22 Apr 2024
Case Study: A Haven of Hospitality and Design in Wellington

A space that invites diners to linger, savoring not only the flavors of the Middle East but also the ambiance of authenticity and warmth.

In the heart of Cuba Street, Wellington’s vibrant cultural hub, lies a culinary gem that delights with the essence of Middle Eastern hospitality. Kisa, once a modest pop-up venture, has now found its permanent abode in the heritage listed building, earning Wonder Group a Silver Pin for Spatial – Hospitality at the 2023 Best Awards.

Buster Caldwell, Wonder Group’s Creative Director, reminisces about his first encounter with the site during his days as an industrial design student at Massey University. It was a space that had undergone various incarnations, from a comedy bar to a pop-up thrift market, adorned with moth-eaten curtains and an eclectic mix of textures. “A proper dive bar, in the most honest sense” says Caldwell.

Driven by the building owner’s commitment to revitalize the space, and spurred from earthquake strengthening requirements, the building underwent extensive renovation and restoration. Wonder Group was entrusted with delivering the interior concept for Kisa, presented with a completely gutted space with concrete block walls. The challenge lay in reimagining the layout to distance it from the shadows of its past.

The boldest design leap was reimagining the footprint as a horseshoe that sits inside the interior, making full use of the street frontage, and allowing seating to encircle the perimeter.

However, executing this vision posed its own hurdles. How does one seamlessly integrate seating around a curved glass frontage while preserving the vibrant energy of Cuba Street? How do you craft an ambiance that shields diners from the outside hustle and bustle while preserving its essence?

“We made the decision early on to turn all seating to face into the action center of the restaurant, with the kitchen and bar as the centerpiece where every seat can be part of that experience,” explains Caldwell “Every customer had the best seat in the house, either into the kitchen or out onto Cuba Street, without any level of ‘dud’ table.”

At the heart of Kisa’s ambiance lies its meticulously crafted furniture. From the banquette seating to the bespoke table tops, every element was thoughtfully curated to enhance the dining experience. The banquette seating, in particular, underwent a complex and collaborative process between Wonder Group, Harrows, and the client, resulting in a design that seamlessly merged form and function.

The brief required furniture that not only provided ample support and comfort but also exuded a sense of visual lightness and transparency. It needed to wrap the perimeter, offering a superior level of comfort and shelter for the diner, without obscuring the activity of Cuba Street. The result was an adaption of the Harrows freestanding Share Banquette, a design that felt both substantial and inviting, drawing guests to linger and savor every moment.

Tim Suckling of Harrows reflects, “We are honoured to have played a part in Kisa’s story. Our banquette seating has become an integral part of the restaurant’s identity, inviting diners to gather, connect, and create lasting memories.”

Drawing inspiration from Middle Eastern influences, while avoiding clichés, the design exudes authenticity and warmth. In selecting materials, Wonder Group was mindful of the need for durability and longevity. They opted for tobacco-stained timber, a nod to the building’s industrial past, and carefully curated every detail to ensure consistency and cohesiveness throughout the space. Their goal was to create a sense of timelessness, where the furniture would age gracefully alongside the building itself.

The result? A space that invites diners to linger, savoring not only the flavors of the Middle East but also the ambiance of authenticity and warmth. As guests gather around the horseshoe-shaped seating, basking in the glow of the terrazzo-clad façade and the aroma of sizzling grills, they become part of a story—a story of resurrection and renewal, of tradition and innovation, and, of course, of comfortable seating.

Discover more about the Kisa project.
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