Whether Danish designer Ulrik Nordentoft is doing product design in a smaller scale or completing entire interior decorations within the field of hospitality two characteristics are always present: he is true towards his Nordic heritage and he prefers collaborational creativity in close relation with the customer.
Maybe you have been lucky enough to visit New York and pass by the Grand Central Station? In here, just by all the subway-lines is a place called The Great Northern Foodhall with a complimentary restaurant named Agern.
Stepping inside Agern, you quickly realise, that the interiors isn’t your typical American restaurant. It incorporates Danish and Nordic design elements everywhere, using the beauty and sturdiness of wood from the oak and welcomes you with its natural wood and warm colours.
“In general I believe restaurants should be able to welcome you with a combination of wauw and welcome that at the same time will make the guest feel invited into a new experience and still feel comfortable. In many ways, this experience resembles going to the theatre”.
The Great Northern Food Hall and Agern are owned by a Danish food-entrepreneur Claus Meyer and aren’t the only projects Ulrik Nordentoft has done for Claus Meyer and his wife Christina Meyer Bengtsson. The portfolio also contains The Standard in Copenhagen consisting of several restaurants such as Studio, Almanak, and a bar. But even more importantly the collaboration between Claus Meyer and Nordentoft is a world class example of how Ulrik Nordentoft prefers to work:
“Part of our culture is to debate and discuss solutions. To learn from each other and by applying different perspectives designing a solution that is optimal. I would be against my nature to act as the conductor or the all-knowing artist fobbing something off on a client”, he states and paints the image of a good collaboration:
“The best customer on one hand has an opinion and a purpose, and on the other hand has a clear expectation of being challenged, in this case by me as a designer. Everything is done in a proper tone, with respect and open – but it is in this way the best quality in design is created”.
Aesthetics is not an appendix
For Restaurant Agern Ulrik Nordentoft has been working with a clear aesthetic language by making visual referrals to Scandinavia: the overhang from the 1st floor with its wavy expression lingers to architect and designer Alvar Aalto as well as the usage of wood and stone on floors and walls makes your associations go north.
According to Ulrik Nordentoft referrals does not do the trick alone, if you want to fulfil the expectations of a guest visiting the theatre:
“A feminine element is mandatory. This are things that are not really needed, objects that do not fulfil a specific function other than the fact that they organically complete the universe by creating warmth and cosiness”, he says and continues:
“For me, it´s very important that the feminine element is part of the design from the very beginning and not something you try to add, once the big tasks are done. –I think about how to use it in tiles, floor patterns, backdrops and similar already in the initial planning”, he explains.
Food for show
The word “theatre” has been mentioned a couple of times and truly comes into play at The Standard in Copenhagen where the building itself plays the part of the theatre and each restaurant is a different play. Here the entire building from the outside was brought back as close to its original expression coherent with its dating, whereas the inside was given more freedom for each restaurant to play its own part. Ulrik Nordentoft adds some more words to it in this way:
“When creating restaurants, or any other type of hospitality for that matter, what drives me is that feeling you have when you are at the long table with friends and family on a summer evening. The food is delicious, the temperature perfect, the sounds in harmony and your basic feeling is comfortable. In order to create this indoors I think of it as a theatre. A holistic universe you enter where every little detail in the stories told has been thought about for the guest to be able to stay in the moment”.
His passion for the food theatre, he laughs, can sometimes drive the chefs in a new restaurant a little nuts, as the food served is part of the holistic history – at least when it comes to the mind of Ulrik Nordentoft.
The other leg
Looking at the portfolio of Ulrik Nordentoft a lot of easy recognizable products for acknowledged companies such as Stelton, Georg Jensen, Pantone and Normann testify that hospitality is not all Ulrik does:
“I have two legs, and I appreciate walking on both of them”, he states and continues:
“One for hospitality and one for product design. The two directions bring out something different in me, but they are both me and I´m equally proud of projects and products”.
He points out the series of knives, called “Pure black” that he, in collaboration with Sebastian Holmbäck, designed for Stelton, as something he to this day is still very pleased with:
“The knives are the result of something quiet laying inside of me for a decade or more. Everything in that design compiles with me and my perception of a Nordic heritage”.
“Pure black” was awarded the Red Dot Best of the Best Award in 2011.