This Women-Led Architecture Firm Is Remaking Calgary’s Restaurant Scene

The women behind Frank Architecture share their secrets to creating that perfect restaurant vibe.

Restaurant bar interior design partners of FRANK Architecture pose for a grip photo

Photo, Bryce Meyer.

There’s hardly a top restaurant in Calgary that doesn’t bear the fingerprints of Frank, the female-led firm that combines architectural know-how with serious interior-design chops.

Partners Kate Allen, Kelly Morrison and Kristen Lien, who first met as students at the University of Calgary, have transformed more than 100 spaces over the past eight years. Chatelaine asked them for a primer on Bridgette Bar, a buzzy spot in the city’s design district, to learn how to create a restaurant that draws in diners. Here are their top rules for good design.

Restaurant bar interior design photos of Bridgette Bar in Calgary designed by FRANK Architecture

Photos, Jamie Hyatt.

Work with what you’ve got

Bridgette Bar has a manufacturing past, evident in its brick walls and exposed wood ceilings. Frank wanted to highlight those elements while incorporating the clients’ desire for a relaxed West Coast approach. “We needed to make that applicable to the prairies, so we’re not going to have any reference to surfing—we styled the space so it feels almost residential, like socializing and entertaining at home,” Allen says.

Show the food

25 Canadian Women Changing The Way We Eat Now25 Canadian Women Changing The Way We Eat Now

Frank is a fan of open kitchen: They add action and energy to a restaurant, and people tend to gravitate towards them. “There’s an honesty to exposing the process that’s important to the dining experience, especially when you’re looking for a space that’s more approachable,” Lien says.

Hide the dishes

“We always want to have the dish pit out of sight,” Allen says. Dirty plates can be kind of an appetite killer.

Control the volume

Some restaurants want a quiet, intimate space; others look for a bustling, boisterous one. “But whatever the project, it’s essential to hear the person talking to you across a table,” Allen says. Sound bounces off hard surfaces, so Frank layers in soft banquettes and textiles to keep conversation flowing.

Light ’em up

“Light is a tricky design proposition: It helps space transition from day to night, and the levels need to be consistent,” Lien says. Bright rooms are great for the brunch and lunch hour, but during the evening, Frank wants to summon a moodier vibe. “Linen curtains, with one corner pulled back, cut the street light coming in,” Allen says. In the winter months, the architects recommend adding thick canvas window coverings — this is Calgary, after all.