The +tongtong architecture studio recently completed Barsa Taberna, a Spanish-inspired tapas restaurant with an exquisitely Mediterranean feel in downtown Toronto.
Both the client and the designer John Tong have spent a considerable amount of time in Barcelona and shared the excitement of capturing that vibrancy and energy in the creation of Barsa.
Located in a historical building just around the corner from the world-famous St. Lawrence Market, the 3,000-square-foot site was dingy with low ceilings, and was so dark the only way to explore the space was by flashlight. In fact, part of the space is under the sidewalk.
The interior design project had to deal with the limits of this historic building, which is consequently protected by specific building restrictions. These restrictions, however, allowed a project to be developed in which the narrow spaces, exposed brick walls and the original windows and doors were enhanced and elegantly to become part of the actual design project.
Designing within these parameters, +tongtong transformed the derelict space by injecting animation while maintaining the site’s historical integrity. The result is a sleek, edgy interior that balances freeform expression and modernist architectural language.
The Barsa Taberna restaurant covers two distinct areas: a bar and an eatery.
The bar area is defined by a swirling, vibrant blue graphic floor pattern, a design that was extrapolated from the Gaudí-influenced tile in the main dining room. The vinyl stencil, designed by +tongtong , was laid down on the new concrete floors, and then coated with epoxy paint. The design runs up the sides of the kitchen walls and the bar, which integrates a blown-up version of the same pattern.
Enclosing the two-tone Corian bar are custom-designed stools made of salvaged, old-growth pine with an oblique powdered coated steel frame. With tops resembling worn butcher blocks and carved-out handles that riff on the forms of old wine crates, the stools are a nod to the ingenuity featured in traditional tapas eateries, where seats are fashioned out of old wine barrels, wooden crates, or whatever is available. The atmosphere is assured by three custom-designed LED lights embedded in an iron structure with external elements that ironically resemble bull horns.
On the other side of the bar area, the red dining chairs by Magis encase custom-designed tables that feature a laminate top with a wooden edge. The red chairs here create a sharp contrast to the asymmetrical bar stools. Above the banquet seating is a glass wall made of 1,500 coloured wine bottles which recreates the same geometric pattern of the floor.
The archway in the exposed brick wall divides the bar area from the dining area: the dining area has low ceilings, wooden benches and no windows. In order to exploit the spaces to the full, lighting is provided by a large back-lit murales which is also inspired by the bull fights, and was designed jointly by John Tong and well-known artist Pascal Paquette.
The main design element in this area is the flooring, enhanced by decorated porcelain tiles inspired to antique majolicas, designed by Studio FM Milan and produced by Ceramiche Refin. The Frame porcelain tiles collection is the perfect trait d’union between the antique walls and the expressive power of the back-lit murales.
The entire project blends in perfectly well with the revaluation project of the entire Market district and is a successful example of how the typical atmospheres of the antique Mediterranean hamlets can be recreated in a freezing cold city such as Toronto.