Working in hospitality was always supposed to be a means to an end for Kate Batholomew; some extra pocket money while she was at high school, then it became a way to pay the bills while she was at university. “Hospitality got me through my degree,” says Bartholomew. “I’ve always loved food and working in the industry meant I could continue studying and do what I loved on the side.”

Through work, she met now husband and business partner Mykal. His passion for working with food gave Bartholomew the courage to take a year off from her studies, take a leap of faith, and open a restaurant with him. “I was writing a thesis and I needed a break, so I thought I’d just work for a year,” says Bartholomew. “We found my dream location and then we started looking for a chef and found Adam (D’Sylva),” she says. “I feel incredibly lucky.”

Bartholomew always had a passion for interior design but admits, “I don’t think I really knew or understood anything about it.” Working on Coda offered her the opportunity to collect notes and work alongside innovative local design studio Projects of Imagination to create a sleek, distinctive space. “I had some strong ideas for Coda, but Projects of Imagination were amazing. They did that job on very little money. It was incredible,” she says.

Taking the skills and confidence she learned from their first (very successful) venture, Bartholomew was ready to “take more of a front seat” in the design process for the trio’s second venue, the modern-Indian restaurant Tonka. “I started to trust more of my own decisions and felt much more comfortable,” says Bartholomew. Tonka opened early in 2013 to instant acclaim, not least for its elegant interior, which boasts, among other things, a dramatic ceiling art installation by Naomi Troski.

Reflecting on what makes a space work, Bartholomew says, “I suppose the ceiling has been a point of difference. I like doing custom things and making it our own.” She’s been acting as a mentor for Andrew Kelly, the recipient of The Keys as he works towards opening Filter, an innovative new CBD cafe. After visiting the site for Filter late last year, Bartholomew met with Kelly again recently to look over plans for the new venue at DesignOffice in Collingwood. The results can be seen in the latest instalment of The Keys video series, The Fit Out. “I was really impressed,” says Bartholomew of the models and colour swatches for the new venue. “It was soft and lovely but still strong for the city.” “I think DesignOffice has done a really good job interpreting Andrew’s vision,” she says, before adding, “so good, in fact, that we’re looking at them for a new project.” Watch this space.

Kate’s top tips for getting your venue’s interior and fit-out right:

1. Big budget isn’t always best
You don’t need a lot of money to do something really cool. The best things are done with just a creative mind.

2. Find the right designer
I think it’s really important to invest money in an interior designer. Spend some time looking into spaces you enjoy and find out who was responsible for their look.

3. Function over fashion
It’s got to be as practical as it is enjoyable to look at. I could kick myself every day for some things I thought looked good, but now they drive me mental.

4. Don’t be scared of colour
The problem with white is you need to keep it clean. Colour brings warmth and energy to a space. I really like the idea of picking between one and three colours and using them as small accents throughout a space.

5. Find a good builder
Build a good relationship early and try and hold onto it for as long as possible. Always keep track of things with emails. So many times we’ve come to the end of a project and said ‘who said what about this?’ You have to keep a record of it all.

6. Don’t change your mind!
It slows the process down and costs a fortune. Make decisions and stand by them.

7. Opening dates and budgets
There are so many things that are out of your control and that you would never have imagined that you would need to think about. Be realistic. Allow for double the time and the money you originally planned.

The Keys is brought to you by Broadsheet and Bank of Melbourne.

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