Vancouver Design Star Karin Bohn On Traveling The World Remodeling Struggling Restaurants On Netflix’s ‘Restaurants On The Edge’, Why She Chose Design, And Post-Covid Predictions

The restaurant business is one of the hardest ones out there.

The margins are slim to none, staff turnover is always a problem, and a shotty Yelp review could snowball into a devastating result.

Those who enter the scene looking for gold tend to be spewed back out quickly. Which is why the restaurant industry is one filled by extremely passionate and hospitable people.

Sometimes that highly fueled passion means jumping into this difficult business without any or little know-how.

If you’ve ever tuned into Gordon Ramsay’s ‘Kitchen Nightmares’ or Robert Irvine’s ‘Restaurant: Impossible’, you’ll see the spectrum of restaurant owners who jumped into the business, had no idea what to do, and are needing saving from the Food Stars before they reach the point of bankruptcy.

A lot of times the massive overhaul Gordon or Robert does involves a complete restaurant makeover: swapping the whole menu out, ripping the floors and redesigning the entire dining space, and slapping some sense to the owners.

Because restaurants has always operated behind the curtains, the entertainment value meshed with the business-inside-look is really captivating.

And that is exactly what Netflix’s new-ish show (now on Season 2), Restaurants on the Edge, does. Same premise but with some extra bells and whistles.

Instead of fixing up a struggling diner by the city-side, Restaurants on the Edge transports 3 experts (Chef Dennis Prescott, Restaurateur Nick Liberato, and Interior Designer Karin Bohn) with the task to spruce up some of the world’s most swoon-worthy – but struggling – destination restaurants.

This Netflix pseudo lifestyle x educational docu-series follows Vancouver’s very own Karin Bohn, and the expert team, around the world to help struggling restaurant owners turn their business around.

For the unacquainted – Karin is the mastermind behind the interior designs of several Vancouver restaurants like Anh & Chi, Pequish, MELU Juice Bar, Virtuous Pie and penthouses that we dream of living in.

Aside from oogling at jaw-dropping views, the fun is also in being part of the cultural experiences that Karin and each of the hosts participating in, to bring back to the restaurant.

For instance, in Season one’s Hong Kong episode, Chef Chris was brought around the Sham Shoui Po neighbourhood, by a local food expert, to try street food and get inspiration for reinventing the struggling restaurant’s (The Banyan Tree) menu.

In the same episode, Karin had the difficult task of figuring out the best way to declutter the restaurant’s interior space. We followed her along as she met with a Feng Shui Master, where we learned about this art and the process in how Karin would transform The Banyan Tree’s entire interior set up.

With Season 2 dropping recently, we chatted with Karin about her experience on Restaurants on the Edge, how she got started in design and thoughts on how the pandemic would affect the interior design space moving forward.

For people who are unfamiliar with you, can you please introduce yourself and Restaurants on the Edge?

[Karin]: I am the Founder and Creative Director at my Interior Design Firm here in Vancouver, House of Bohn. In addition to House of Bohn, I am a YouTube Content Creator and most recently, the Design Star of Netflix’s show, Restaurants on the Edge.

Restaurants on the Edge on Netflix brings together a team of three experts – a restaurateur, a chef, and myself being the designer. We traveled all over the world to help struggling restaurants completely remodel and the results are amazing! 

Everyone is quite familiar with Netflix’s Chef’s Table and David Chang’s Ugly Delicious when it comes to popular food shows in the past few years.

What makes Restaurant on the Edge something different, but as interesting as those shows?

[Karin]: Restaurants on the Edge is unique and different because it combines food, design and running a business all in one place! It really makes the show a triple threat and provides the viewers with more than just one perspective. There’s something there for everyone. 

A big part of the show is the hosts venturing out into the city to experience a part of the local culture and use it as inspiration to infuse it back into the troubled restaurant.

Personally, what was the most memorable experience and why? And as a designer, what was the most inspiring event.

[Karin]: For me as a designer, Finland was one of the most inspiring countries to visit. I’ve always been a fan of Scandinavian design, but I wasn’t extremely well versed in the actual design philosophy. Getting an opportunity to go to that country and work with local craftspeople was an incredible experience.

For example, I met with Brian Keaney who is the founder of one of the most recognizable ceramics brands Tonfisk and Saana Ja Olli, the design duo behind the 100% hemp Finnish textile collection. Not only did I learn so much about how the Fins design, but I also learned how they live, eat and think! They have a very true appreciation for nature and for their environment which translates in how they live with a “local” mentality. 

Why would you import something if you can get it in Finland? 

That mentality doesn’t come from a place of ego, the Fins just simply want to support one another. 

This simple way of living and close connection to nature was extremely inspiring, especially as a designer. 

Some of the locations you, Dennis and Nick went to and try to fix up were very different from the modern airy work someone would see in your portfolio.

What was that like? 

[Karin]: This was very challenging for me. I would often go into a location and really scratch my head trying to work out how we were going to tackle a design challenge. 

I often didn’t have the resources, tools or relationships with people at my fingertips like I typically do at home. On top of that, I didn’t have the luxury of long lead times, ordering products in and planning a project for months. I had to work with what was right in front of me within the short time frame that I had. 

