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How to design a bar

Designer Michael Goodman has a decade of restaurant operational experience that helps him produce emotional, compelling spaces.

No idea exists in a vacuum, especially not in the hospitality industry, where the success of a business depends on how much people can relate to it. Respecting a space’s surroundings and history is one way to do that – and it’s something Michael Goodman, managing director of EDG Design knows all too well. His firm is responsible for the look of Barbary Coast – a dual concept bar spread over two storeys of a historic Boat Quay shophouse. While inspired by the bars of San Francisco during the 1800s Gold Rush, most of its design cues come from elements found in Boat Quay’s trading district history. Understanding design, however, is just half the story. Goodman’s time as a restaurant owner and executive chef at Kevin Costner’s restaurant Epiphany in Santa Barbara, and the Amandari in Bali, place him in the perfect position to design with every stakeholder – guests to chefs – in mind.

Michael Goodman

Image Credit – Owen Raggett

How does experience in restaurant operations help with your design process?

Spending 13 years living the restaurant life every day becomes ingrained in a person. It’s not just about the chef’s needs, but more about every little detail of the restaurant as well. It needs to look great and operate well – not just for chefs, but for servers, bartenders and the guests, too.

What does good design mean to you?

It shouldn’t be just about what looks good. It should mean something to both the staff and the guests who use the space while adding value to their lives and creating emotional connections. We don’t design to make something beautiful; we intend to give the work a soul.

What are your sources of inspiration?

I get my inspiration from everywhere. I listen to the people I meet and try to understand what they might want, even if it’s something they haven’t thought of yet. It can be something I encounter during my travels, from the best restaurant in a city to something as simple as a taco stand in South Beach, Miami, which was one of the inspirations for Fat Prince here in Singapore. It can also just be seeing great restaurateurs and other designers express themselves in their work. That’s often the most inspiring due to the [high] levels of their passion.

Michael Goodman Restaurant

What are some of the biggest trends in hospitality?

If I could choose a new trend, it would be to not bother with them any more. I believe that following trends impedes the creative process. It stops us from pushing ourselves to create new things that are unique to who we are. They give us a benchmark that says, “This is enough, let’s stop here.” I’d rather see a world where we push ourselves to the limit.

Has the pandemic affected your design process?

That’s a tough question. We still see the effects, and it will take another six to 18 months for all of it to shake off. For now, we’re designing according to the same process as before and then adding a layer of flexibility that ensures we’re ready for a new normal if that indeed arrives. That means that if things stay bad or get worse, venues are covered. If normalcy returns, people won’t be stuck with layouts where they are on opposite sides of the room. The long-term effect can only be determined by how long this virus lingers in our psyche. You can see it in Singapore already; restaurants are making as much revenue as they did before the Circuit Breaker period. Although other places may vary, since different countries are affected differently by the virus, people are ready to return to normal.

“I believe that following trends impedes the creative process. It stops us from pushing ourselves to create new things.”

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