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Against the grain

Vista had Keane set the scene with a relaxed interior scheme.

Bute fabric from the Tiree range cover the fixed seating in the raised booth area.
Bute fabric from the Tiree range cover the fixed seating in the raised booth area.

Vista had Keane set the scene with a relaxed interior scheme.

A rooftop location with a great view across some of Dubai's most exciting developments was the starting point for the Vista restaurant and bar.

Sitting atop the Express by Holiday Inn, on the border of Dubai's Knowledge Village and Internet City, Vista patrons can keep up with the progress on the Palm Jumeirah, spot the comings and going on the Burj al Arab's helipad and survey the Umm Suqueim scene.

Although Vista is on top of the hotel, it has its own entrance via an independent lift lobby and reception area. It also has its own distinct identity.

Paramount in the design brief was the ability of the venue to make as much as it could out of the local business and social community.

With a mix of commercial and residential developments surrounding the area, there was an opportunity for the venue to fulfil different roles by day and by night. Keane were brought in to develop the concept.

"We came up with something that provided a bit of a social hub as part of the offer, but also made the most of the view they've got," said Samantha Smith, a design manager at Keane.

"Really, the only constraint was that they wanted to be able to offer lunch and dinner, other than that they gave it over to me to create," she said.

"What we came back with is not a hotel bar/restaurant, it just happens to be on top of a hotel. We wanted to get into the casual dining market, because there are already so many fine dining options."

"It's something a bit more casual than the kind of hotel scene that the hospitality industry has grown out of. We wanted the place to be confident, but not overly fickle, we wanted it to feel as though it had just evolved into this space."

"Good-looking, casual, relaxed chill-out spaces, which also offer a good dinner, is a nice market to look into and develop in Dubai."

The first thing that Smith noticed when she entered the shell was the fabulous view. From there, her approach to tackling the space was one aimed at keeping the design natural and complementing the view, something she felt was a little bit different.

"What we've got here is going against the grain of most development in Dubai, which is all very man made," she said.

"Once that was decided on as a kind of starting point, it grew from there."

The 'quiet and organic' approach to the design works to create the casual and relaxed atmosphere that was the target of the concept. It caters to the local crowds too, whether it's a 45-minute lunch during the day, a three-course meal in the evening, or just a few drinks and appetizers.

"We wanted people to be able to use the space the way they wanted to, whether for a quick business meeting or relaxed evening," said Smith.

Fulfilling these dual roles meant the venue needed dedicated bar and dining areas, as well as intermediate spaces, for those that don't want to arrive and eat right away.

Comfortable booths take on this intermediary role, also serving as a casual dining option.

The different areas within the one space are separated and defined using sheer voiles from Skopos Fabrics, lead crystal curtains, a half-height wall and a change in floor level.

"This doesn't entirely close off the spaces, but they feel a bit more enclosed," said Smith.

"I didn't want to use tall physical closed walls - so people can still see the view - just break up the space and give people a sense of security. It's the same with the twisted willows at end of the fixed seating."

If they weren't there, people may feel exposed, but with them in place there is a sense of security, without a solid barrier. It's really just using subtle keys to section spaces off, but not in a literal way.

"Three lighting levels help you move through the day into early evening. The music tempo, through the system from Image Sound, takes into account the ambience, to create that dual identity. Lighting in the evening carves into the space without physically blocking it off."

With the view a big component of Vista's ambiance, the windows onto the venue's front terrace slide open, to bring the outdoors in. Folding doors were considered, but found to intrude too much on the interior space.

Hatches at the end of the bar ease service to the area. The mass of windows was also one of the reasons behind the selection of the voiles used to break up the interior spaces.

"We used the voiles to soften that entire side," said Smith. "[The windows] look good during the day, but as soon as the lights go on in the evening a row of nothing but black would be the death of the interior space."

Natural elements

Timber, stone and wool are the dominant materials, each one lending its own tone and texture to create the natural feel Smith wanted.

"Coming up here the first time, I remembered an image of a timber wall," she said. "I loved the idea of using different thicknesses and widths of timber and leaving the grain and colour to do the rest of work."

The colour palette has come from natural materials, starting from the pebbles and then the timber. Everything else really works in to complement that.

"Everything in here is kind of tactile - relief pebbles, texture on the fabrics - I like to design not only colour, but also how something feels."

"I absolutely adore timber. I love its properties and was very insistent on getting that timber floor. I had to fight for it because it is very difficult in Dubai to find someone to fit a timber floor."

An oak parquet floor provides an island of timber for the dining area to sit upon and is surrounded by honed stone tiles. Stone also makes an appearance on the bars, columns and on the outdoor terraces, in the form of pebbled surfaces.

The stones and pebbles were installed on mesh sheets and feature a random selection of colours, sizes and textures.

"I had to look pretty hard to find something that was not just a mosaic tile," said Smith.

"I found the product we used at the Stone Gallery in Al Quoz. I love the colours you get using natural materials for their absolute key properties."

"Obviously the material has to be a durable finish, but I'm a huge believer that if you're going to use a material, make the most of its natural properties."

The booth seating features wool fabric imported from the Isle of Bute in Scotland and offers what Smith describes as a 'comfortable contrast'.

There are a few retro touches too. Egg chairs, sourced from Fusion Interiors in China, provide seating in the bar area and fit well with the burnt oranges and powdered blues of the carpet, from Floors in Dubai, used in the raised booth area.


In seeking to include touches considered out of the ordinary because they lacked a high-gloss finish, Smith found a few challenges emerged.

"It is very difficult to communicate to the contractors that you want something that isn't highly polished," said Smith.

"This made it very important to be involved all the way through. I was down here on a daily basis at the end, making sure everything was right."

"Apart from getting the finishing right, I didn't choose anything that is absurd, it's all based on natural elements. Sourcing the right stuff just meant forcing people out of their comfort zone.

"We were on a very tight programme and wanted it all finished in ten to twelve weeks. Of course with all of those people on site, the biggest challenge is getting people to work together. Jones Sweet was the project manager and was very good at keeping everyone in the loop, especially in the closing stages."

Smith sites the central ceiling raft above the dining area as one of her favourite elements. The solid timber feature was another part of the design she had to fight to have included, persuading the fit out contractors that it wouldn't be too heavy.

The end result is a relaxed, low-gloss venue with an appearance that offers a degree of warmth and texture not often seen in the city's hospitality venues.

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