Callum Lui, Creative director, Brisbane

Brisbane has definitely shed its (undeserved) reputation of being a bit of a cultural backwater ... and we really do have to thank the people within the hospitality industry for their hard work, passion and commitment in driving this.

Most Brisbanites know the work of Callum Lui firsthand. From a neighbourhood wine bar in Wynnum to local health clinics and a prestige eatery on James Street, Callum Lui and the team at Clui Design represent one of the major players shaping the future of Brisbane. Callum founded the interior and branding agency in 2005, helping to cultivate the Brisbane renaissance through a portfolio of exciting venues across the city. The creative crew at Clui Design are the brains behind the interiors at some of Brisbane’s most-exciting recent additions, such as Fat Cow on James St, Longwang, Short Grain and plenty more. With upcoming projects at The Star Brisbane and across town, Callum’s position at the forefront of Brisbane design looks here to stay. We caught up with the Brisbane local to chat about his design process, his dream projects and what it’s like beating out 25 of the country’s best agencies to design a restaurant on bridge.

Clui Design has been designing Brisbane venues for more than 15 years – how has hospitality design changed throughout the years?
We’ve seen significant evolution in design over the last two decades, and we’re very glad that’s the case – no one wants to see the same styles repeated ad nauseam! Changes in consumer preferences over the years have impacted how projects are conceptualised from the onset. We get a lot of clients approaching us with ideas for ‘immersive or engaging experiences’ – they want to make their venue a destination, not just somewhere to grab some food. This became even more of a focal point for clients with the increased presence of social media and a desire for ‘Instagrammable’ aesthetics. There’s also more consideration for accessibility and sustainability in design over the last few years, which is very positive to see.

Brisbane often gets described as undergoing a renaissance and the restaurant scene has led this charge – why do you think Brisbane has become such a foodie epicentre?
Brisbane has definitely shed its (undeserved) reputation of being a bit of a cultural backwater, especially when it comes to food – and we really do have to thank the people within the hospitality industry for their hard work, passion and commitment in driving this. The City has such a buzz about it now, and that’s very evident with fantastic new dining locations popping up all the time. We’ve had an influx of talented locals pushing culinary boundaries with innovative dishes, unique flavour palettes, engaging designs and a sense of adventurousness. We’re extremely thankful that we’ve been able to work alongside a number of these passionate individuals and love helping them realise their dream venues.

You’ve worked internationally with experience in Japan, are there any elements or experiences you find unique to designing for Brisbane?
I was very fortunate to gain professional experience in Japan after graduating from QUT, but thankfully design language and processes are quite universal. Brisbane does offer its own unique set of opportunities and challenges when it comes to design, especially when compared to my time in Japan.

It’s difficult to define Brisbane’s design elements as they are often wildly different for each project, but there are definitely consistent themes and narratives that underpin a lot of developments. For example, creating combined indoor and outdoor dining spaces is commonly requested. These provide a number of challenges throughout the process to ensure that the design is appropriate for the conditions and able to withstand some of our more volatile weather. With our increased trading hours, a lot of venues seek to seamlessly transition from day-to-night trading and transform their service elements.

As far as design aesthetics go, there’s a lot of demand for biophilic spaces that integrate natural elements within the built environment, or spaces that pay respect to their site’s heritage whilst also adding in contemporary elements.

Clui Design’s projects showcase a diverse range of aesthetics and styles. Are there any particular projects you’re most proud of?
We are always proud whenever any of our projects open! We work so closely with individual clients to develop a design solution that meets their needs, and seeing the project grow from a quick hand sketch on a piece of paper all the way into a fully built venue is always a very special moment for us.

While we don’t like to pick favourites, there are some projects that have provided us with such unique design opportunities that it’s hard not to become incredibly invested personally. We were incredibly proud to win the tender for the Green Bridge development for our client, the Tassis Group, beating out 25 applications from around Australia. We believe the project will deliver an incredible venue and it’s such a fascinating site to flex our design skills on. How often do you get to design a restaurant on a bridge?   

When it comes to restaurants and bars, what are the details that often go overlooked that have the most significant impact on the experience?
There are so many elements that all have to play nicely together to create a successful design, as such there is always a risk that things can be overlooked and that can significantly impact the outcome of the overall experience. Most people understand that lighting is important for setting a venue’s ambience, but consideration needs to be made for lux levels, colour temperatures and beam angles for it to be effective. Without this, lighting can come across as flat or inconsistent with the design. This echoes into every single design element that goes into a venue – there’s a lot more than just making something visually appealing. There are justifications and reasons behind every decision and element you see when you visit a venue. Coherency between design elements reinforces the desired narrative and together strengthens the whole environment.

Is there a particular concept or cuisine that’s a bucket-list project for Clui Design?
We’re incredibly lucky here at Clui Design that our back catalogue covers a vast array of different projects in which we’ve experienced so many forms of design, so many different styles of collaboration with clients and have produced some truly iconic venues. While I’ll take the easy option out and say that I don’t have any specific bucket-list projects in mind, we’re always looking to help people realise their dream venues.

What’s the most rewarding part of the design process?
The design of the interiors is only one ingredient that leads to the success of a new venue.  I really enjoy the way we undertake design at Clui– we have such a strong focus on collaboration – whether it be with the design team internally or with external partners to bring our concept to life.  We work with engineer consultants, artists, branding strategists and countless suppliers, all of whose enthusiasm and commitment to delivering the best outcome for our clients is extremely appreciated. We love seeing customers enjoying venues when they are open and seeing everyone’s hard work be appreciated.

Are there any upcoming projects you’re excited about?
Countless! It’s another easy out, but we’re legitimately excited by everything we’re working on, no matter the scale. We have a lot of health and wellness venues in the pipeline, as well as specialty retail and commercial spaces. In saying that, we are particularly excited by a few projects opening at new Brisbane landmarks. Construction has commenced on two of our restaurant projects at the The Star Brisbane and as the Green Bridge to Kangaroo Point continues its development, you’ll start seeing the framework of two venues taking shape, Stilts and Mulga Bills. Keep an eye out on these as they’re all due to open later this year. 


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