As the story goes, tapas came about first by necessity and led to lazy innovation: bartenders would serve beer or sherry with a saucer on top to keep the flies out, and soon after saw that serving a small snack on the saucer was an opportunity to both encourage guests to return or to keep them sober enough to stay for another.
Como Taperia is a nod to the classic, centuries-old, standing-room-only tapas bars in Barcelona’s Poble Sec or Madrid’s La Latina quarters. These spaces are tight, acoustics are loud and you may or may not be offered a place to sit, favouring conversation and community over intimacy and comfort.
Our access point to the materiality and colour strategy came from one particular reference, Jardins de les 3 Xemeneies, and its three brick chimneys that backdrop the bustling Poble Sec–the only remains of an early 20th century power station built by the Barcelona Traction, Power and Light Company ( a Canadian utility company that operated light and power utilities in Catalonia, Spain) locally known as La Canadiense for the old company’s Canadian electricity production. Opening a tapas bar in Canada, this history acted as a leeway into exploring the vernacular of this neighbourhood, allowing Como to become a contemporary materialization–an homage to all we love about Spain.
The rest was an exercise in keeping things simple and fun and letting a few other cool points of inspiration stand out against this backdrop like the punches of cobalt blue reminiscent of Miro and the art program taking Jean Arp’s work as a point of departure.
All these elements culminate in an inviting, charming spot to connect with friends and loved ones for a few unfussy snacks and drinks: Arriba, abajo, al centro y adentro!
What are some design details? Materials used, color palette?
The foundations of our materials palette took inspiration from old-world Spain – a utilitarian paver tile applied by a generations-old mason, a common stone, honest simple wood applications, peg-style coat hooks, butcher block kitchen pass. Once these base materials were established, we applied our layers with a defiant Gaudi-inspired tone: accent lighting set askew, art mounted haphazardly, upholstery details taking an inexplicable surrealist dive, the blue millwork mischievously crawling through the space.
About: Lighting, Art, Misc details…
Both the custom artwork & photography styling were done by local designer Kate Richard. “1930’s surrealism led the direction of both the custom art & styling for Como Taperia. Jean Arp had these relief paintings that he ordered from a craftsman, but would leave his instructions ambiguous in order to encourage the craftsman’s free interpretation. This whimsical approach seem’d well suit for the space. The art became a play on this, an assortment of shapes were drawn and CNC’d with no intended outcome- their final forms were only to be decided at the time of assembly.
For the styling I stuck with the topic of surrealism, pulling influence from the still lifes of Spanish painter, Salvador Dali.”
What was the brief?
Our clients were motivated to provide a tapas bar that emulated the vibrancy of many of their favourite bars throughout Spain. This was clearly a passion project for them: their love of Spanish food, drink and especially football dominated many early design meetings.
We recognized that part of the success of these bars is that they are lively, that the service is informal and hospitable, but that there is no effort spent on the physical comforts and norms of North American dining. Spaces are tight, acoustics are loud and you may or may not be offered a place to sit. Offering a comfortable seat never really came up!
What is the story you’re trying to tell with the restaurant?
At Como, our goal was to provide a casual spot that clients could relax, have a little fun, and enjoy themselves. That’s all.
When setting out to design this space, we were intrigued by the rumours of how tapas came to be in Spanish culture: through necessity and lazy innovation. It is rumoured that bartenders would serve beer or sherry with a saucer on top to keep the flies out. Then they realized that they could use the saucer to serve a little snack on the plate, perhaps to attract clients back, or perhaps to keep them sober enough to stay for another. We employed this haphazard, relaxed approach throughout the design process, which liberated us to solve challenges with the same utilitarian, unfussy approach that we imagined the bar keepers of Barcelona, Madrid & Seville did.
When we were building the story of this un-fussy space, when it so inspired us, we would intentionally make an unexpected choice, move in a different direction or take a left turn, so to speak. This, to us, was inspired by the casual and celebratory nature of the Spanish working class. These punctuations are most clearly exemplified in the use of colour, and how the Jean Miro-inspired blue finds itself applied throughout the space: a little bit here, a little bit there, and then some painted on the wall down the hall for no reason in particular.
What were the challenges of the project? The solution?
Our project was in a new building, on a high-profile corner, with over a third of the floor space on a ramp. From the outset, we endeavoured to mitigate all of these factors. The ramp was the most challenging problem, however we feel the outcome contributes to the success of the atmosphere.
Our bar and entrance had to be elevated 2 risers above the remainder of the space. This condition leaves the tapas bar keep no option other than to very closely interface with the guests when entering – an unexpected experience in the local dining scene. The tight space also meant that stools at the bar were a nuisance, paving the way for the standing bar we have now in the space.
Although a high-profile corner can be very advantageous for the business, our space needed to feel like it belonged to a neighbourhood, not a prominent street. Relocating our entrance to be off of the side street and applying wood blinds to the abundant windows allowed us to offer a slower paced experience.
What were the primary project influences or inspirations?
The main source of our inspiration came from the working class neighbourhoods of Madrid, Seville & Barcelona. These were areas that developed out of necessity and were honest, simple and utilitarian in their planning and architecture and general approach to daily life. Our sights were particularly narrowed on the Poble Sec neighbourhood in Barcelona, which happens to be home to one of our clients favourite tapas bar, Quimet y Quimet.
Any design standouts?
The open shelves crawling up the over-height walls throughout the space serve a utilitarian function: they hold dry goods kitchen stock, wine and conserve tins for sale. This alleviated the cramped kitchen and BOH storage areas, and provides another opportunity for the service style to feel like a departure from Vancouver. If you happen to be leaning on a perch below some needed stock, you may get a little jostled around when the server is reaching for it or be employed to get it down yourself.
Completion date: 2019
Photographer: Conrad Brown