"The Cat's Whiskers"

Design Anthology Feature

It takes some flair to pull off a sensual, cosy space in a cavernous glass-fronted new high-rise, but Franky Rousell, founder of interior design firm Jolie, has acheived this with a new Manchester bar and restaurant, Kitten. The venue, part of new city centre Deansgate Square development, serves up Japenese food and drink, izakaya style- think small plates and cocktails that keep on flowing. Venetian plaster walls, soft terracotta floor tiles and subtly veined sandy marble create an earthy, grounding feel, while a sophisticated lighting scheme gives the venue a warm glow at night that invites you to step off the street and sip a lychee and sake martini at the bar.
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There are three main areas: the entrance, where Rousell says that she wants people "to feel an immediate sense of impressiveness, without feeling intimidated", partly thanks to the sight-lines that allow diners to see all the way into the rest of the room; a restaurant and bar dominated by a long marble-fronted bar, where "the wizardry, the drama and the innovation" of the cooking and cocktail-making is on show: and a cosier dining space that can be partitioned off for private events. Each area sets the mood with elements such as lighting, materials and music levels- the bar is louder, somewhere you want to be on show, raise your voice and feel part of the buzz, while 1970's-inspired low banquettes encourage intimacy, for example.

Jolie's focus is on sensory-led design. Six years ago, when Rousell founded the studio, she says the interiors she was seeing "were incredibly aesthetically driven, without anyone thinking about how it feels to step into those spaces. I wanted to set up a research-based practice that really understood what makes a human decide how they feel in a space. With Kitten, we really had the opportunity to curate and design in a subliminal way things like how long we wanted people to stay in certain zones."

Rousell says she didn't want to give too many nods to Japanese design (although there is a soaring wall of chunky bamboo as well as a giant cloud-pruned faux-tree), partly out of longevity considerations - hospitality spaces may need to flex every few years if the food concept changes. This desire for sustainability is reflected in the individual products specified, too, from the wall coverings that use water-based inks to the solid-surface bar top that incorporates waste materials: "We're not going to promote a culture of ripping it out and redoing it in five years' time," says Rousell.

Written by Emily Brooks

written by
Franky Rousell

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