For over a decade, the distinct style of Pascale Gomes-McNabb has defined the face of Melbourne’s restaurants. We spent an afternoon in the studio with this celebrated interior designer.

Pascale Gomes-McNabb talks about the restaurant industry with intimacy. It is a part of who she is, like having brown eyes, or being left-handed. Asking what attracted her to hospitality doesn’t really work, because for Gomes-McNabb it wasn’t attraction: it just was.

“I always worked in hospitality. My first job was in hospitality. I worked in hospitality while studying architecture. I then worked overseas in architecture and hospitality for several years and eventually came home and opened a restaurant with Andrew,” she tells Broadsheet.

In 2000, Gomes-McNabb and chef Andrew McConnell opened Diningroom 211. Gomes-McNabb designed the interior and ran front-of-house, while McConnell was in the kitchen. At the time, it was reviewed as a “sparkling, sexy, postmodern tearaway” and McConnell was named Young Chef of The Year. The talented duo went on to open and manage several lauded Melbourne eateries, including Mrs Jones, Cumulus Inc and Cutler & Co. Gomes-McNabb designed the interiors for each one.

In recent years, Gomes-McNabb has focused on interior design for private clients. Since 2010 she has designed a string of exciting projects, including Sydney’s Bentley Restaurant & BarYellow and Monopole, Penfolds Magill Estate restaurant in South Australia and most recently, Stokehouse City in Melbourne. With unique spaces and engaged clients by her side, Gomes-McNabb has executed dashing creative visions, revealing a sense of style dedicated to craftsmanship, materiality and theatre. This year her work was recognised with national interior design awards for both Penfolds and Yellow.

She no longer works in the restaurants she designs, but Gomes-McNabb’s experience on a restaurant floor will always inform her design decisions. “Having been in restaurants for so long, you just discover what works and what doesn’t,” she says. “Even now my operational experience informs how I design other people’s restaurants. Once I obtain a plan I don’t feel compelled to use a certain colour palette or an amazing light fitting, I look at the zoning and the functional layout of the space. I assess the operation as a whole. That, and the brief, inform the way it looks.” The expertise Gomes-McNabb offers goes way beyond design: she seeks to understand the business holistically, interviewing staff and analysing the restaurant’s food service so she can create an interior tailored to them.

Gomes-McNabb’s knowledge of the dining industry has been built with time and experience. She speaks of Melbourne restaurants like old friends, recalling Friday nights at Mietta’s with her parents and lamenting great spots that didn’t stand the test of time. After years of dining, she falls back on quality food and spaces with character when choosing a restaurant, naming Gertrude St Enoteca and Abla’s as two of her favourites. “I think today it’s not so much about fine dining. People want theatre in a restaurant – you go to be entertained. It’s about looking at people, interaction and being in the community.”

Read the full article by Anna Metcalfe here.