Creme Brasserie


This spring, we were asked to design a restaurant, our first! And in Yorkville no less. We met the owners, the 2 Ricardos, on a cold, blustery March day in the space that used to be the much loved and design award-winning Michelle's. We had to turn this dark space into a bright and airy French bistro. Our timelines were going to be tight - they didn't even have possession of the space yet and they wanted a late spring opening. Everything had to go! And did I mention the design budget was tight? Of course, we could do it!

The inspiration came from Manuela's fall trip to Vegas - the reception lobby of the Paris hotel. Cream coloured walls with moldings (Anna is “the molding queen”) and crystal chandeliers. It so happened we had a picture on our camera to show the Ricardos. They loved it. "That's it, that's what we're thinking of!"

Off to select dishes, glasses, flatware from a nearby restaurant that was closing soon. Okay, not really the order we would have done things, but it all had to get done sooner or later and we had to make the deal while we could. Did I mention, the budget was tight?


Back to studying the space. What could we keep? The built-in at the back would be perfect for the wine, it just needed some refinishing and new hardware. The cabinet on the other side was in rougher shape. Paint maybe? This was the easy part.

The big question was the bar. The existing bar was at the back of the space. It was beautiful – it had the potential to be beautiful once again. It was massive and had a ledge, all it needed was new granite. The owners really wanted an open kitchen so the bar would have to move. Could we cut back this bar and move it to the side?

Hmm, we really wanted to work with the banquettes that were already there on both sides of the space and leave the bar at the back. It would allow for maximum seating capacity and we’d save so much time & money by not moving the bar (including the plumbing which would have to be brought over through the under-ground garage below if we weren’t going to change the floor heights in the restaurant itself.)

So we played with the floor plan. The best layout was to leave the bar where it was, cut it back and create an opening to the kitchen. We also had think of something to block the view to the washrooms but the banquettes could stay in the same place.

This will be easy, no problem staying on budget... until we all decided that we wanted to maximize the overall height: The HVAC had to move. This is going to be a bigger job than we all thought and we were still working toward a spring opening. And as it turned out, they needed to do a lot of work in the kitchen – not our domain. That was left to the commercial kitchen designers – and they had a bigger budget.

Permits in hand, demolition began & we had to get all the furniture, fixtures, lighting, fabrics & art – in a hurry. Off we went with the Ricardos. They took us to see some things they liked: some we loved, some we didn’t. Over the next couple of weeks, everything was firmed up. It all had to be in stock or ready to ship quickly, so the hardwood floor we liked was replaced with porcelain tile that looked like hardwood. It was in stock and it turned out to be the best thing: it looks great & easy maintenance. Evidently, curious neighbours regularly dropped in and some started to take bets on whether the floor was real wood.

Checking in at the construction site: Marco of Calado & Lima Construction, and his guys were working so hard and yet May 10th deadline was becoming May 20th, then May 30th, then early June. Still it was unheard of to get a project like this finished so quickly.

One more thing about the design: Manuela asked the contractor to keep some of the scroll work from the previous restaurant. Michelle’s was designed to look like it was situated under the Eiffel Tower. The ceiling was made up of MDF painted green (verdigris). We had no idea what to do with this but we thought it would be cool to preserve some of it. Reduce, reuse and keep something of the much loved predecessor. We’d figure out later where it would go. Everyone thought we were crazy but of course, we weren’t intending to keep it green. It ended up going all around the coved ceiling giving an interesting detail and hiding the new HVAC vents. It looks great.


Some of our other favourite finds: the ledgerstone used behind the bar and a few other key places; the red quartz bathroom countertops; the gorgeous granite for the bar; and great paintings provided by Joseph Capciotto. Anna did the flower arrangements, and the owners found the four pendants, the onions we call them, when learned at almost last minute that the pendants we had ordered weeks earlier weren’t going to make it in on time. This too turned out for the best.


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