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Restaurant Design Tips with Leading Restauranteur Kate Calder

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When it comes to eye-popping, gorgeous, thoughtful restaurant design, Kate Calder’s two Melbourne restaurants, Coda & Tonka, are right up there.

Coda and Tonka both exude that relaxed, casual feel synonymous with Melbourne’s laneways, but they are then jazzed up with style galore…modern, mesh-infused light fittings, earthy tones and minimal décor, with the pops of colour arriving mostly via the cocktails and amazingly-presented dishes.

As their restaurant POS provider, Impos were fortunate enough to grab a few minutes of Kate’s time to ask her some questions about restaurant design, past renovations and hospitality design inspirations. Here’s what she had to say…

How important is design in hospitality?

For me dining is a sensory experience, so if you can consider engaging as many senses as possible in its design, you are more likely to produce a great restaurant.

My favourite dining experiences have always been very simple. For example, I will never forget eating fish cooked on charcoal in the sand at a beach shack in Hoi An. Unfortunately, I cannot provide that and given that the competition in Melbourne is so strong, I choose to place importance in pimping our laneway spaces to give people a little city oasis.

Talk us through the last renovation in one of your restaurants. Did you use a designer?

The only time we renovated was a few years ago at Coda. I was worried it was starting to date so I asked a designer to come and make some upgrades. By the time we replaced the bar stools, painted the venue, sanded the floors and stained the tables, we were over budget.

The poor designer’s creative side never really got a look in. The original design is still in place and almost nothing has changed. At the moment, it is my favourite space. I think the guys from Projects of Imagination are extraordinary given they built that restaurant on such a small budget and in the middle of a recession.

tonka restaurant Melbourne banquet meal

How often do you think about your restaurant design? Is it constantly on your mind or do you take more of an ad hoc approach?

I think about design all of the time and I am constantly thinking of restaurant aesthetics.  I am so visual I just love anything design, art, craft, graphic or ceramic.

I used to carry around a pantone colour file so if I saw a great colour on a building I could match it and write down the paint name…how sad! Now I have a baby, so there is no room in my bag for my pantone colours but I still stop all of the time to take photos.

Have you had to make adjustments to make your restaurant more functional?

Yes, we are constantly adjusting spaces to make them more functional. This happens due to mistakes we (I) made during the design phase; also, these alterations are necessary as the business changes.

For example, we recently needed to redesign an old space to allow for the arrival of a new system, a machine that carbonates and filters tap water; this technology did not exist when we opened.

Where do you get your décor inspiration from?

I find inspiration everywhere. I love art so I can always find inspiration in a gallery, design markets, laneways, food markets and I love the botanical gardens.

I keep a scrapbook on the go and will add bits of fabric, a colours swatch and images. For each of our restaurants I have a scrapbook that I used throughout the design process. These books are predominately made up of clippings from old magazines so that I do not get influenced by trends.

tonka Melbourne modern Indian plate

Can I think of any restaurants with amazing designs?

I love Gazi and the Press Club, I think the work that March Studio do is exceptional, and I just love the confidence of their designs. Gazi is such a playful space; its design is in perfect harmony with the food and restaurant concept.

Author Bio


Kate Calder is a Melbourne restaurateur. Her rapidly expanding restaurant portfolio features Coda, Tonka & her most recent establishment called Ôter, a contemporary French restaurant. Together, these three stylish Melbourne establishments give Kate the opportunity to work with two of her biggest passions in life: design and hospitality.

If you love design as much as Kate, check out our recent blog posts about bar design advice and bar design inspiration, featuring exclusive interviews from well-known Australian bars Bulletin Place & The Beaufort.