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Angeliqa J Hejdenberg, interior designer and architect, has designed several restaurants in Stockholm.

Photo: Privat

Categories: Restaurants

Designing your dinner: Angeliqa J Hejdenberg

Publish date: 18 July 2023

Being more than just a place to eat, a good restaurant presents unique challenges to an interior designer. We chatted with architect Angeliqa J Hejdenberg about the look and feel of Stockholm's restaurant and how to best strike a balance between function and beauty.

Stockholm has no shortage of beautifully designed restaurants, each with its own distinctive atmosphere; Bar Central, Woodstockholm, Pelikan, Speceriet, Lådan, Taverna Brillo, and Bouqeria to name a few. After all, a restaurant visit is about more than the meal. Fantastic food goes a long way, of course. But a restaurant’s ambiance plays an equally important part in the overall experience. Some like it homey and cozy, others prefer a stylized up-scale setting. As much as crafting a menu that will have diners wanting seconds is no small feat, creating a cohesive atmosphere that guests want to spend a whole evening in is a science in itself.

Architect Angeliqa J Hejdenberg started out as a scenographer in film and theatre before she made a course correction and started working as an architect and interior designer. Still wanting to tell the story of a space or room, to convey a specific atmosphere, she realized that it was an exciting area to apply her expertise in set design on.

"Besides being a place to eat a meal in harmony a restaurant must take accessibility, the wear-and-tear of a business, construction, and the fact that it’s a place of work into account", says Angeliqa. "So I guess the reason I’ve designed so many restaurants is that it lets me combine my experiences of scenography and dramaturgy with the practical functionality a restaurant demands".

Having worked with Eataly in Stockholm, Strandvägen 1, and Bianchi Café & Cycles among others, we could think of no one better than Angeliqa to ask about the process behind a well-designed restaurant.

What would you say makes Swedish restaurant architecture stand out?
"One characteristic is that Swedish restaurants often have very strong concepts, meaning that the atmosphere is as important as the food. This became really obvious to me while working together with a team of Italian architects on the Eataly food market on Biblioteksgatan. They’ve worked on projects all over the world and were surprised that Swedes have a tendency to choose restaurants based on character and atmosphere, instead of where the best lasagna is made, for example".

Could you tell us a little about how the process of designing a restaurant works? And how it differs from other types of public spaces?
"For starters, there’s always an ambition to convey the feeling of a cohesive, welcoming, and trustworthy restaurant experience for all the senses. I come in quite early in the process. I’m often involved as early as when the menu is being planned".

"After investigating what kind of practicalities and facilities are necessary, we create a mood board to assure that everyone is working towards the same goal. The board also works as a template for choosing furniture, tableware, and surface materials. The design and production of custom furniture and carpentry elements happen parallel to this".

"One of the most exciting things about working with restaurants, which also makes it different from other public projects, is that you can go all-out on a concept. The guests are only there for a short time, and they’re there to be impressed by the environment. In comparison, an office space needs to be calmer and not as attention-grabbing".

How do you weigh form against functionality?
"In a restaurant, they’re intertwined. It’s the design of functionality that creates the atmosphere".

How creative do you get to be? In other words, do you come up with your own ideas and sketches or do you have to adapt to specific guidelines – “Could you make it like an American 50’s diner”?
"If someone’s hired me, they probably know that my working methods mean I produce the interior concept in its entirety, based on the menu, target audience, space, and the restaurateur themselves. If someone has gotten further ahead in the process I just take a few steps back, explain my working process as best as I can, and basically ask them 'why?'".

When do you get the most fun out of your work?
"I guess it’s when the cooperation with the client, construction supervisor, and other consultants works smoothly. When you’re part of creating a well-crafted restaurant experience together, from meticulously planning the ventilation ducts to opening night when you get to eat a great dinner served in a welcoming atmosphere".

When is the most difficult, then?
"Well, it can be tough when my clients forget that designing a good restaurant's atmosphere is an ongoing process. My work and input are sometimes prioritized only in the beginning stages of a project since I can see the whole picture. But sometimes a couple of the puzzle pieces are taken away, replaced, or tweaked along the way without anybody realizing that this will impact the overall impression of the finished restaurant. It can be difficult for some clients to realize that this will affect the restaurant’s guests in the end".

What’s the most important thing for an architect to have in mind when working with a restaurant? 
"That it’s about hospitality. Even the lonely diner has to feel welcome and comfortable. It really shows if someone has built a monument over themselves to impress their peers and colleagues instead".

How often does bad interior design distract you from a potentially delicious dinner?
"Quite often, unfortunately. But usually more when it’s just too beautiful, too “designy”. I guess I feel at ease when the interior is understated, almost boring. But that’s probably thanks to my profession".

Angeliqas 5 most inspiring restaurant interiors

La Colline - French bistro on Södermalm.
Bar Central - East-European comfort food inspired by the architecture in old railway stations.
Fåfängan - Classic garden café overlooking Djurgården. (permanently closed 2023)
Eataly - Food court, café, restaurant, and deli shop with everything Italian.
Fotografiska - Award-winning museum restaurant with a focus on plant-based food.