Latika Khosla walks us through Olive Bistro, Pune, which is light-hearted, fun, irreverent and as comfortable as your grandma’s kitchen. Taking cues from its laidback chic, she tells us how to welcome spring without falling into cliched traps.
Latika Khosla is on the board of the Color Marketing Group USA and the founder-organizer of Colors India. She is also the founder-director of Freedom Tree, a wholly-Indian, colour-led lifestyle brand with retail presence in Parel, part of Mumbai’s trendy mill district. Her studio, Freedom Tree Design, undertakes colour onsultancies and design assignments. Latika is also on the trend panel for Azko Nobel Colour Futures.
Whether the weather be fine
Or whether the weather be not
Whether the weather be cold
Or whether the weather be hot
We’ll weather the weather
Whatever the weather
Whether we like it or not.
Looking out of my window, I can see three climatic zones between the three wild almond trees that grow nearby. One tree, slightly sheltered from the sea, has fresh broad leaves on the leeward side. The middle one has bare branches, open to the sky but budding with beautiful new leaves. And on the windward side, the last tree thinks it is still October, and the leaves are just turning autumnal red.
At a time when there is unseasonal chill up north in India, blizzards in North-East America and meteorite strikes in the Urals, being prepared for anything is ably captured in the poem above. When winter suddenly turns to summer, bypassing spring, one is seeking those fistful of flowers and blossom-laden trees for that fleeting moment of time. In the out-of-season heat in Pune, I chance upon a cool white haven. And all the design cues are right there, on how to weather spring and feel a fresh young vibe.
The Olive Bistro is housed in what seems to be a chapel of sorts, within the Pune Club. Sabina Singh, a director with Olive Bar and Kitchen, is hands-on while designing new restaurant concepts. Her strong individualistic expression and keen attention to detail makes each location a stunning surprise. Architect Vivek Popli works collaboratively with her, and brings his professional skills to turn her vision into reality. The architect took cognizance of the original structure, a late 19th century building, and gave it a modern facelift, while paying an ode to classical design. The challenge was to turn it into an outlet of finesse and international appeal.
At the Pune location, the entry belies what one might find inside. The signature Olive white look welcomes you into seemingly vast outdoors… until one enters the nave of the structure, which is the stunning, colour-filled, warm heart of the bistro. The forbidding grey stone of the original architecture recedes into the background and the space comes alive with little patches of colour, quirky arrangements, dramatic lampshades and a shabby-yet-chic attitude that transcends both indoors and outdoors.
Pick a passion
Sabina would come into our studio looking for “this special blue colour” for the restaurant, which might have been a work-in-progress in reality but was absolutely complete in her imagination. Armed with her smart phone, she would scan through images to show me the colours of the roof and the ceiling under renovation and call for this gentle fresco blue with which the roof tiles are coloured.
She wanted this colour to run as a link throughout the space; on the architecture as well as the accessories and lamps. Reflecting this hue, the floor tiles are also designed in blue and aqueous green. The Bistro Blue has become the leitmotif for the brand’s design. When on location, sensitive to this colour, one begins to spot it on napkins, glasses, tiles… and as a casual splash on planter stands.
Flowers and a feast
Spring really is about flowers. Buds, shoots, tendrils, sprouts, seeds… the bistro manages to capture that little window of springtime on every table. Fresh-cut seasonal wild flowers are placed in planters and buckets. Vintage enamelled basins take centrestage on the tables, like cherished objects offered at an altar. A pair of candle-stands next to the randomly clustered flowers is a token nod to a formal setting.
The food, too, is carefully planned. Overhearing Olive Bistro’s young chef Mayank, one comes to understand that they have an unusual country fare on offer. It’s a place for all-day dining, where the food takes you from lunch to casual tea to a relaxing evening with friends. The overall effect is warm, welcoming and pleasing to the senses. Almost like the sensation of eating comfort food in your grandma’s kitchen.
Fade in to clarity
Given the original structure, it has been an interesting architectural challenge to connect everything. The use of more colour in the space is intentional. It ranges from the stone grey walls to cheerful colour pops, casually faded furniture washes and the clarity of
The concept was to create a sense of joyousness. There is a deliberate method to this quirky mix. On the weathered furniture, colours are picked out in a painterly blue-green palette. The textures of the wood are warm and soothing and the colours make everything seem fresh. The outdoors are enhanced with a profusion of Mediterranean plants, a European-style fountain and Olive’s signature white gravel.
Years ago, in England, I was invited to a young friend’s house. He had purchased a small church for a home and was living in it. On a Sunday evening in summer, the casual dinner of sandwiches and wine was like an uplifting sermon at evensong. Visiting the bistro in Pune gave me a sense of deja vu. While one stood in awe under the tapered ceiling and stone, the comfort of a country chapel came through the furnishing details.
The main retaining wall comprises of strong blocks of stone with pops of colour standing out around it. A farmyard story unfolds on the paints, wall art and cushion prints. Sabina recounts, “Having our daughter Zoe and poring over picture books and nursery rhymes with her everyday, it seemed natural for the experience to become a creative driving force in this project!”
You will see a reflection of it in the printed tiles and barnyard animal prints on the upholstery. Tiles sourced from old markets have been customized with transfers of animals and flowers. They connect the animal and flower motif in one place. On vividly coloured chairs, farm animal prints bring a smile and let one settle down comfortably.
Scaling turns every element into a surprise. “I was keen on using unusual lighting as we had the advantage of high ceilings,” says Sabina. “And the lamps customized by Freedom Tree are great for ambient outdoor lighting.” Giant welcoming fixtures cast a warm glow at the entrance. A walk into the main room reveals a classic chandelier on the ceiling. But what takes your breath away is the surprise blue and white china precariously balanced amongst the glass crystal strands. The cup-and-saucer chandelier is a fun, irreverent interpretation — a signature across Olive bistros. An aqueous blue, reminiscent of clear running waters supports a lovely spring sky blue. Floating like billowing lanterns; giant lampshades in pale liquid colours sit atop tall curvaceous lamp bases. In the day, it’s Alice
in Wonderland… and come evening, a watery spell is cast!