Restaurant designer of the moment George Livissianis creates drama with subtle style, writes Maya Kerthyasa.
He's the interior architect responsible for the dramatic good looks of The Apollo and the cliché-free approach to modern Japanese lines at Cho Cho San in Potts Point, the sow's-ear-to-silk-purse work at Darlinghurst pop-up Café Paci, the recent revamp of Surry Hills' Longrain, and soon the design of the new Potts Point incarnation of Billy Kwong, and a half (Pascale Gomes-McNabb is designing the other) of the resurrected Stokehouse St Kilda, slated to open mid-2015. His work might be diverse (a Jac+Jack store and an outpost of Luxe Café at Miranda Westfield number among his other recent jobs) but the style is unmistakably contemporary. "Minimal but considered" is how he likes to describe himself if pressed. "But I wouldn't want to be designated a look because it always changes."
If you were to try to pin down the Livissianis style, you might start with muted palettes. Take the washed-out white-painted brick, birch ply and pale concrete tones at Cho Cho San, for example, or the dusty hues at The Apollo, inspired by the crags and cliffs of the Greek islands. Decorative detail is kept to a minimum, but where it appears there's always a wry touch.
And although it may not always be noticeable at first glance, it's always there for a reason.
"It could come down to the way that you detail something that might be a little bit atypical," he says, "or it might be an unexpected highlight somewhere like that very fine neon-pink paint line on top of the column at The Apollo, and in the stitched detail of the sofa." At Cho Cho San he uses the ceiling - an illuminated LED light-box stretching the length of the room - to suggest the notion of a shoji screen. "I like that subtleness about it," he says. "That it's there if you notice it."
Livissianis studied interior architecture at UNSW, moved to London to work for Virgile & Stone and then back to Australia, where he spent six years at Burley Katon Halliday before going solo. It's a blue-chip background, but he's not afraid to mix it up. With Café Paci, for instance, he created drama without the sort of budget you'd associate with a BKH project, painting the entire room and everything in it the same shade of Taubmans Iron Age grey. At the entrance he created interest with a cluster of white paper lanterns, and divided the dining room and the bathrooms and kitchen with a simple grey curtain. A smart response to a contemporary site and a small budget. "I'm open to anything that's right for the space."
Restaurant design has its challenges. Lighting and acoustics, for example, aren't Livissianis's favourite part of the job, but he recognises that all the pieces have to be considered together. "Restaurants need to appeal to everybody and that's very tricky," he says.
Looking beyond his own contributions, he says he'd love to see more original ideas in Australian restaurants - something more of a homegrown feel. "There are some things that you look at and think, I've seen this somewhere overseas," he says. "It would be great to see more things that have an aesthetic that's more Sydney or Australia."
And what of the way his ideas are perceived by the people who throng to the rooms he designs? "I'd like to think my natural style is quite understated and honest in the materials it uses," he says. "And hopefully that's what people see in the spaces."