Maison François: Concrete cube to fabulous French bistro

Transforming what had been referred to as “one giant concrete cube” was going to take a little more than hard work for creative director John Whelan.

But taking a concrete cube and turning it into a decadent restaurant in St James in  London is exactly what he did – with a little inspiration from some friends in Spain.


The materiality of the space immediately encouraged Whelan to base his interiors scheme around La Fabrica – an abandoned cement factory just outside of Barcelona that Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill transformed into offices for his practice in 1973. In particular, the soaring arches reminiscent of those seen in Ricardo Bofill’s La Fabrica feature.

“I always try and find a creative route that respects the DNA of the building, and this felt appropriate,” said Whelan. “Furthermore, the client wanted to reference historic brasseries but create a contemporary version – also reflected in the food.”

The exterior of Bofill’s La Fabrica is notably punctuated with soaring arched windows. These have been reinterpreted inside Maison François, which boasts terracotta-coloured stucco walls inset with shallow arch-shaped recesses.

“La Fabrica is probably the greatest home that I will probably never visit, and so the arches were a sort of ‘homage’ to that wonderful creation,” explained Whelan.

Walnut has been used to craft the restaurant’s seating banquettes – their latticed backs are inspired by the pews in Germany’s modernist Maria Heimsuchung church, which Whelan came across in a photography series by Robert Goetzfried.

Chairs have been upholstered in creamy linen to match the colour of the lacquered-wood dining tables. Tubular chandeliers have also been suspended from the ceiling, which has been finished with a faux-cement patina.

Mahogany has been used to craft a latticed hood above the open kitchen, where dishes that draw upon traditional French cuisine will be prepared. At the centre of the hood is a huge clock that Whelan had made bespoke from patinated nickel and bronze. “The clock is a classic of historic brasserie design, and can be found around the world from Bouillon Julien in Paris to Fischer’s in London,” added Whelan. “We wanted to have this iconic focal point but with our own style.”

Weighing half a ton, the grills on the side of the clock are meant to subtly mirror those that feature on the front of vintage Rolls Royce cars, often seen outside the restaurant on the affluent streets of St James.

John Whelan established The Guild of Saint Luke in 2017, working with artists, artisans and architects to restore and revive historic French brasseries. This new project is a testament to this desire and vision.

Images by Oskar Proctor via Dezeen


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