Seshan Design designs F&B duo of Parisian bakery and NYC cocktail bar
Two unlikely sister establishments, a bakery-cafe and a cocktail bar, channel Paris and New York in Kulala Lumpur's ritzy Damansara district
May 16, 2018
Written by Patrick Kasingsing
Photographed by Ed Simon with photography from Seshan Design
One of the first things you notice after entering Huckleberry Food & Fare (after being drawn in by the mouth-watering aroma of baking bread) is the attention to detail. Every nook and cranny is packed with eye-catching and tactile features. “The decorative metal ceiling panels are from Australia, the chairs are authentic TON chairs all the way from the Czech Republic, the encaustic tiles are from Singapore…and I had feedback from several French expats saying this was the most authentic Parisian café in KL. And that wasn’t even our intention!” Ramesh Seshan of Seshan Design recalls with mirth as he gives me a tour around the café.
Huckleberry Food & Fare
Huckleberry Food & Fare is tucked in a quiet corner of a shophouse in the affluent Damansara neighborhood of Kuala Lumpur. It takes its name from Mark Twain’s the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, from which the line, “There ain’t nothing in the world so good when it’s cooked right,” was adopted as the bakery-café’s dictum. It first started out as a standalone bakery serving freshly baked gourmet bread, filling a niche KL residents took to quickly, it soon outgrew its location and necessitated the owners buying the adjoining lot and turning the bakery into a full-fledged café and restaurant.
The design process was a challenge as each member of the client’s family had definite ideas on every aspect of design, from the choice of materials to the color and exact shade of paint for the counters. The result is anything but discordant. While the café is not large, the interior designers did everything but downscale their ambitions for the space. The choice of materials, which include marble, stained glass, polished brick tiles, lots of polished copper, and salvaged wood all harmoniously blend with just the right balance of dark and light hues, aided by gentle lighting to ensure no material eclipses the other.
These are further complemented by the expert and sometimes playful execution of minutiae. For example, instead of being tacked on, the gold-stained store emblem was painstakingly embedded into the marble counter with the help of waterjet. The floating metal ceiling panels from Australia and the mirror with an embossed logo of the café were artificially aged and stained using formulas the design studio perfected through trial and error, googling, and Youtube surfing. Seshan Design also came up with quirky lighting fixtures created from repurposed floor and desk lamp parts, which they suspended from the ceiling above the counters. These may all seem too much to take in within such a small space but therein lies the gift of the design studio, which tempers their propensity to use a wealth of often contrasting materials with balance and thoughtful placement.
Huckleberry struck gold with its authentic food fare so much so it became viable to venture into proper dining, requiring a larger area to operate and expand the kitchen. The lot’s boundaries made it impossible to expand on ground level, so the only way to go was up. Thus, the new conundrum for the owners: How to activate the new space on the second floor? The answer came when the client’s son decided he wanted to open a cocktail bar of his own.
“We had a lot of fun staining these wood pieces,” Syaf Selamatt, a senior designer in Seshan Design’s team, points out as we troop to the back of Huckleberry and are greeted by an ominous-looking entrance of concrete and scorched Brazilian hardwood. Ramesh recalls the fun his team had singeing the wood pieces with blowtorches for an aged look. “Leyt’s head on in,” says Syaf with a mischievous smile. “Do watch your step!”
Even more Twainian than its bakery sibling, the Skullduggery Cocktail Bar serves drama before you even get there. A dimly lit wooden stairway with copper-stained pipes as railing provides access to the second floor. At the landing, the bar’s unofficial mascot stops you in your tracks. “We bought this guy off eBay,” says Syaf, confiding that the figure was a cosplay costume for the helmeted character, Johan Krauss, from the Hellboy movies and comics, which they outfitted with a skull. To the right of the mascot is a door leading to the hustle and bustle of Huckleberry’s kitchen, while the left is where the party’s at.
Entering the bar makes you feel you’ve intruded into a secret gentlemen’s club in New York. The tungsten bulb lighting lends a coppery hue to the interiors, where art deco is king, with geometric patterns on the ceiling panels and decorative wood gliding on the dark-hued walls. Tufted burgundy surfaces cover the bar, matched by the tufted ottomans and sofas that dot the numerous alcoves inside the establishment. You eventually notice the walls that inspired the establishment’s name at the far end of the space, directly opposite the bar. Rows of copper-coated skulls glinting in the dark survey the bar’s patrons with indifference. “It took a lot of experimentation, but I think we got just the right texture that we wanted for the skulls, shiny but not smooth. It even has some of our fingerprints on it,” says Ramesh as he allows us to touch them.
Calling it a day
My photographer and I left Skullduggery around 6 PM, just as the bar was preparing for the night’s denizens and the café below shedding its bakery persona for the dinner crowd. The Huckleberry attendants begin opening their array of French doors to welcome patrons and possibly to let our the aroma of the savory fare being prepared indoors.
The two F&B establishments exhibit awareness of the value of experience through thoughtful design. Seshan Design, whose body of works often carries a sense of playfulness and surprise, proved to be the perfect match for the two unconventional projects. Both establishments were packed to the gills during our shoot. And while the shiny skulls and Instagram-ready furniture pieces help, they all but serve as memorable stages for the main attraction: good food.