A new Bar for Thandi’s: Introducing the Santara – a before & after makeover

Last year in November 2012, Holly Singh, owner of Thandi’s Restaurant, visited TUCK STUDIO.  She had come to pick up placemats for her restaurant.  After purchasing some beautiful Dahlia placemats from Chilewich, she casually said on her way out the door, “I’m wondering if you’d come look at our bar at Thandi’s and give me some thoughts on a new design”.

The rest as they say is ‘history’.


Holly and Ken Singh have invested a lot of time and effort into updating their restauruant over the last few years.  However, the bar was the one area that hadn’t been updated since they bought the building. Here are some photos of the “before” bar:


Photo – Judith Mackin: Before Bar

As you can see it was pretty dated and dark. The overhead cabinets especially made the space feel cramped and closed in. In addition, the myriad bottles made the space look cluttered, and what space there was wasn’t being used to its full capacity.  The counter was too high; it made for slightly awkward seating for customers.


Photo: Judith Mackin: What a large TV!

In this before pic you can see how the TV dominated the space, a source of distraction for people eating in the restaurant.  The slight step up reduced the seating capacity on the street end of the bar.


Photo: Judith Mackin There’s nowhere for the eye to rest.

Holly and Ken identified three major outcomes for the new design:


1.  To keep the size of the bar but to make it feel bigger and more open, and also lower the height of the countertop.

2.  Holly (along with many customers) wanted to get rid of the TV.  (Ken not so much!)

3.  A clean, modern design to welcome guests as they entered their restaurant.


In coming up with a design, we try to keep several important questions in mind:

1.  What can we salvage from the existing space to save the client money?

2.  What can we bring to the design that will not only increase the beauty of the space but will increase its revenue potential too?

3.  How can we bring industrial design elements to the space, along with meaningful design objects (i.e., not those on constant offer at big box stores).


The first thing we did was look at the layout of the existing bar and the restaurant and try to establish how we could ‘expand’ the bar without changing the actual infrastructure.
The central island that runs down the centre of the main floor dining room was something of an orphan. Its height associated with the bar, but there were no obvious features that invited patrons to sit and enjoy a drink!  In addition, there was an abundance of orange stools which were in perfectly good shape and they’d be costly to replace.   So, although orange is a colour I rarely use in design, I decided to use it as my springboard to give this bar a new life.

The Team:

Once Holly and Ken had approved my design , I put the team together.  I approached my long time collaborator and excellent cabinet maker Christoph at CM Woodcraft to build the bar.  I then approached Gillian Goldie, a graphic designer and another long-time collaborator of mine, to take my hen scratchings on paper napkins and create the logo and design elements I wanted throughout the bar. I then reached out to Eurolite to order some very special lights by Spanish Designer, Arturo Alvarez.


Thandi has established itself in the city and region as a premier food destination.   But I wondered if we could create a bar within the restaurant that would have its own identity.  Perhaps a bar that could offer something on its own that, while catering to the existing customers, could draw in another crowd.

All good brands tell a story and it seemed to me that this new bar needed to tell its own story.  Ken Singh is from Punjab and is a driving force behind the restaurant that he and Holly run together.  Keeping in mind my determination to tie the ‘Orange’ theme into the name of the bar, we hit upon the name SANTARA, which is Punjabi for ‘orange’.



Gillian took the logo and then adapted it for business cards, social media icons (by the by, follow The Santara on twitter here, and on Facebook here),  a new bar menu and some interior signage that highlighted the upside down “A” that references a glass.


Image by Sean McGrath (http://www.seanmcgrath.ca).

Photo: Sean McGrath
We removed the copper installation/lights over the long central island and replaced it with the Nevo and IKI (silicone) orange lights by Arturo Alvarez to match the single IKI silicone light over the bar. By giving both these spaces the same lighting it brings the central island into one cohesive space.

You’ll also note we added Zebrano and Maple panels to the sides of the communal area to create visual continuity from central island to the bar. (Note: the countertop on the central island remain from the previous design).  Removing all the old upper cabinets, lowering the height of the bar and editing out all the liquor bottles, the space – with its modern bamboo, zebrano and maple woods — lends the bar a warm, modern aesthetic.

entrance after Santara
Photo: Sean McGrath
Remember the large TV and the curved step and platform in this space? We removed the TV and the raised platform and replaced it with signage and a small curved side bar to go along with the new large bar. We added two solid oak MU Stools, designed by Peter Cardew (TUCK STUDIO) to complement the existing bamboo bar tops.

Image by Sean McGrath (http://www.seanmcgrath.ca).
Photo: Sean McGrath
Wine and draft are Thandi’s most popular spirits at the restaurant. I suggested to Holly that we curate the back wall to feature wine bottles rather than the clutter associated with dozens of assorted bottles of hard liquor that were rarely used. We also moved the draft taps to the back of the bar so that it didn’t visually interfere with the new clean bamboo bar top.
appetizer collage
Photos: Sean McGrath
You’ll note in the 1 1/2″ Bamboo Counter top there are three natural maple boards inserts. My idea was that the Santara would have a specific menu for the bar only and when the order is delivered to the bar these would slide out and the new one from the kitchen would slide in. This creates a unique medium or venue for sharing food and will hopefully increase revenues at the bar via a new menu.

collage of Santara
Photos: Sean McGrath
In this collage you can get a sense of the materials, lights and decor objects within the bar. Top left (then clockwise): 1. The gold pig is our thank you gift that we give to design clients (bank in the form of a pig, Harry Allen) – the pig comes from our punch insidelogo 2. A cold glass of Picaroons about to go down nicely with Calamari on the new Appetizer boards 3. Fresh Oranges sit in copper bowls by Tom Dixon 4. A live edge piece from Maurice Gamblin 5. ‘NEVO’ silicone light by Arturo Alvarez 6 and 7. Behind the plexiglass is the Santara pattern acting as a backdrop to wooden houses and wine bottles. 8. More nut bowls by Tom Dixon 9. The single IKI silicone light by Arturo Alvarez anchors the bar. (All decor objects and lights from TUCK STUDIO; except for the Live Edge piece – HANDWORKS.)

We wish to thank Holly and Ken Singh for the wonderful opportunity to work with them on this new design project. No design happens without the vision, trust and financial commitment of clients like these and they were an absolute joy to work with.
An enormous thank you to Sean McGrath for all his photography for the Santara ‘after’ shots.  You can view them all below.

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