There’s a phrase that restaurant designer Melony Spencer likes to use to explain what she aims to achieve – effortless escape.
The idea that the space we’re visiting is calming, welcoming, subtly captures our imaginations and gently excites us.
That while we’re eating, drinking and chatting we can leave behind the pressures and mundanity of everyday life and enjoy a period of relaxation and self-indulgence.
That ordinary life is outside and we’re sitting somewhere special.
Walk into her latest project -the Lasan Group’s newly-opened Argentinian steakhouse and bar Fiesta del Asado in Shirley – and it becomes clear how this guides Mel and her small team of designers.
It’s clearly the younger sisters of the long-established Fiesta del Asado in Hagley Road, Edgbaston, but with a more contemporary, less rustic edge.
The former Marks & Spencer store has been converted into a place of understated luxury.
Enter through the plant-filled foyer and you’re drawn towards a large U-shaped marble bar surrounded by elegant seating.
There’s light wood tables with pastel coloured chairs. Lots of plants. Lots of natural materials. Lots of natural light.
Patches of pattern here and there create focal points. Likewise the expensive fittings.
“It was a big empty box and that gave us a fantastic opportunity to achieve something special,” says Mel, who launched the Spencer Swinden design consultancy a decade ago.
First though, she explains, came discussions with Lasan Group owner Jabbar Khan to grasp exactly what he wanted the new Festa to be and painstaking research to help reach those goals.
The patterns used sparingly are inspired by the eclectic culture of Argentina.
The natural materials used through the large restaurant and bar were chosen to instil a sense of wellbeing.
Mel, who is an Advanced Feng Shui Consultant after studying its ancient Chinese principles, said the bar was an essential feature in creating Fiesta’s sense of “flow”.
“It draws you to it as you walk off the high street into a different world,” she explains.
Mel says that attention to detail – not just in design but in all aspects of the businesses with which she works – is crucial.
She likes fully to grasp what the owners are seeking and to offer a bespoke service.
Other projects have included Jailbird restaurant and lounge and Purecraft bar in the city centre, the Plough in Harborne, the Village in Moseley, Gas Street Social at the Mailbox and the Red Lion and Lord Clifden in the Jewellery Quarter.
Her own background is varied – graphic design, textiles, fashion and even engineering.
And she grew up the daughter of an architect, so has always understood the importance of buildings and spaces.
This variety, she believes, helps her adopt a holistic approach
She looks at matters such as demographics, local competition, the proposed menu and the area’s footfall as well as the actual concept of the business with which she’s working.
Only then do the blueprints begin to take shape.
And even after the work is largely finished, her attention doesn’t diminish.
For, after they’ve opened, she visits her bars and restaurants at different times so she can ensure that the spaces work for customers, no matter where they sit, so she can suggest tweaks if necessary.
She’s delighted with the new Fiesta.
“It’s a destination – a place where people from that neck of the woods can invite their friends from elsewhere confident that it will impress,” she says.
And it will.
My only dilemma is that I’m equidistant between Shirley and Edgbaston so will have to decide which to visit when.
Studios 3 & 4, Hagley Mews, Hall Drive, Birmingham DY9 9LQ.
Fiesta del Asado Solihull
177 Stratford Road, Shirley Shopping Precinct, Shirley B90 3AX.