It was both stressful and exciting at the same time. 

Sometimes tight restrictions lead to great work!

Of all the spots you and the hosts put your magic touches on, which was your favourite (1 from Seasons 1 & 1 from Season 2) and why?

[Karin]: It’s really hard to pick favorites because there were so many locations from both seasons that I really fell in love with. 

Hong Kong was an incredible experience, especially because my mom was born just outside Hong Kong and I’ve never been. The food was amazing and the couple who were the two shop/restaurants owners we worked with on the show were really, really sweet. Of all the owners, they were the ones that I was not expecting to cry during the reveal, but seeing them get so emotional was a very moving experience for me.

Slovenia was one of my favorite episodes from Season 2. Slovenia was never on my radar as a country that I wanted to visit, but now that I’ve been, I’m so happy I did. I would describe Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, as an incredibly quaint and picturesque European city. It’s clean, surrounded by beautiful mountains and feels very untouched by tourism. The restaurant transformation was also one of the most impactful transformations from the show so from start to finish, I loved the experience.

Is there anything or moment in the show that made you go, “Ah, I wish more people would pay more attention to this”?

[Karin]: It was so much fun discovering local artist and craftspeople, and there wasn’t a single person that I met where I didn’t think “everyone needs to know about this craft!!” 

The blacksmith that I met in Austria – his family had been making cowbells in that area for 300 years! The potter that I met in Costa Rica – he was using a technique that’s thousands of years old! The Kuma Micha in Hawaii – he’s from a family of Hawaiin royalty and showed me how to make Kappa, the fabric worn by traditional Hawaiin dancers. The technique goes back by thousands of years. 

These art forms were just incredible. I couldn’t help but think “Everyone needs to know about and appreciate this!!”

In the first episode, you say “design is all about connection and relationship.”

Can you elaborate what you mean when it comes to restaurant design?

[Karin]: Interior design is all about human interaction. How does a person feel when they walk into a space, how does a person interact with the space itself, and how do people come together in a space? Does a space make a person feel good, does a space encourage interaction with others, does a space allow for relaxation? These are questions that go through my mind when I’m designing – I’m very sensitive to how people might feel in a particular environment and that emotional connection is something I’m very aware of. 

Additionally, you can’t design a space without thinking about all the elements in that space. I’ll pick a paint color based on how much natural light is coming through the windows for example. This also will inform the furniture selections which then informs the decor.

It’s all very connected, to look at design like every element is independent from each other is missing the point of interior design. 

Why interior design for you?

[Karin]: From a young age I would watch my dad build things in the garage, whether it was a treehouse made of wood or welding a riverboat together. I’ve always been creative and fascinated with construction. 

I didn’t know interior design existed as a career until I was out of University and in a way, the career found me. It was kind of always meant to be. 

Who or what did you aspire to be when you were in elementary school? And when you were in your first year of University?

From about the age of 5, I knew I would have my own business and I always knew I would work in a creative field. I hustled chocolate bars out of my backpack when I was in Elementary School and threw parties in high school for a profit.

In University, I sold large scale paintings for a few thousand dollars a pop… I was constantly trying to creatively figure out how to make money and I always had that entrepreneurial spirit. 

I have also ALWAYS been a fashion junkie. It was the thing that I obsessed about, I still do. 

You’ve worked on several projects for local restaurants here in Vancouver. Which was your favourite and why?

Is there another restaurant’s design that you really love?

[Karin]: Picking a favorite restaurant that I worked on feels like having to name your favorite child! Each one is so different and was designed with a unique program… that said, I really love how HAVEN Kitchen + Bar turned out. Haven is a new restaurant project located in Langley that just opened. The design has a millennial flavour to it that’s very suited to its location and demographic.

We also have a number of restaurant projects that I can’t quite spill the means on yet, but there’s going to be a few new ones popping up soon that I’m really excited about! 

How did you get through the days of the lockdown?

[Karin]: My team pulled together in a really incredible way. We moved to the majority of our office working from home with only a skeleton crew in the Studio. 

To be honest, we stayed really busy with projects so we’ve been hustling our way through lockdown and it hasn’t let up yet! 

How do you think design will change as the result of COVID? What about restaurant design specifically?

[Karin]: I think there will be an emphasis on home going forward. I think everyone, including me, has learned how important it is to have a comfortable, functional and inspiring space. 

For example, I only used my home office as a part-time storage room until lockdown. When I moved my work home, I was in that space everyday. I also used it as a flex space where I do my morning yoga and meditation. This has become such a crucial part of my morning routine that I’m now thinking about redesigning my home office so that it can be used as a true multi-purpose flex space.

I have a feeling that I’m not the only one that’s thinking this way. 

Any parting words?

[Karin]: I was so happy to be part of Restaurants on the Edge. What I loved so much about it was helping Restaurants convey their vision through design.

More importantly, I loved showcasing the incredible people behind them. I hope you enjoy watching the show as much as I enjoyed being a part of it!

Restaurants on the Edge is available on Netflix and you can find Karin on her Youtube channel as she vlogs about her life owning a successful interior design firm, House of Bohn.

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