Calgary taqueria Native Tongues reinvigorates the shabby-chic trend.

When Cody Willis, Kelly Black and Jayme MacFayden opened Native Tongues taqueria last fall, their dream was to recreate the charm and authenticity of the casual taco joints they loved to visit in Mexico. So they issued designer Amanda Hamilton an interesting challenge. “The goal was to make this look like a hole in the wall,” she laughs.

To bring the rustic cantina look to downtown Calgary, Hamilton and her team focused on “thoughtful disharmony.” The back wall got a custom paint treatment that mimics worn-down layers of plaster (a casual-looking finish that actually had to be done three times to get it just right), and paintings were hung helter-skelter. Raw, chemically treated wood was fashioned into a banquette, while imported Mexican tiles in the kitchen and servery were chosen for their varied, unstandardized sizes, making for an intentionally off-kilter installation.

The secret to that perfectly imperfect look? “There has to be a balance,” says Hamilton. “The finishing has to be thoughtful.” So among the rescued pieces (like the metal cornice over the bar) and worn finishes, there are also elements that keep the space on the chic side of shabby chic. The lab stools that line the counter are brand new (though their cork seats are intended to weather and patina over time), and reclaimed work benches have been turned into tables with new, sturdy steel bases. “It’s the little elements that tie things together,” says Hamilton.

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