Visual merchandising is a signature item on the design menu at SEVVA. That’s no surprise, really. Fashion and retailing have been a constant for owner Bonnie Gokson. A perennial on best dressed lists, Gokson grew up in a family that counted department stores among its holdings and later honed her brand-building skills working with her sister, Joyce Ma, who founded Joyce Boutiques in Asia. For much of the last five years, she leveraged her aptitude for marketing luxury as Regional Image and Communications Director at Chanel Asia - Pacific.
Though SEVVA is her first proprietary restaurant concept, it’s not her first foray into the hospitality sector. She was creative director for one of Hong Kong’s first private business clubs, Nautilus Club, and a force in her sister’s Joyce’s Café chain. In an interview with VMSD, the entrepreneur-cum-style icon talks about the crossover between retail and restaurant design and how that’s shaping customers’ decisions on where to be seen.
What lessons learned from retail and other restaurants inspired you when you started writing the concept for SEVVA?
BG: “In Central, everything is so slick, polished and modern. What is supposed to be a la moment gets out-dated very fast, especially in Asia. I wanted SEVVA to reflect a residential feel; an atmosphere that oozes life and soul, to be a place with warmth and energy. A place where plenty of sunlight comes through the day, and at night the candlelit ambience and sexy music sets the mood.”
Fashion displays would use props and decoratives to do that. What elements did you and designer Tsao & McKown (New York) select to create that mood?
BG: “I believe in fresh or seductive scents with flowers or candles to create the atmosphere. Our vertical garden wall which stretches 15 feet, gives great energy and life to SEVVA. We have interesting art or coffee tables books plus different decorative objects for guests to enjoy.”
Why did you create two restaurants with separate identities -- Harbourside, which is informal, and Bankside, which is more “fine dining”?
BG: “The fact that the building structure is very long and that rooms are created at each side of the restaurant breaks up the monotony of the place. As headquarters HSBC by Sir Norman Foster stands next to Bankside, it makes sense that guests who prefers the more formal and business attire chooses this room. SEVVA has guests from all walks of life. Whatever their choice is for the day it would be up to the guests how casual or formal they prefer.”
What was the biggest challenge?
BG: “The space was long and narrow, with many different ceiling heights. Calvin Tsao and his team and Team HC Ltd from Hong Kong took advantage of that by creating a flow that allows customers to ‘adjourn’ from one space to another.
“Then, we enhanced that by borrowing from other disciplines. I love theater and the way in which theatrical design works with spatial illusion and lighting. Calvin (who studied theater and lighting as a University of California, Berkeley undergraduate) and his designers did wonders. For Harbourside, they lined the ceiling vault with backlit panels. But, for the bar, they carved a recess in the ceiling and applied chromium-leafed wallpaper. Concepts like these help to create distinct experiences.”
What design elements should both retail and restaurant designers play up?
BG: “Color choice always plays an important role. Spaces should be colorful, especially when dealing with food. Working with hip clean lines and dark interiors seemed easier for SEVVA. But I wanted something to give vibrancy, energy, bring it to life. So I worked with a water color painting that I liked and slowly built up all the textures and layers in the details. I chose the smokey lavender color for Bankside’s walls and my friend Sharyn Storrier-Lyneham, who was Vogue Australia’s editor-in-chief for over 30 years, helped me do the collaterals. We loved the way this color would bounce against all the dark business suits and how it would work with other attire.
“Exciting fixtures and textures should start each zone. For Ms. B’s Sweet Shop, we chose that unique vintage crystal chandelier from the ‘50s and blew up <fashion illustrator Gladys Perint Palmer’s> illustrations on glass along the hallway. We used mirrored back casegoods so that the pastries would be visible from all angles. Even the main display case has mirrored shelving and backlit shelves so that there’s no glare on the cases.
“Taste Bar has more than 40 Tom Dixon lights hanging from that recessed void. Sydney lighting artist Ruth McDermott created the dome ceiling lighting and Calvin designed the curved ceiling details in Bankside.
"Mundane things don’t work. I was looking for something quirky yet refined—like our fresh green garden wall.”
We see a lot of emphasis on flexible design that can change quickly. Is that a priority?
BG: “It depends. We change the display at Ms. B’s now and then, especially during festive periods when new products like teas, honeys and specialties arrive.
“But, you have to consider the impact. My sister Joyce suggested that I look into artworks from Candida Höfer. Since we hung four of her works in Bankside, we’ve had nonstop compliments. They added a wonderful perspective and color to that room. They’re a perfect fit and, unless I see anything with scale and refinement that would work better, we’ll keep these up for a while.”
How would you sum up what’s next?
BG: “There are many requests for expansion. We look forward to seeing new interpretations of the “Art of the Mix” and more exciting projects to come.”
Project Participants, SEVVA Hong Kong:
Bonnie Gokson, founder
Bonnie Gokson, SEVVA
Tsao & McKown, New York
Team HC Ltd., Hong Kong
Outside Design Consultants
Artwright Engineering & Construction Ltd., Hong Kong
Ruth McDermott Design, Sydney (lighting)
Worldsign Ltd., Hurst, Berks. U.K.
Ceilings; Fixtures; Flooring; Wallcoverings; Materials
Artwright Engineering & Construction Ltd., Hong Kong
Vintage pieces; Artwright Engineering & Construction Ltd., Hong Kong
Props and decoratives
Bonnie Gokson, Hong Kong
Sharyn Storrier-Lyneham, Sydney