Last year we saw many Sydney spaces fitted out with colourful murals, exposed-globe hanging lights, pine furniture, and greenery inside and out. Cafes, shops, restaurants and bars with size restrictions found answers in white tiles and light-filled glass. While these features are still common, we've found the places experimenting not only with the aesthetic but with the concept too.

There has been a noticeable trend in the recent design of hospitality and retail spaces: setting the scene by telling a story.

In the last few months, we’ve seen spaces experimenting with cultural, historic and conceptual influences: go back in time to postwar France at Hubert; follow the Angel Place laneway to Mercado for a Spanish market experience; or dine in a Nordic dining hall at Norsk Dor.

We’ve seen dimmed lights, earthy wall tones, Art Deco seating and copper ornaments rise up against whitewashed floorboards, minimalist fittings and large windows.

We’ve also noticed a lot of collaborations between Sydney creatives, whether it’s bar barons teaming up or an architect and graphic designer. Unused or neglected spaces have been transformed. This year, Sydney’s restaurants, bars, cafes and shops are not only aesthetically pleasing, they’re functional.

These venues have been chosen for their attention to atmosphere. They’ve found the sweet spot between inventive and comfortable.