A Unique Gem on The Lisburn Road

28th February 2014

The Wing of a Roller... I was introduced to a very old, yet special painting by someone close to me. When first seeing this painting you would imagine something dominant, grand and opulent, but upon taking a closer look, you see it is all about the detail of something elegant, refined and really quite unique.

A Unique Gem on The Lisburn Road

The colour palette and intensity of tone drew me to this wonderful piece and ultimately gave me the inspiration for the core and foundation of what is now known as SAPHYRE fine dining restaurant. When approaching the design of Saphyre, for me it was all about the fusion of design and culture around the world. From the beginning it was my desire to create something beautiful in style… inclusive of world culture. From the morish influences of North Africa, to the Middle and Far Eastern approach of the soul, it was essential to showcase the eclectic periods of history capturing the elegance and glamour from capital cities such as Paris and London.

A Unique Gem on The Lisburn Road

I wanted the restaurant to be a unique experience for the discerning diner with every detail considered. From the refinement of the dining chairs, to the bone china on the table; from the ambient lighting, to the experience in the bathroom; every element of this restaurant has been created with a bespoke nature.

As a new build element to the converted design studio, formerly the Ulsterville Presbyterian Church, the task was to marry the two buildings to complement one another and read as a complete experience rather than contrast old with new.

The architectural team at Kris Turnbull had two exciting projects in one. The aim, to have cutting edge technology and design with a period and classical yet contemporary feel... I hear you say, that's not an easy one, but in my head I was sure about the vision I wanted to create! My travels and influences from around the world gave me the conviction and confidence in my concept. In design development I feel there is a point where scale and proportion are perfect. As people we are always trying to push boundaries, bigger, better, more and more.

However, I was quite sure I wanted to find balance, and for me it's about knowing when to stop!

With this building being so eclectic in both style and form, it encouraged me to accentuate the concept of different and intimate areas within the dining room.

To give a real sense of space and elegance, I created vaulted ceilings. These were finished with metallic and reflective qualities to increase the floor to ceiling heights. The traditional technique of gilding was used with a slight contemporary twist layering the gold on a trellis format giving the detail movement.

Personally I have a love-hate relationship with natural light. Too much, you lose all the atmosphere, and with none at all, you lose the client! The building is surrounded so how to create this feeling of light was something that had to develop in the concept. I decided by compromising a little on interior seating, I could introduce a small Parisian style enclosed courtyard. The back elevation of the courtyard would face into the restaurant, so the materials selected would be crucial. A monotone approach with the hard materials in the space would definitely make it feel larger, reflecting light into the restaurant and not confusing the diner from inside. Five slabs of 3m x 1.5m Carrara set my backdrop for the 7m water feature. Subtle, but most beautiful in the evenings when light cascades up the elevation.

A Unique Gem on The Lisburn Road
The combination of design and commercial approach is not an easy one to get right when considering a commercial project such as Saphyre. With the majority of tables being round and each area of the dining space having its own character and intimate feel, the options of layout and usability of space was critical for the commercial success of the restaurant. Designed to be flexible in approach, the bespoke finishes and Elan lighting system that has been integrated as part of the design allows the restaurant to translate from a casual and relaxed lunch, to afternoon tea through to evening dining with ease. From an intimate private dining experience, or simply an elegant evening for smaller groups of twos, fours, sixes and so on… or to host the most wonderful private party, as the day grows so does the atmosphere and the lighting temperature is reflected appropriately for the moment.

As a designer, I like to throw in a surprise just to keep people guessing. When dining at Saphyre, you must experience the bathrooms. Together with Cavalli Italy I created boutique, sexy, alternative... I say no more but they are special!

The European styling doesn't stop here. In 2013 I partnered with Hermes Paris, working as their exclusive representation for fabrics. This has been a wonderful relationship and Saphyre was the perfect place to showcase Hermes textiles. Empire, eastern and tropical styling is the theme and core of the signature Hermes fabric made from the finest silk and cotton in Italy. A combination of Hermes, Dedar and Rubelli are showcased on the upholsteries and curtains in Saphyre, truely wonderful and unique for Ireland!

Saphyre wasn't just about the visual impact. Comfort and a relaxed atmosphere were critical to the success of this design work. To create a restaurant that was inviting and relaxed was essential. My team and I designed and developed our own dining chairs to create the ultimate in comfort, taking the architectural influence of the Art Deco period and translating this style into furniture.

This commercial interior project has been a journey close to my heart, full of drive and passion. Just like the wing of a blue roller with all its curiosity and depth, we will see what 2014 will bring!

by Ulster Tatler Interiors

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