Chef Scott Conant’s upscale Italian restaurant Scarpetta is certainly no fast food joint, but a portion of its new international outpost in Toronto’s Thompson Hotel was served up pronto. II by IV Design Associates crafted an al fresco dining experience within the confines of an 873-square-foot pergola in the hotel’s courtyard—with only two months to spare from conception to completion.
The pergola, designed by gh3 architecture and landscape architecture, was still in fabrication when II by IV partners Keith Rushbrook and Dan Menchions were engaged by the client to detail its interior as an all-season dining pavilion. With only shop drawings to guide them and the clock ticking down to the first dinner service, the architects assembled their team onsite the very next day. “We told them, ‘you won’t receive any computer generated drawings from us, only old-school freehand sketches,’” recalls Rushbrook.
Sketching with pens on tracing paper, the architects quickly ruled out traditional dining layouts, as the pergola’s narrow 12-foot-6-inch width could not accommodate such a plan. Instead, they sought inspiration from the Mad Tea Party of Alice in Wonderland. “People aren’t usually huge fans of communal dining,” acknowledges Rushbrook, so rather than designing one long, straight table, “we got the idea of shifting from table-height to counter-height to bar-height.” The resulting white Corian surface folds, bends, and extends the length of the space, infusing it with whimsy and wave-like movement that contrasts the black structure that encloses it. The atmosphere is convivial, but the varying table heights afford diners a sense of privacy.
Since the pergola exposes the dining area to the elements, weatherproofing was a must. The architects also wanted the surfaces to reflect the urban landscape, including a long reflecting pool that parallels the pergola. They selected mirrored-chrome finishes for the bar and hostess stations, making them disappear. The communal table is lined with white-leather cushioned and chrome-finished Emeco chairs and barstools by Philippe Starck. Clear polycarbonate Bourgie and red Cindy lamps by Kartell provide the only lighting besides candles, so the pavilion softly glows at night. In the winter, the reflecting pool will transform into an ice skating rink and the bar will serve hot drinks.
Despite the project’s tight eight-week schedule, which included the challenges associated with procuring a liquor license and the usual complications involved in ordering custom furnishings, everything was installed just in time for the soft opening in June. Rushbrook has dined in the pavilion several times since and attests that, though the table is communal, it really does provide patrons with intimate dining experiences. Of course, by the end of the evening, fellow diners always end up chatting with one another about the meal and the space.