Surfaces Focus: Project – Mimi Kakushi, Dubai, by Pirajean Lees

Mimi Kakushi, Dubai, by Pirajean Lees is a 1920s inspired restaurant, which showcases a spectacular stained-glass window

Words by Emily Martin

MIMI KAKUSHI is a new Japanese restaurant in Dubai, designed by Pirajean Lees. It takes its inspiration from traditional Japanese joinery and principles of living, with the resulting design scheme a blended celebration of oriental art deco and new thinking. The interiors feature a carefully curated selection of architectural elements, original furniture and handcrafted accessories. With light taking a prominent role, the space also features magnificent bespoke stained glass windows which, while a showstopper and in keeping with a timely theme, serve practical benefits to the space and diners using it.

Due to the restaurant’s elevated position, double exposure and fully glazed elevations Pirajean Lees had to carefully control and guide the light into the space, giving it a prominent role in the design. To the east, a bespoke stained window of amber and red glass dresses the existing facade while allowing warm light to bathe the space during the day. To the south, the duo created a bespoke curtain of wooden beads and introduced mirrored tables and walls, reflecting light through the space, transforming the sunset into an interior feature.

The showstopper stained glass windows add warmth to the space
The showstopper stained glass windows add warmth to the space

‘It gets direct, strong sunlight all day long, which can be very uncomfortable when dining,’ explains Clémence Pirajean and James Lees, co-founders of Pirajean Lees. ‘We understood that we could use it as an advantage – as a design element to transform the space throughout the day, as the light changes. Light is always a key component within a restaurant. When done well, it adds comfort and harmony to a space. The amber stained glass warms and filters the eastern light. At night-time it is backlit, as a Japanese lantern, adding a decorative layer to the interior.’

Red high gloss lacquer used throughout the interiors absorbs the light for a more tamed experience where necessary. In addition to creating the architectural details, Pirajean Lees has designed all lighting, tables and a selection of seating to furnish the space. The tables feature scalloped edges that soften their geometry. Turned wood beams, wallpapers and hand-painted Japanese landscapes all add layers of beautiful details to the space. The sliding screens divide the open space into a sequence of smaller areas and volumes, giving flexibility in how to use the restaurant.

A difficult space to work with, the former nightclub had to be stripped back to an empty shell in order to undertake a complete transformation. The stained glass was also a challenging feat, as Pirajean and Lees explain: ‘Due to heat and humidity in Dubai, we had to install a first, external layer of glazing, which also worked with the rest of the building's facade. While the stained glass windows are decorative, they also had to be openable. Both layers had to work together and be operable, to reveal the view or let fresh air in if required. We also had to integrate lighting between the two systems in order to light the stained glass indirectly at night-time.’

The colonial-style Japanese bar is a focal point for guests
The colonial-style Japanese bar is a focal point for guests

All Pirajean Lees projects start with a unique approach: to find a strong narrative, enabling the studio to push boundaries in their designs and steer away from current trends. For Mimi Kakushi, the interior design concept is built around 1920s Japan and follows the persona of Sessue Hayakwa. A Hollywood heartthrob and the first Asian movie star of the 1920s, Hayakwa perfectly personified this era. Known for his lavish parties, gold-plated car and castle-style mansion, Hayakwa’s story became the foundation for the design, allowing the duo to create a space that captured his character and essence using textures, materials, mood and atmosphere.

Respect for the building’s original structure and architectural features, including level changes in the ceiling and structural columns, informed the spatial layout. Guests are guided through the restaurant, exploring beautiful interiors on their journey. They are welcomed by hand-painted walls, meeting the concierge at reception, past the colonial Japanese bar and viewing across the sushi counter to the tables. The open kitchen is visible throughout the space, creating a dynamic atmosphere while the chefs are at work and the fire of the grill is burning.

‘Mimi Kakushi is timeless, unique and considered. It has a lyrical quality – a sense of poetry that runs throughout the brand and interiors, down to the smallest details,’ comment Pirajean and Lees.

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