Beautiful not boring: A look at architectural gems of Ottawa

Younes Bounhar (blog/Twitter) and Amanda Large (blog/Twitter) eat, sleep and breathe photography. As a creative tandem, they are constantly on the lookout for the next inspiring photo project. Younes has called Ottawa home since 2004 while Amanda is a more recent arrival to the city. In their spare time they like to teach photography (Younes) play ukuele (Amanda) and both try new restaurants and play soccer. 

As a government town, Ottawa has earned itself a reputation for being quiet, polite, even boring. However, in the last few years, the arts, culture and dining scene has changed dramatically and the city is developing a vibrant scene to live up to its status as the Nation’s Capital. We have set out on a little mission to show just how far Ottawa has come by scoping out some of its finest institutions and their beauty.

Play Food and Wine

This modern restaurant located in the Byward market (1 York Street) serves a very unique niche in Ottawa by serving full appetizer-sized portions of market-driven cuisine and wine-pairings. The design was developed by owner Stephen Beckta himself, in conjunction with Robertson Martin Architects Inc., offers a vibrant and accessible environment that matches the dining experience. The simple, streamlined interior was conceived to convey a feeling of “warm comfort, and care-free, playful dining”, says Beckta.

The restaurant is dominated by the Linus blue walls (the colour of the Peanuts’ character’s blanket), which are further complemented by wood tables made from finely polished, local, reclaimed 150-year old red pine and soft flowing sashes of red-saffron fabric draped from the ceiling with low candlelight at night. RMA adds that “To the passersby, views reveal mingling patrons, a back-lit bar and vibrant ceiling sails through the frames of the heritage stone façade, animating the street level. This theatrical experience is carried on through the open kitchen with adjacent seating that allows interaction with the chefs.” Overall, the design strikes a fine balance between modern elegance and “old comfort”. We like the clean, streamlined yet understated design.

Wellington Gastropub

Located in the popular Westboro neighbourhood, Wellington Gastropub (1325 Wellington Street West) features local, organic ingredients in an oft-changing menu and a laid-back atmosphere. Shane Waldron, his wife, Helen Wong, and their business partner, Chris Deraiche, designed the casual, cosy interior to evoke an old school pub warmth. In his words, Shane describes it as “not fussy, inviting and with a feeling of being at a friends house for dinner, where you feel comfortable, and look forward to a good night out.” We particularly liked the eclectic collection of chairs and decorative elements which add a genuine, personal touch to the space.

Zen Kitchen

Zen Kitchen (634 Somerset Street West) sits right at the start of Ottawa’s Chinatown and uses locally sourced whole foods and all-natural ingredients to present dishes that are both beautiful and healthy. The interior was designed by Heidi Helm of Urbanomic Interiors. Heidi explains that “The design objective at ZenKitchen was to avoid the stereotypical “granola” aesthetic of many vegetarian/vegan establishments and create an upscale, contemporary space that avoided coming across as stuffy or pretentious. To achieve this we paired clean, lines with bold yet inviting colours and

a bit of whimsy in the upholstery fabrics. The rich warm solid cherry wood tables and bar top were finished with a thick lacquer for an additional touch of sophistication and the overall colour palette was inspired by spices such as curry and saffron, which are essential to Vegan cooking.” What stands out at Zen Kitchen, is that the choice of colours and furnishing lend warm and inviting atmosphere that is far from being cold and sterile.

Hotel Indigo

Hotel Indigo (123 Metcalfe Street) is the InterContinental brand’s take on the boutique hotel format in the heart of Ottawa’s business district. The hotel is centered around a large Atrium , which provides a unique look as it floods the entire space with natural light. The fountain and fireplace in the main lobby add an intimate touch to the whole. However, our favorite feature was the Phi Bar, with its curves and complementary colours.

Murray Street Kitchen

Murray Street Kitchen (110 Murray Street) is located in Ottawa’s Byward market and boasts Ottawa’s first charcuterie bar. It was designed with a “back to basics” aesthetic. Owners Paddy Whelan and Steve Mitton, in conjunction with Ernst Hupel of 2H, wanted to evoke the pre-superstore days when people went to the butcher for the meat, the bakery for their bread and the market for their produce. The interior features warm, natural materials (wood and leather) and is intentionally understated to redirect the attention to the food, which is sourced from local farmers and suppliers. There is an emphasis on meat in the menu, and Hupel explained that the colour of the walls was selected to complement red. We particularly appreciated the concept of a fine dining experience in an unassuming and cosy setting.

ARC The Hotel

Arc the Hotel (140 Slater Street) is one of Ottawa’s luxury boutique hotels located in Ottawa’s business district. This elegant and sophisticated interior was designed by Toronto/New York-based firm Yabu Pushelberg. “Predicated on the European model which privileges comfort over style, the design impetus stems from the desire to create a hotel that has character and longevity. Custom made furniture and fixtures were created as an extension of the overall design statement to underscore and unify the interior look for a sense of flow and completed architecture.” We feel that Yabu Pushelberg produced a winner at the Arc with a design that is classy and luxurious but never ostentatious.

Sounds like we’ve got some exploring to do, Ottawa! We’ll look at these places in a whole new light!