Two Penny by Sarah Ward Interiors

Sarah Ward references 1920s Shanghai at Two Penny Chinese

Canadian studio Sarah Ward Interiors looked to China's art-deco era for the colours and motifs at this dim sum restaurant and basement cocktail bar in Calgary.

The local firm was asked to imagine the decor for Two Penny Chinese, located in the city's Victoria Park neighbourhood – just south of the Downtown business district.

Two Penny by Sarah Ward Interiors

The team settled on a scheme based on Shanghai in the 1920s, where the art-deco movement merged with traditional Chinese motifs to create a hybrid style.

"The Chinese Deco period provided for such rich design inspiration for this historical space, and we loved creating all of the specialty details that tell the story of the space," said studio founder Sarah Ward.

Two Penny by Sarah Ward Interiors

Shades of teal and dusty pink are found throughout the restaurant as a nod to this era, on the leather-upholstered banquettes, wall panels and metal mirrors. Terracotta accents in the form of cushions and napkins complement the base colour scheme.

Guests enter the restaurant through a moon gate – a circular opening common in traditional Chinese architecture – made from blackened oak.

Two Penny by Sarah Ward Interiors

"While modern in design, the gate was executed using traditional dowel joinery and was built entirely by hand," said a project description.

Tables of various sizes are scattered across the main restaurant space, paired with curve-backed wooden chairs and benches.

Two Penny by Sarah Ward Interiors

The front server station was turned into a feature, with wicker caning and hand-glazed green tiles formed into typically deco shapes.

Plaster-covered portions of walls are decorated with scrolls, painted with images of Chinese masks enlarged from the backs of cigarette cards.

Two Penny by Sarah Ward Interiors

Towards the back of the space, a bar is wrapped in bespoke scalloped concrete tiles, which are shaped to evoke armour and dragon scales. Globe lamps surround this area, above the teal-toned bar stools.

Fringed pendant lampshades are patterned with leaf motifs, matching live plantings also suspended from the ceiling.

Two Penny by Sarah Ward Interiors

A different atmosphere, "reminiscent of dark alleys", meets guests who descend to the Tea House cocktail bar in the basement. Past the neon-lit stairwell, the dark space is illuminated by traditional red lanterns above the counter.

Dark wood, concrete, and a wall covered in vintage posters and adverts create the feel of an underground speakeasy.

Two Penny by Sarah Ward Interiors

Two Penny was opened in October 2017 by Thank You Hospitality, which also operates Calgary's Mexican restaurant Native Tongues and Indian eatery Calcutta Cricket Club.

"When Cody Willis, the owner of Two Penny, first came to us with the concept we were absolutely thrilled," said Ward. "This type of project doesn't come around very often and offers us as designers a chance to explore something truly unique."

Two Penny by Sarah Ward Interiors

Chinese is one of the most popular cuisines worldwide, and restaurants serving the food feature wildly different interiors that range from traditional to contemporary.

At the minimal end of the scale, New York's Junzi Kitchen has a colour palette based on early spring, while The Noodle Rack in Changsha includes hanging wires designed to look like the savoury staple when drying.

Photography is by Phil Crozier.

Project credits:

Designers: Sarah Ward, Suzanne Tetrault
Client: Cody Willis, Thank You Hospitality
Contractor: CREATE Projects
Engineers: EMBE Consulting
Millwork: Tamarack Fine Woodwork
Scalloped plaster wall: Interiors to Inspire
Furniture: CFS Furniture, Martin's Chairs
Upholstery: Calgary Contract Upholstery
Tile at server station: Fireclay Tile
Custom tile on bar: 2Stone
Countertops: Alberta Marble
Custom lights: DainoLite