Vancouver interior designer Karin Bohn talks travelling with Restaurants on the Edge, and the inspiration she brought home
As pandemic escapism goes, Vancouver interior designer Karin Bohn’s new Netflix series is a binge-worthy mix of three now-off-limits delights: exotic travel, destination restaurants, and décor shopping.
Shooting the Restaurants on the Edge series in 2019 took the interior-design maven to locations including a quaint Hong Kong fishing village, a town nestled in the Austrian Alps, and an outpost perched on one of Saint Lucia’s highest tropical-beach overlooks. And it seems like a world away from her, and everyone else’s, homebound existence during COVID-19.
“What a 180-degree turn,” says the creative force behind the Vancouver-based House of Bohn firm and the #Bohnafide YouTube series. “We were pretty much on the road constantly. We shot 13 episodes in seven months. We’d be on the road for nine or 10 days and then home for four or five. It was exhausting but super exciting at the same time. You’d be flying to the Caribbean, and then back for a few days and off to Finland. You would never know what time zone you were in. I was travelling a lot. My husband’s a pilot and we were saying I was flying more than he was!”
In the series, Bohn, whose chic-hip eatery designs here include Anh and Chi and Virtuous Pie, joins chef Dennis Prescott and restaurateur Nick Liberato to help far-flung, failing restaurants revive their businesses with local and personal touches. What most of the spots have in common is a breathtaking view or location; as Prescott puts it in the show’s intro, too often out there, the better the view, the worse the food. In the Austrian episode, Bohn seeks out an antique-ski light fixture, while Prescott brings in foraged herbs and regional goat cheese. In Saint Lucia, she draws from a traditional festival’s colourful, fringe-swinging costumes for cushions, while Prescott scuba-dives for local lionfish and Liberato sources spiced rum for a cocktail.
“It was emotional,” Bohn recalls. “What was so incredible was that it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, you’re always dealing with people who had hopes and dreams and who are trying to make a living and support their families by trying to get a business off the ground.”
Back home with time to reflect on the experience, Bohn says the adventures opened her eyes to the possibilities of design, whether she was learning how to hammer a metal cowbell in Austria or to craft red-earth pottery in Costa Rica, using her bare feet to stamp mud in a 5,000-year-old Indigenous technique.
“You come up against these quirky people,” she says. “Travel is so important to being a good designer. I think sometimes I can get caught in a bubble in Vancouver. Every day you’re dealing with the same trades and networks, and being pulled out of that and working hard with these people really brought me back to the love and the craftsmanship.”
Amid all the fun, Bohn says, the tight renovation schedule was often challenging—most memorably in Saint Lucia, where she helped change a hand-built, open-air shack into a sturdy green, red, and yellow beacon overlooking a postcard-pretty bay.
“Most of the crew and trades we worked with spoke broken English—and the tools they had! They had a rusty machete for the demo,” recalls Bohn. “We were ripping apart this shack. It was probably one of the episodes where I was the most stressed. I was thinking, ‘We’re never going to get this done.’”
Having reimagined the restaurants and reignited their local flavour to kick-start business, Bohn admits she can’t help wondering how they’ll weather the coronavirus storm. “Now, with no tourism and not a lot of travel, you do worry about them,” she says.
Coincidentally, many of the tricks Bohn used on her journeys for the show apply to people trying to turn their homes into more serene, livable spaces during a time when travel feels like a long-ago memory. Here are a few of her design strategies to making a space work during lockdown:
An ongoing theme on Restaurants on the Edge is paring down knick-knacks. “It’s out with the old and in with the things that really do bring you joy,” Bohn says. “I’ve been doing a lot of that for my own space. I don’t think I’ve been at home and really enjoyed my space and just experienced it as much as I have in these last five weeks. More than ever, it’s important to have an environment that really does fuel you, whether that’s calming or inspiring, and getting rid of that visual stress around you.
“It’s highlighting the special pieces, which will always stand out more when there’s nothing around them,” she adds. “I really loved doing that in the restaurants. We were always repurposing something—like taking a piece of art in the corner and putting it on a feature wall.”
“They will freshen up your space, and right now it’s easy to paint, put up new drapery, or put on a new bedspread,” she says. “These days, I’m really liking pink, in soft blushy tones, or pale yellows. I’m working on a little patio transformation now with whites, soft greys, and pale yellows.”
On Restaurants on the Edge, Bohn seeks out local fabrics and repurposes benches, bar stools, and chairs for an updated look. “It’s way easier than you think: you just pop off the seat, reupholster them, and paint the wood.”
Right before the reveal at the end of every episode, you’ll see Bohn putting out fresh local flowers or little potted plants as accents.
“I have three new plants in my living room,” she says. “One is a mini orange tree, and I love it. It actually has budding fruit. I feel like there’s life in my house, and it’s bringing the outside indoors. There are also great places that deliver plants now.”