To remake Stockholm's iconic Operakällaren restaurant, Claesson Koivisto Rune paired white-tie architecture with an open-collar attitude
David Sokol -- Interior Design, 6/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
Stockholm's Royal Opera House and its regal restaurant, Operakällaren, opened together in 1787, and both were rebuilt as neo-baroque confections in 1895. For Swedes, the restaurant is a beloved institution as well as a national landmark. But by 2004, the 2,300-square-foot dining room's crimson velvet and polished mahogany were overdue for a makeover.
"We weren't allowed to put a single screw in the paneled walls or the coffered ceiling," Mårten Claesson says of the regulations that governed the yearlong project undertaken by his hip firm, Claesson Koivisto Rune. The job also included installing a bar in an adjacent glassed-in veranda, added by architect Peter Celsing in 1961.
CKR's inspiration was sartorial rather than architectural. "We found a photo of Kevin Spacey in a pinstriped jacket and a half-unbuttoned white shirt," Claesson says. "The pinstripe is elegant, regardless of trends, and it's combined with the shirt in a casual way." Auspiciously, Operakälleran owner Alessandro Catenacci happened to be wearing exactly that combination on the day that Claesson and fellow principals Eero Koivisto and Ola Rune made their presentation.
The suit theme is occasionally explicit in the 80-seat dining room. CKR upholstered its own padded armchairs in Paul Smith's natty Bespoke Stripe and devised an eroded chalk-stripe pattern for the dark blue carpet. There's even a suggestion of giant cuff links: three freestanding pairs of enormous square mirrors leaning against each other. The mirrors are partially backed with gold foil, to complement the room's three antique brass chandeliers, and laminated with an optical film that clouds over at an oblique angle, so seated diners aren't looking at their own reflections.
The architects further enhanced the banker's-suit atmosphere by underscoring the grandeur of original details. For example, spotlights hidden in the coffers illuminate a series of large impressionistic oil paintings mounted, friezelike, just below the ceiling. "We may have used a few screws to install those lights—but strictly in preexisting holes," Koivisto says. "The paintings make the ceiling feel lower while maintaining a sense of the room's volume and proportions."
It was open season on the glassed-in veranda, which has no protected status. This 1,000-square-foot annex runs the length of the restaurant's rusticated granite sidewall. Originally, the veranda's floor was more or less at street level. The steel-framed structure's granite parapet was about 2 feet higher than that, as was the floor of the dining room. "You felt like you were sitting in the bottom of a boat," Rune says. With the veranda floor raised, the glazing seems uninterrupted, and the transition to the dining room is seamless.
A no-color palette differentiates the veranda from the dining room's classic blue, gold, and brown. The veranda's floor is white terrazzo; the round tables and the long mirror-faced bar are topped in Carrara marble. Above the bar hangs a 14-foot-long chandelier comprising regimented rows of milky-white Murano glass tubes. Stretchy white mesh wraps the angular chairs. Except for the diaphanous white drapery fabric, which CKR designed for a cultural building in Japan, the firm created all furnishings expressly for this interior. "We even made the Italians work in August," Claesson says.
The light and airy veranda plays the part of the royal summer pavilion to the dining room's stately winter palace—the white shirt to the pinstriped suit. And this effect is reinforced by the one interior element that CKR salvaged from Celsing's original addition: A huge striped sheet-metal canopy swoops down from the ceiling in a deep curve, a reference to Gustav III's tent-shape stables at Hagaparken. Sipping passion-fruit cocktails beneath this jaunty awning, one can't help but feel a little like Kevin Spacey, a king of cool.