Studio Modijefsky balances hard geometric forms with soft clay-inspired contours to create The Commons at The Student Hotel Maastricht.
Sometimes it’s OK to fit the mold. Doubly so when the site is an iconic historic building being converted into a shiny new city district. When it came to carving out a fresh and youthful all-dining dining hotspot that would appeal to students within an industrial factory where ceramics were once made, Amsterdam-based interior design, architecture and branding firm Studio Modijefsky didn’t want to strip away the factory’s early-century character. Instead, the design team used furnishings in a way that architecturally defines the space, leaving the original structural elements mostly unaltered.
The Commons restaurant is situated within the steel-constructed, northeast corner of The Student Hotel Maastricht, which is housed inside the Eiffel, an industrial building in the Netherlands where Sphinx sanitary fittings were once manufactured. (Another one of that hybrid brand’s recently opened properties, The Student Hotel Florence Lavagnini, is slated to be featured in Boutique Design’s July-August edition.) Built in three stages in 1929, the 600-ft.-long brick building is locally known as a “horizontal skyscraper” because of its sprawling scale and square steel windows.
When Studio Modijefsky creative director Esther Stam first arrived to the site, the structure was bare. "The entire façade was removed and a new glass one had to be built in again later. So it was a big open space where we could just see the ceiling and the columns," she recalls.
"The building was a [historic] monument, with a lot of parties watching what we were doing. So every move was observed carefully," Stam adds. "When working with [such a high-profile] building, less can be touched, so the design works around and celebrates the original beams and steel structure that needed to be retained."
Designed to serve as both a breakfast area and an all-day bar and dining outlet, the light-filled F&B hotspot is fronted by a glass entrance adorned with a nearly 16.5-ft.-tall logo. Inside, two symmetrical staircases flank a dark steel centerpiece bar. That same steel and concrete structure is replicated on the lower level to form a cocktail bar.
All three levels of the restaurant play up the raw surfaces that nod to the former factory. Steel railings and chandeliers, as well as two large steel vestibules, recall the Eiffel’s industrial past. A metal staircase connects the basement to the ground floor.
"We discussed the position and shape of the [built-in] mezzanine floor and also the entry to the basement with the client and architect," Stam says, noting that while the firm had more ambitious structural plans, some possibilities were off the table by the time the design team was tapped for the project. "It's always great to be involved in an early stage; the earlier we're involved, the more [options we have] on a architectural/structural level. And those decisions have a big impact on a spatial level."
Speaking of spatial, what the designers describe as “conceptual elevators” link the various levels of the restaurant. Those literally elevated elements include leather daybeds in various shapes and colors suspended on metal rails. That clever composition reflects the horizontal tower theme while encouraging guests to interact with the space—and one another—through the placement of informal furnishings.
Perhaps the most abstract of these connective elements is a small platform in the basement (which designers have dubbed the “elevator music stage”) where mirrors and bulbs create light play on the ceiling and silver curtains can be drawn to transform the space into a private dance floor.
In other areas of the basement, pastel shades of blue, gray, pink and yellow reference the use of water and clay at the start of the ceramic production process. Geometric poufs reflect the shapes of pottery molds.
"The basement felt like a very dark and low space but turned out unexpectedly funky," Stam says. "The huge concrete columns create a cool underground feel that works great with the custom light fixtures and elevator elements."
Brighter tones on the ground floor take cues from freshly glazed pottery, while even bolder colors on the mezzanine resemble the saturated hues of baked ceramics.
The designers also spun the makers theme into the custom-crafted round tables and lazy-Susan inspired seating units, taking their shapes from pottery wheels and work benches.
Throughout the venue, "a lot of the custom seating pieces have higher backs or are attached to the ceiling to play up the great height," says Stam. "Guests can move around the furnishings in the basement; those are loose objects, and can be placed together like puzzle pieces for a more intimate setting if a poetry night or something is happening. When there is a club night in the basement, the seating objects can be stacked and moved to the side."
Dark tiles paired with cylindrical lights that evoke the look of a roaring fire hint at a burning kiln in the basement bathrooms. A contemporary take on the façade’s brick pattern spans from the basement to upstairs as a tribute to the soaring pottery ovens that once stood tall in those spaces. The shape of ceramic molds, as well as the tools used to make them, also serve as the launch pad for the dramatic chandeliers, visually dividing the various interior zones and echoing the industrial narrative.
Literal doesn’t need to mean obvious. The best place for hanging out might just be hanging out. Studio Modijefsky (whose design for Bar Botanique Cafe Tropique was profiled in BD’s September 2016 issue) turned tradition on its head in its homage to the Eiffel’s plane nickname with suspended seating options that lift guests up while they’re chilling down.
A palette handpicked from yesteryear’s ceramic works also reflects today’s trending colors with millennial pinks, serenity blues, deep teals and bold yellows. The resulting look is an energetic-yet-relaxed design dichotomy that’s equally modern and artisanal.