The transformative power of design and decor in creating unforgettable dining experiences


Good adventure stories often leave lasting impressions when the storyteller looks like an adventurer – their felt hat, kinked, their boot, scuffed. We remember these stories even better when they’re told around a campfire, rustling bushes, on the edge of a nightjar’s flitting shadow. Setting matters. Environment matters.

A story of narrow escape in Azerbaijan holds little appeal told by a suit in a sterile lobby. Our brains like context. We like cohesion. We’re wired to share stories that make us feel present, a part of it. Industries that understand this know that lasting impressions don’t come from social media, but from how those who engage with their brands feel when they leave.

This is why industries, particularly high-end ones, place such emphasis on weaving cohesive stories into their products. Restaurants do this especially well when they lean into the power of décor to reinforce their identity. Lexus is a premium brand that understands the value of story and aesthetics. It does this by infusing ‘takumi’ into its décor ethos.

Takumi, a Japanese concept, translates to ‘artisan’ or ‘craftsmanship’ – a philosophy that leans on meticulous detail and human touch to leave a resonant impression; one that makes a great story over a glass of wine.

If you’ve ever been to Elgr on Kloof Street, you’ll have an inkling of how evocative a dining experience becomes when the environment echoes the food origin story. Chef Jasper Nilsson – who has lived and worked in Sweden – draws much inspiration for the menu from his Nordic background. His uncomplicated but creatively presented dishes are served in an equally minimalist environment of subdued charcoal, rust and earthen tones. Clean lines inside, lush plants outside. Nordic dining indeed.


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Lexus also includes aesthetic elements true to its country of origin and influence. Lexus models across the board incorporate traditional craftsmanship techniques such as wood marquetry – the fastidious piecing together of thin wood panels to produce intricate designs.

The LivingRoom at Summerhill Guest Estate, under the leadership of chef Johannes Richter, tells a story of KwaZulu-Natal’s rich culinary diversity. By working with ‘hyper-endemic ingredients, ancient processes, modern thinking and classic techniques’, this restaurant offers a novel dining experience. The restaurant does not feel like a restaurant at all, where each-to-their-own eating is the norm. Here, tables stand juxtaposed on Nguni rugs, surrounded by antique furniture, deep-hued art-laden walls and brass candlesticks atop each table in a homely room complete with fireside piano and wine displays. You may eat some of KwaZulu-Natal’s finest cuisine, but you’ll feel the flavours of Durban’s food history. After all, you dined in her LivingRoom.

For Lexus, emotional connection is equally important. Its vehicles feature hand-stitched interiors, seats and a steering wheel with a human, not a machine-made touch. Through its design focal elements – the warmth of natural wood, the intricate patterning on buttons – these cars emphasise a tactile experience. They tell the story of driving not only in luxury, but in legacy.

For a restaurant in the heart of the Karoo to add to the experience of the vast unspoilt game reserve, the line where outside meets the culinary inside must be walked with an insightful balance. Chef Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen, the visionary behind JAN, his Michelin-starred restaurant in Nice, handled this homecoming project – Restaurant Klein JAN in Tswalu Game Lodge – with masterful aplomb. Every element, not merely the food, has been considered to complement the greater environment beyond the establishment’s concrete walls. Tones of ochre, sand and warm brown blend seamlessly from the horizon of the Kalahari landscape to the edge of the dining tables. Organic textures – rough woven cloth, curved architectural features, and the use of leather and stone mirror the bristled sweep of veld grasses and the undulation of the ever-changing surrounding dunes. Even the food is served on wooden boards and in woven grass baskets – bringing a natural edge to the precision and perfection inherent to fine dining. The clever addition of an open-plan kitchen leaves the mystique of fine dining for inner-city establishments, because the Karoo does nothing better than beg you to shed barriers.

Lexus has finely honed the art of takumi and, like Jan, mirrors the craftsmanship of the Karoo in the interiors of his restaurant. Lexus vehicles are assembled component for component with mirrored precision. The paintwork is flawless – a process of multi-stage polishing and rebuffing to achieve the exact required result. The panelling gaps are meticulous – as every millimetre matters – an aesthetic importance only heritage craftsmanship would know to value. The focus on the final ergonomics – how the human form sits, acts, feels and moves in the environment – is carefully considered and is an homage to the concept of omotenashi  – which encapsulates the idea of hospitality and goes beyond mere customer service to proactively anticipate the needs and desires of customers, providing a seamless and personalised experience at every touchpoint.

Any environment that does not also consider the protagonist of the story in the completion of the décor has overlooked a key element in how the story will play out. And so, in fast cars, fine restaurants and even the hat perched on your head – if the aesthetics don’t fully align, the story you tell may not be remembered.

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