SAMA Asian Kitchen, London

March 26, 2014

"The design brief for SAMA was a very exciting one for me," says Richard Brownlie-Marshall, who completed the design of the Southeast Asian–inspired eatery in London's Wimbledon neighborhood, where the restaurant's owner wanted to establish the brand as fast and casual with an industrial edge. "I had just come off a project creating four new stores for the Tossed chain," the designer explains. "So this was a real departure in style and something I looked forward to exploring."

London-based Brownlie-Marshall was challenged to incorporate the industrial aesthetic, which is uncommon in Wimbledon. "I had to create something that would stand out as different but not alienate guests," he notes. Drawing inspiration from Southeast Asian styles, Brownlie-Marshall merged traditional and modern influences across a muted color palette. Bursts of texture and color, particularly with the lighting, make a statement throughout the interior.

"I think of modern Asia having a neon glow, so I wanted this interior to follow suit-somewhat like a spaceship landing in Wimbledon," says Brownlie-Marshall. Neon pink lights slice across the walls, while modern spotlights intermingle with traditional paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling. Suspended at varying heights, the lanterns create a marketplace feel and balance out the space's contemporary lines. "The aim is for guests to walk in and be tempted to continue through the restaurant," he adds.

With two seating areas on either side-benches on the right and banquettes on the left-the layout mimics a runway pointing to the food counter at the rear of the space. Topped with chipboard, communal tables in the center contain a mix of old and new. "Although it has a very industrial feel, at closer inspection there is a depth and richness to the colors and shapes of the wood it has inherited," says Brownlie-Marshall. "I think it sets an excellent backdrop when food is placed on it." To make the mostly reclaimed-wood tables, the designer worked with a local charity, the Spitalfields Crypt Trust,  that offers training in skills like woodworking to people in recovery or facing homelessness. "The tables are more industrial, especially with their aluminum barstools," Brownlie-Marshall adds, "and are a contrast to the opposite booths."

The long booths, furnished in matte black faux leather, sport buttoning inspired by English chesterfield style and are paired with doll wood side chairs. Backed by the warm gray of the wall, a hanging line of individually designed ceramic plates adds a feeling of warmth and tradition.

"An element I instantly thought about for the traditional Asian style was their beautiful ceramics, such as their willow pattern plates in blue and white," says Brownlie-Marshall. "These are often used in an almost ornamental way, being displayed on walls, so I wanted to do a more contemporary take on these in SAMA." Brownlie-Marshall hand designed the plates, each with an abstract style that uses the rice grains from the restaurant's logo. Placed in a regimented fashion, the plates add a splash of brand color and add to the space's runway feel.

"The best moment of any project for me is when I return a few months after opening," says Brownlie-Marshall. "I can see the space being used as it is meant to-the backdrop to someone's meal or conversation. It's a truly rewarding experience to see others enjoying a space you've created."