Dion Hall, co-director and founder of design studio Projects of Imagination (with business partner Nick Cox) coordinated the design for McConnell. It’s the first time the pair have worked together. “I like what the guys at Projects of Imagination did at Pandora’s Box in Prahran,” says McConnell of his collaborator. Together they also brought other colleagues they had worked with before to Golden Fields: builder Adam Mylecharane from Treeline Constructions, graphic designer Michaela Webb from Studio Round and artist and metal worker Robert Hook.
“Andrew didn’t want the space to feel in any way a literal representation of Eastern architecture; that was put forward very quickly, on which we agreed,” explains Hall in his Prahran studio. “Although he wanted to capture some sensibility of Eastern influences, so it wouldn’t be too distant from what he was putting on the plate.”
The dialogue that developed between McConnell and Projects of Imagination was pivotal to the appropriate environment being created. “We [Projects of Imagination] don’t start putting materials down, we like to develop and create a language between us and the client and find a point to start,” says Hall. “Then that point will become multiple points.”
Through conversation, the chef and the designers established that initial starting point. “It started with the plate,” continues Hall. “It’s a homage to Andrew and it began a great dialogue between us about tactility and the miniature.” While this might seem obvious to say that it started with the plate, what that plate represents and how that plate evolved has been an undertaking in aesthetics, cultural history and functionality balanced within the boundaries of keeping the customer at the forefront. “We established a dialogue talking about the more miniature sensibilities and really bringing the patron into an environment where they can explore and experience elements within the space that weren’t so forceful. We were looking at a harmonic relationship no different to his [Andrew’s] food. We largely spoke about materiality and we spoke about the idea that the design should begin at the table and the suggestion was put forward to Andrew that we look at a commission with Shane Kent.”
The tables themselves were a prominent aspect of this. “Timber is very powerfully warming and calming state, it made sense that it goes to the table but doesn’t take on any other role than the table and what you sit on,” Hall says. “Andrew’s very particular about what surface you eat on and this was a targeted method of applying that belief.” Then, the lighting, from Corporate Culture in the city, was chosen to splinter the starkness of the space. Designed by French industrial designer Serge Mouille (1922-1988), who took much of his inspiration from American artist and inventor of the mobile Alexander Calder (1898-1976), the black lights jut out from the wall, striking a pose with purpose.
The stillness of the blackened steel used throughout the room brings in another emotive state of warmth and strength. Robert Hook, a friend of McConnell and his former wife, interior designer Pascale Gomes-McNabb, created the bar at Cutler & Co and at Cumulus Inc. For Golden Fields, Hook has constructed the shelves behind the bar, the waiter’s stations, the bookshelves and the bright red chicken’s feet installation.
A sure talking point of Golden Fields dining room will be the poultry feet on the wall, an idea from Hall, inspired by Gomes-McNabb’s shoe horns on the walls of Cumulus Inc. “Pascale had taken a common object, the shoe horn and used them in a different context, as coat hooks,” says Hall. “In a cheeky way, we thought as they’re based on feet, we wanted something Asian, so we proposed chicken or rooster feet. Andrew got it straight away, which is rare. Often you get a role of eyes or strange stares.”
What Andrew McConnell ‘gets’ seems to be what a lot of what other restaurant owners don’t: that the design of a space and the intention behind each design decision will only enhance the dining experience in real terms. His collaborations with Gomes-McNabb – one of the country’s leading restaurant interior designers and an architect in her own right – has influenced his knowledge and experience, but his love and awareness of the importance of design is evident in every conversation with each creative.