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Studio Series Design crafts a unique dining experience on Vancouver Island, merging Pacific Northwest scenery with European elegance.
Vancouver’s Gastown neighbourhood has a historic, buzzy, urban vibe—it feels worlds away from the quiet, coastal Nanoose Bay community just north of Nanaimo.
But Eli and Kaitlyn Brennan were determined to bring the spirit of their Vancouver restaurant, the Water St. Cafe, to their new eatery on the Island, and so they passed on that mandate to the team at Vancouver-based Studio Series Design. The goal for the Nanoose Bay Cafe was to bring together “Pacific Northwest coastal beauty and peacefulness” with “the timelessness and glamour of a European bistro,” explains studio principal Sherry Haddow.
To give the Nanoose Bay Cafe a sense of belonging, Haddow and her team turned to one of the region’s old-timey icons: the tall schooner ship. The curved silhouette of the stunning walnut bar was inspired by the sails of a ship returning home, and the material itself mimics the water. “There’s gorgeous movement and tonal range within that wood species,” says Haddow. A more literal reference to the restaurant’s seaside location hangs from the ceiling (the secondhand custom wooden skiff is from a local maker). Two shades of green—one a deep forest hue, the other a lighter bottle green—come from the two sides of a magnolia leaf. The former blankets the fine dining side of the restaurant; the latter brightens up the coffee shop side of the space.
The European bistro influence comes through in brass details, patinated mirrors and traditional millwork (hello, wainscoting). “It’s handcrafted, locally sourced and feels like it’s always been in the bay, just polished up to shine again,” says Haddow. A built-in stage is set for live music (something the Vancouver restaurant is known for) and felt acoustic panels disguised to look like walnut pergola tops help optimize the sound. The space is a mindful design triumph that’s worthy of celebration—which is exactly what the owners did. “All of us were literally dancing around with joy over the gorgeous outcome when we were finished,” Haddow says with a laugh.
This story was originally published in the November/December 2023 issue of Western Living magazine.
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