[Designers on Design, Part I]: For the WeChat Generation, The Nest

Yea, yea, yea, the food's gotta taste good, the service has to be sparkling, the prices have to be cheaper than Carl's Jr and its got to work for both a first date and a business meeting. But too often, what we miss out when talking about restaurants and bars is the interior design — how it came to be and what it's trying to say. In this series, CreativeHunt speaks to the designers who build things nice enough to eat in.


I'm not an interior designer.

So I started making some calls to Shanghai's small community of designers and informally polling them about places they liked, strictly for the design, trying to take the pulse of design in Shanghai. And then I tracked down the agency responsible for that design, and talked to them about how it came to be. By the designers, for the designers, so to speak.

What emerged were different themes, each unique to the project's brief or its physical space or the rising power of the female restaurant-goer, increasingly the ne plus ultra of Shanghai diners. What follows in this ongoing series is a look at what Shanghai's interior designers and branding agencies do and how — the problems they encounter; the goals they try to achieve; and the ideas they try to present.

First up, game-changing food-plus-cocktails venue The Nest.


The Nest: Brand Sponsorship Vs. Design Integrity

Andy Hall, MQ studio

Andy Hall is the founder of MQ studio, whose other projects and clients include The Cannery, el Coctel, el Willy on The Bund, Nike and many more. When we spoke about The Nest, the main theme that he wanted to talk about was the tension between brand sponsorship and design integrity:

Hall: For most F&B projects, being sponsored by brands is the death of the interior design. With The Nest it was Grey Goose. Grey Goose has a lot of bars around the world but they haven't been so successful, and I think that's because they are blue. You go in and you are under this blue light and you look… pasty. So we had to re-think the brand strategy, and not have it be driven by the brand.


What I wanted to do originally was a completely thatched building, like a real nest, right, but there was no way that was going to get past the fire inspectors. So we started looking at all these other materials, really cheap materials, rattan, and woven fibers, and floor mats, and then we figured out a way to weave these sisall panels, which are a really cheap material, and then hang those in frames and give them this kind of dim lighting. I think part of The Nest’s success is that in selfies, people instantly recognize that it’s The Nest. In this WeChat generation, recognition goes a long way.

Mark Klingspon, GM, spectacles

I asked Hall if the direction of the food and design were coordinated, both being Scandinavian: 

Hall: Mark Klingspon, (the General Manager) was coming up with this Scandinavian concept for the F&B, sort of the vodka-drinking countries, even if Grey Goose is French, but no, we never really had a conversation about it. I don’t know if it was conscious or subconscious but then the style of furniture came out to be this mid 20th century Danish… you could call it a lucky marriage.

Hall talking challenges:

Hall: When I first heard about the idea, I thought it’s not a great location — a couple blocks off The Bund, and I never go to The Bund. It’s the last place I want to hang out.

Then scale. Seven hundred, eight hundred square meters. Scale is a big issue, how to use the space. I mean, it’s a Big Ass Rectangle — how do you break a Big Ass Rectangle into a cozier rectangle, so that if I arrive at 6pm, I still feel comfortable being the first one there?

There were some different opinions about making it cozy because the owners – The Muse Group – they come from a club background, and they were like, take out the walls, people want to be seen. I’m like, put more walls in, people want to feel cozy! In the end, I think they’ve taken out a couple walls. Was I right? Were they right? I don’t know. Nest is doing pretty well. Maybe they were right.

On the relationship between interior design and operations:

Hall: I create the environment where Mark can do his spectacle. I think what Mark has been so good at is giving people an owner-experience at scale. So before, you had restaurants where the owner would come – Willy – but they were small. Mark has this way where, he’ll be walking through the place in gum boots on a skateboard and it just makes everyone feel comfortable.


Check back on CreativeHunt.com next week as we talk to the talented minds behind venues like Glam, Pelikan, Saigon Mama, Jean George, and more.