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Tonka Restaurant, Melbourne, Australia

Issue 74 August / September 2013 : Retail : Restaurant

CLIENTS: Kate Calder, Mykal Bartholemew and Adam D’Sylva LIGHTING DESIGN: Relume PHOTOGRAPHY: Casamento Photography

Lighting design by Relume helps realise the vision of artist Naomi Troski, whose swirling mesh sculpture floats above diners at the new Tonka restaurant in Melbourne.

Melbourne’s laneways - an intimate huddle of boutique shops, artisan cafes, street bars and dining spaces that weave through one corner of the city centre - gained a new jewel earlier this year with the opening of Asian-cuisine restaurant, Tonka.

It occupies a site that is perhaps best known to locals as the former home of Honky Tonks, a nightclub whose graffiti-plastered entrance, strict door policy and eccentric interior made it legendary among Melbourne clubbers.

Compared to its predecesor, Tonka offers a far more refined experience, though one not short on imaginative touches. Entering the venue through the kitchen’s dry food store, guests are taken up to the main dining space, a room decorated with a ‘Jodhpur inspired’ interior scheme to match the Tandoor themed menu and featuring large picture windows that provide views across the Yarra River and beyond.
Key to the design is a sculptural installation by local artist Naomi Troski.

Owners Kate Calder, Mykal Bartholemew and Adam D’Sylva asked Troski to create a piece that would ‘capture the magic of India’. Her response was Drift, a billowing mass of powder-coated steel mesh sheets and gossamer threads that cover much of the ceiling.

The piece is created using individually hand folded modules of mesh that have been carefully positioned to generate a gentle, rolling movement. The supporting matrix of the crisscrossing stainless steel wires act as sight lines that direct the viewer’s attention, while fibreglass poles curl and loop through the work to keep the diner’s gaze moving through both the sculpture and the space itself.

This large amorphous work is shaped by the space and transformed by the shifts in light and colour over the course of a day.

During the evening natural daylight is replaced with the gentle flickering of candle light and further enhanced with a designed mix of lighting by Relume, a Melbourne-based practice headed by John Ford and Rachel Burke. They applied light to the work using a combination of wall mounted uplights and MR16 track spots. The spots had already been specified by the architect, but by adding filters, changing beam angles and carefully positioning each unit, the Relume team were able to bring out the best in the sculpture.

“Light adds texture, revealing and concealing the clouds as they float across the ceiling, creating a dynamic with the changing daylight entering the space through foliage,” explains Ford. “The interaction of electric light, daylight, candles on tables and the simple palette in the space creates a delightful dining experience.”

Indeed, the sense of warmth and calm that is generated by Drift as it gently expands and contracts throughout the restaurant has helped to deepen the venue’s identity and firmly establish it on the Melbourne dining circuit.


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