Kermadec — 
A coherent design story

Architecture, graphics and uniform design are interwoven to create a rich layering of Pacific imagery. 

New Zealand’s strengthening Pacific identity generated the design philosophy behind one of the country’s newest and most ambitious restaurants, Kermadec, in Auckland’s waterfront Viaduct Quay development. Every aspect of the design, from the highly detailed interior to menu covers, waiters’ uniforms and the publicity material which launched the harbourside eatery, reinforces the Pacific theme. Architecture, graphics and uniform design are interwoven to create a rich layering of images and coherent design story.

The detail of the design is, in fact, the most absorbing aspect. Though the restaurant is impressive in scale, it is its handcrafted quality which engages diners’ imagination. Through three separate dining areas, two bars and two private Japanese-style tatami rooms, they are led on a voyage which stimulates all the senses.

Brand strategist Brian Richards was integral to the development of the design philosophy behind Kermadec. As well as coming up with the name – from the Kermadec Trench – Richards created a marketing strategy which the design followed closely in every aspect. The Pacific, with its deep, pollution-free waters and remoteness from larger nations, provided the foundation for the Kermadec brand “story” and the springboard for each design element.

Three executives of Simunovich Fisheries, a leading exporter of fresh fish to Japan, form the partnership behind the Kermadec. Architect Noel Lane attributes the scale of the project to their enthusiasm for a collaborative design effort between him, a large group of artists and craftspeople, graphic design company Peter Haythornthwaite Design and fashion designer Marty Samuels.

Lane regards his input as a “celebration” of the Pacific, rather than an “holistic expression” of that region. He involved painters, sculptors and weavers in the design of artworks which are integral to the fabric of each space. The architecture serves as a canvas for those elements which differentiate brasseries and more formal dining areas, night-time bars and “wet” and “dry” tatami rooms. Lane was aware that a restaurant of this size needed to include a range of environments, with a layering of detail.

Artists such as Gavin Chilcott and Ralph Paine, Elizabeth Thomson, Robert Jahnke, John Pule and a Niuean woman’s weaving group made artworks which enrich the Pacific imagery and ocean theme while creating a variety of dining experiences. Different aspects of the design reveal themselves during the course of a meal, and there is always something new for the eye to seek out.

The tactile quality of the interior design, with its lashed ropes, sandblasted glass walls, sandstone and fossilised marble, continues in the graphics which were developed by Peter Haythornthwaite Design. Restaurant signage is patinated brass and an experimental process was used to print menu covers, in a total of nine variations.

Although time-consuming – a week’s drying time was required for each side printed – the process was relatively inexpensive, so that menus can be disposed of when dirty or damaged. Strathmore card with a natural “tooth” or “texture” was chosen over more conventional shiny, durable paper stocks. “The entire restaurant operates on a tactile quality,” says designer Peter Roband. Other graphic elements developed by Peter Haythornthwaite Design include tableware, printed with the Kermadec signature of two entwined fish, hand-bound bill holders and reservations books, coasters, souvenir matchboxes and administrative stationery.

Uniforms for the waiting staff were designed by Marty Samuels, a qualified architect turned fashion designer who won last year’s Benson & Hedges Supreme Fashion Design Award. Samuels developed two versions of the uniform, using shearer’s denim to create a utilitarian look. “I wanted it to look like a worker’s uniform,” he says. In the brasserie, female staff wear a two-tone blue uniform of a knee-length sarong skirt and T-shirt. Male staff wear the same T-shirt, and loose-fitting trousers with a short matching apron. In the more formal dining areas, male and female staff have matching uniforms of trousers and a simple button-through jacket with a Nero collar.

A collaboration of this scale between artists, designers and craftspeople requires a progressive approach. Underscoring their efforts is an holistic design philosophy which embraces individuality and celebrates difference.