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Ordered chaos: Faro at MONA eschews the traditional

Leave it to perennial game changers MONA to design a restaurant where guests are led at random into a James Turrell exhibit, and the tableware makes eating and drinking a unique experience.

  • Sunrise over MONA, with a James Turrell installation.


August 28th, 2018

The pressure to over-deliver on high expectations is a daily reality for hospitality venues. Always committed to doing the unexpected and often slightly offensive, MONA chose Boxing Day of 2017 to open its new AUD$30 million Pharos wing. It was the busiest day of the year, and, according to hospitality director, Pip Anderson: “It was a classic opening just like the others. We had no heating, no lighting, no WiFi or music set up, it was amazing.”

Sunrise over MONA, with James Turrell's installation.

Sunrise over MONA, with James Turrell’s Weight of Darkness installation.

Designed by Fender Katsalidis, this new mind-bending building houses three James Turrell artworks, Unseen Seen (the six-metre sphere), the Weight of Darkness and the Event Horizon. There are also other artworks are by artists Jean Tinguely, Randy Palumbo, Charles Ross and Richard Wilson. Within this new wing is a restaurant called Faro, meaning lighthouse in Spanish.

Walsh’s wife Kirsha Kaechelle worked closely with interior designer Kathy Hall on the Faro space, which is all about natural light during the day, and manmade light at night.

“A chaotic lunch service turns into a cool, calm, collected dinner service,” says Anderson. This experience includes being taken through artworks at some unknown time during your meal, a move that leaves dinners feeling slightly discombobulated. “People walk into the space and are quite in awe and not quite sure what to do, so we encourage them to leave it to us, let us order.” This is by way of a sin du jour, a tasting menu served on plates that connect together like a caterpillar slowly unfurling.

Other details include rose quartz tables, green velveteen chairs, brass cutlery and hand blown Jacobson glassware that appears like spiky urchins, which can’t actually be set down on the table.

There is zero trash on site, so no takeaway cups, no takeaway plates or napkins, straws are made from glass.“People steal our shit all the time. The straws are probably our most stolen item, we take it as a compliment, but it’s quite annoying,” comments Anderson.

True to form, Faro is anything but an afterthought to the gallery. Entry into Faro is also not straightforward. Guests must walk through a tunnel before being greeted by an unassuming door, but it’s all just keeping on brand, “We think things through, but we also like to make things hard for people,” says Anderson. 

Photography by Jesse Hunniford.

This project was featured in Indesign magazine #74, the ‘Design Relish’ issue. See what else we’ve been covering from the hospitality space

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