Updated: Apr 4
See how Saint Lazare turned an old cellar into a private restaurant and lounge in Saint Lazare's Oasis House studio...
Have you ever been to a party that inspired you so much that you wanted to recreate the same atmosphere in your own space? That's exactly what happened to me when I attended a fantastic Halloween party at a friend's new home. I was so impressed by the communicative atmosphere and vibe that I started to think about how I could maximize my own space to achieve a similar effect.
My current studio, Oasis House, is located on the Westside of Atlanta and is a unique 1930s ranch-style cottage with a lot of character. While it's not the largest space at only 900 square feet, it has numerous nooks and creative spaces that could add to the overall experience of meeting and conversing with associates and friends.
I realized that the half-finished old cellar below had not been used in many years and could be turned into something special. It was originally a bar, but was in disrepair along with other components of the space. I decided to take on the challenge of renovating the space into something new and exciting, with the goal of finishing it within 8 weeks and staying within a relatively conservative budget.
The initial assessment of the cellar was overwhelming. The space was extremely dirty, full of critters, dust, and junk. There were openings throughout the basement that allowed for any and every vermin imaginable, and a large number of personal items, artwork, and precious belongings needed to be moved or thrown away. It was hard to let go of some of these things, especially personal mementoes and keepsakes from loved ones, but I knew that it was necessary to make room for new experiences, opportunities, and, most importantly, friends.
The main purpose of this space was to bring friends and clients together, and in order to do so, some things would have to be given or thrown away. I wanted to build a creative space that highlights my abilities and interests while inspiring others to create new, interesting, and out-of-the-box concepts, products, and goals. Once the space was fully cleaned out, the planning of the interior design commenced, with three key components in mind: communicating, listening, and experiencing.
I wanted to ensure that the space and everything within aligned with these concepts to create an energizing, creative, and inspiring place where people can discuss ideas, learn about new things, and experience a different way of interacting with others. As a result, a few themes emerged, all centring around the connection of people and friends in a safe, creative, and inspiring space.
After a few days of research, I settled on the design theme of Japanese street cuisine. During the quarantine period of 2020-2022, I started working from my studio full-time and found myself inside and alone for extended periods of time. As a result, I began watching YouTube videos of people walking around cities around the world. While watching these videos, I stumbled upon a video covering a walk in Shibuya, Tokyo. After seeing similar colours, shapes, and architectural styles, I realized I could create the same atmosphere and vibe in the cellar below.
It was important to me to create an authentic look and feel while also keeping in mind social and cultural sensitivity and acknowledgement. I wanted the space to transport guests to a Shibuya back alley but pay homage to the actual location and my personal culture and style as well. I imported lots of items, researched Feng Shui and other eastern design languages, purchased Japanese architecture books, and implemented culinary and bar best practices to create a truly authentic space that functions as well as it looks.
Natural materials, upcycled resources, and handmade furniture and decor were used to create a Japanese back-alley feel. Cedar wood accents were used as a natural bug deterrent and odour neutralizer, while wooden and metal furniture added warmth and withstood the non-insulated, semi-exposed area. The walls and ceiling were painted and repainted to freshen up the place, and repairs and renovations were made to ensure comfort and safety.
The vinyl collection gifted to the space by a retired cruise ship DJ couple serves as one of the main focal points and conversation pieces. The custom menu features small plates, instant and from-scratch noodle dishes, and sweets and desserts. The full bar features house-made syrups and mixers as well as imported fruits and flavourings, all inspired by traditional Japanese recipes with a Southeastern twist.
The planning and design of the space were guided by the owner's past experiences in the restaurant industry as a sous chef, consultant and bartender. Professional bartenders, consultants as well as local and Japanese bar owners were also consulted for advice on the best way to structure the space and the resources within. The owner even took courses on mixology and traditional Japanese tea preparation and serving to gain a better understanding of the processes, traditions and spatial requirements/needs
A custom menu was created that features small plates, instant and from-scratch noodle dishes as well as sweets and desserts. Local Japanese restaurants have also brokered an exclusive UberEats® deal, which allows patrons of the noodle bar and tea lounge to order authentic Japanese cuisines at a discounted price (10% off*). A full bar, features house-made syrups and mixers as well as imported fruits and flavourings, all inspired by traditional Japanese recipes with a Southeastern twist. Currently, there are plans to add house-made infused sodas and cooking oils to the ever-growing seasonal and late-night menu.
The completion of Toyko Petite, a unique noodle bar and tea lounge located in Saint Lazare's Oasis House, has been a laborious yet fulfilling experience. The design and planning processes of the space were carefully researched, planned and implemented in-house, with a strong emphasis on authenticity and attention to detail.
Special care and attention were set to making this experience as true as possible, with authenticity in mind for the logo, branding, and other marketing resources. Coasters, to-go packaging, and paper media were also created to add to the experience of the space. The spelling of Tokyo has been changed to highlight the word "Toy" as another ode to the small size of the space and play-like demeanour of the space.
This project has allowed Saint Lazare to reach beyond the standard projects and concepts to create a tangible experience, which goes beyond traditional product design and web development. The intimate decor and small size of the space add to the concept of communication, listening, and experiencing without distraction or expectation.
Although the project was extremely laborious, management-wise and physically demanding, it was all worthwhile. The completion of Toyko Petite has taught valuable lessons about oneself, design and planning processes, and most importantly... relationships with friends, family and loved ones. Additional plans are currently in the works to add a bathroom and expand outside to include an outdoor bar, detached art exposition area, and landscaping throughout.