The winning effect: Artedomus in conversation with Studio Plenty

Light Years Asian Bar and Diner by Studio Plenty was celebrated as the Commercial Project Winner of the Artedomus and The Local Project Emerging Designer Awards last year. Recognised for its original use of material and space, sustainable principles and innovative thinking, it became an exemplar of hospitality design, with its superior approach to tone and tactility and a design vision that expresses the venue’s animated spirit.

We recently caught up with Studio Plenty’s Will Rathgeber, to discuss his practice, process and philosophy, and find out how winning an award has impacted him.

Artedomus: Who is Studio Plenty?
Will Rathgeber: Studio Plenty in a small practice based in Byron Bay. We opt for sensibility in design above all else. ‘Plenty’ is our opposing attitude to the common state that more means happiness. Our ideology is an antithesis to this mindset. Simply put, ‘That’ll be plenty, cheers’.

How would you describe your design philosophy?
The word ‘plenty’ is ubiquitous in Australia and often exercised graciously in response to offers of seconds at the dinner table – ‘That’s plenty, cheers’. Having ‘plenty’ – an abundant, yet not excessive amount – defies the common belief that more means happiness. Our ideology is an antithesis to this mindset and our appetite is for rational design, avoiding overindulgent tendencies and encouraging an obsession for functionalism. Essentially, we seek to evoke happiness, which we believe is achieved through considered design.

What inspired you to enter The (Emerging) Designer Awards?
Life as a small practice breaking into the design world is a fickle reality – we put our lives into our work, but without a significant platform our tireless efforts often go without recognition. Opportunities to have the product of your passion seen on such a scale is often rare, so to see two highly respected design ambassadors, Artedomus and The Local Project, come together to champion emerging designers is a breath of fresh air for us and our community of young practices.

Can you describe your experience as a category winner?
Recognition of such magnitude, an award judged by a panel of esteemed designers I look up to, is a mix of pleasure and validation that I struggle to put into words. As an emerging practice, moments like this are not only a tap on the bum [‘well done!’], but a source of immeasurable momentum to continue the work that we feel is positively serving clients, our community and our creative industry.

What are some of your favourite moments your category winning project, Light Years Asian Bar and Diner?
In the design process, often it is the most challenging moments that produce the most successful outcomes – this could not be more true for Light Years, Byron Bay. One day on site with our fabulous builder, I stood in the main dining room completely stumped when informed that our acoustic insulation spray would refuse to adhere to the lagging wrap on the exposed drainage pipe in our ceiling space.

After some extended periods of silence and several sweat droplets forming on my brow, the builder and I erupted in laughter upon the idea of wrapping the pipes in fibreglass motorcycle exhaust insulation tape – it still sounds absurd to say now. Although it is a subtle element in the composition of the restaurant, it is by far the most iconic moment in our eyes.

Tell us about the role sustainability plays in this project?
In our studio we are constantly challenging ourselves to surpass sustainability benchmarks and for Light Years we focused on three main areas: firstly, providing a maximised fit-out lifespan through the specification of hard-wearing, durable and time-pervading materials, fixtures and fittings.

Secondly, prioritising patron environmental experience and reducing loads by maintaining high ceilings to maximise natural light and ensuring natural ventilation for patron comfort and air quality.

Finally – and where this project shows its vigour – was a determination to remain locally grounded, collaborating with local furniture designer Sarah Ellison and local artist Studio of the Sun. An integrated design process that engages local talent allows the design to be positively influenced by threads of local culture and context, which inevitably forms part of the fabric experienced by patrons.

What are people telling you about Light Years?
It’s nice to say, and I’m humbled to admit it – the praise has been overwhelming from both our community and those visiting from afar. Some describing it as a ‘pink delight’ and others like ‘entering the womb’. The client was kind enough to comment on our relationship with the project: We “treated the restaurant build like a first born baby.”

Will’s project, Light Years Asian Bar and Diner, won the Commercial Project 2023. Entries for the 2024 The (Emerging) Designer Awards are now open. Enter here

Words by Alice Blackwood
Light Years Asian Bar and Diner photography by Jessie Prince