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Union restaurant, Basel, Switzerland
With lots of copper in this large restaurant space – in the lighting, walls and surfaces – the designer has created a warm and inviting ambience
Client: Jérome Beurret and Stefan Grieder Co
Design: Aurélie Blanchard
Size:200 sq m
Completion time: 3 months
For the three months she spent designing and overseeing the fit-out of the Union restaurant in Basel, Switzerland, local architect Aurélie Blanchard says she became obsessed with copper. The material covers almost every surface of the restaurant's bar-room; copper lights by British designer Tom Dixon - including his famous Copper Pendant Light - hang from the ceiling or are mounted on copper-lined walls; and there are even copper vases on the tables, which Blanchard collected from flea markets around the world.
Surprisingly, though, copper was not the starting point for this project. Instead Blanchard, who recently set up her own practice after five years with Herzog & de Meuron, took her inspiration from a shade of green traditionally used to paint the front doors of Basel's houses.
'First came the idea of painting the restaurant room in a very dark, matt green,' says Blanchard. 'It makes the large room feel cosier and refers to the traditional colour of Basel's front doors. Then I wanted a strong contrast for the bar space so I looked for something warm and glowing. Copper came quickly to mind.
'I guess that what I love about copper is that it's both industrial and a precious material and it ages in a very interesting way: the years will give it a changing look.'
But as designer Christopher Jenner found out when he designed a copper-clad bar for Dutch vodka brand Ketel One in London, working with copper isn't easy and requires specialist skills. Blanchard agrees: 'It was the biggest challenge of the project to find someone that would work with copper on the walls. None of the people we approached had done it before and they were asking for crazy fees. I was depressed, but then I found this young and talented metal worker, Peter Betschart, who was ready to try, and he did a fantastic job. It would never have happened without him.'
Timber also plays a starring role in this scheme, particularly dark walnut, which has been used to make standing-height tables and a large central table for the restaurant. These have then been covered in copper sheeting and have chamfered edges. The same dark walnut is also used to board the floor.
The dining tables - practically the only readymade furniture in the whole scheme - came from Van Rossum Design, but Blanchard asked that they be made longer than the standard model in order to fit the large scale of the restaurant.
Blanchard says the success of this scheme is in the way it makes people feel comfortable. 'The light is flattering and the atmosphere is intimate, despite it being a very large restaurant,' she says. 'Even with 90 customers the space keeps its cosiness. It is a big danger in sophisticated interiors that people will feel uncomfortable, so I'm very happy when people tell me that they feel very at home with the atmosphere.'
This article was first published in fx Magazine.
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