said front-of-house manager Rene Spence.
This distinct difference from bar to restaurant now acts as a complementary process: the downstairs bar channelling the buzz and atmosphere of a Vietnamese city-scape at night, and the upstairs restaurant employing the simplicity and freshness of the Vietnamese countryside.
Uncle is a term used throughout Vietnam to show endearment and respect, and similarly, the concept was designed to pay homage to the cultural nuances of Vietnam and Southeast Asia.
There is hanging-basket style lighting, above the bar which are hand woven, recycled, hawker-style plastic hats, that have been re-purposed as light fittings. The undulating canopy of light fittings was intended to bring a lightness and colour to the space.
Complementary to this, the dining area is characterised by a more expansive atmosphere. Taste elements of sour and spicy are visually interpreted as wood and earth and are evident in the use of lighter timber and wood textures and flourishes of indoor greenery.
Taking the elements of Wu Xing – wood, fire, earth, metal and water – to inform the design of both the bar and dining spaces, a colour palette and materials were extrapolated from each element.
Bitter, spicy and salty were the characteristics chosen for the bar, conceived as a more intimate, urban space. It is distinguished by a darker colour palette with highlights of red and a textural reference to metal, steel and fibres; such as the custom wallpaper created in-house, using the texture of woven rattan.
The images on the wall are custom prints. These ‘paste ups’ are a reference to the notion of the street and were taken from found images from Vietnam, including family photos and personal artefacts of chef and co-owner, Dai Duong. The images were then scaled and pasted on-site by artist Mark Gody.
The personality and sociability of Dai Duong, Rene Spence and Bowen Holden naturally meant the inclusion of local artists and designers to help bring the space to life. Waiters wear handmade leather aprons by Wooten, and the colours of hand-thrown ceramic crockery by Fork Ceramics help link the cuisine to the interior space.
Images © Martina Gemmola