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Florentina: Bringing Storytelling to the Dining Experience

Emma Maxwell transforms a restaurant in Beijing into an enchanting landscape reminiscent of the Italian Renaissance period. Alywin Chew writes.

Florentina: Bringing Storytelling to the Dining Experience

Singapore-based Australian artist and designer Emma Maxwell has a penchant for weaving historical contexts into contemporary design concepts. The latest example can be seen in the new Florentina restaurant in Beijing, which has been shortlisted for the prestigious 2015 Bar & Restaurant Design Awards.


Handled by Maxwell’s eponymous multidisciplinary design firm – the brains behind La Cantine by Bruno Menard in Singapore and the Montage Resort in Bali – the whole scene within this newly opened Italian restaurant in upscale Lido Park retells the narrative of Florence’s glorious past, albeit with a touch of modern sophistication. This is something that Maxwell does especially well.


“I approach it a little like theatre. When I design, I always imagine that I am taking the guest by the hand, leading them through the space and telling them a story,” she says.

“I love the idea of taking them out of the ‘ordinary world’ on the street outside and submerging them into a whole new tale they have never heard before.”


The interiors evoke the magnificence of the Renaissance period in Florence using Carrera marble flooring and motifs of grey clouds by Fornasetti that extend from the timber-panelled walls to the ceiling. In the main dining area, lights comprising dozens of hand-blown glass bubbles hang from the low ceiling, resembling little bursts of fireworks that have been fossilised in motion.


The dining hall leads to an open kitchen and bar. Here, a series of lamps made from overlapping cubic frames and containing tiny bulbs resembling a constellation of stars hang from the ceiling, while chevron patterns run boldly from the marble floor to the wall.


Over at the alfresco dining area, classic European hedges frame the table settings while providing patrons with a veil of privacy.

To Maxwell, the key to producing a masterpiece such as this is giving people a sense of transcendence. In this case, it was taking people on a surreal journey from the smog-filled skies of Beijing to the “magical alchemy” in Florence.


“The light continually shifting on marble surfaces, the cloudy skies and the resonance of the buildings and structures in Florence hugely influenced me… I wanted to transport customers to another place, a place of light, illusion, beauty and contrasts,” she says.

Maxwell, who received widespread coverage last year for her eclectic art works featuring former North Korea leader Kim Jong Il, also shares that she will soon be embarking on another exciting design project, one that “comes with a new story and a new design journey”.

Emma Maxwell Design

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