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How to Make Your Kitchen Look as Cool as This Oakland Restaurant

Shop the Restaurant: Nyum Bai

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The best restaurants have a story to tell. Oakland’s Nyum Bai is no exception. Nite Yun is a Cambodian-American chef who was born in a refugee camp in Thailand and grew up in America. The restaurant serves the recipes Yun spent years learning after moving to San Francisco and mourning its lack of Cambodian restaurants. After a stint with La Cocina’s culinary business incubator, she opened the doors to Nyum Bai almost a year ago.

It’s this story that designer Renee Laput-Mendoza wanted to honor when she signed on to work with Yun on the restaurant design. A college friend of Yun’s boyfriend who studied interior design and worked for years at the commercial design firm Studio O+A, Laput-Mendoza helped make the space — once a taco shop and then a gastropub in the city’s burgeoning Fruitvale neighborhood — into a bright, modern space to showcase Yun’s journey.

“The important thing [Yun] wanted expressed was how this is a place where you could share food amongst friends and family and have that whole sharing experience,” she says. “Then she also had the story with the Cambodian rock and roll going on, that golden era [of] Cambodian rock and roll that we wanted to capture. And then the ingredients that she uses was the inspiration as well — these fresh ingredients, bright ingredients.”

The restaurant has seen near-instant acclaim. Since its opening, Yun has been named an Eater Young Gun and Breakout Star of 2018, and the restaurant was named one of the year’s best by Eater and Bon Appétit. Luckily for shoppers looking to bring some of this of-the-moment design home, Laput-Mendoza has laid out what to do.

Contrast bright white with punchy color

Of all the challenges with the Nyum Bai space, bringing it to a clean white box was the hardest: “There was really some funky detailing and things we had to deal with before we could even start thinking about furniture and all that stuff,” she says, including a completely open floor plan between the kitchen and the dining room. But the bold simplicity of a white space is central to the Nyum Bai design — “bright pops of color on a clean, bright white background,” as she calls it.

Buy: Pastel seating

Among the pops of color in the restaurant are the seats, namely pale pink stools and dusty blue-gray armchairs. Both were chosen with space and budget in mind — the Ikea and Target picks below are the exact ones used in the restaurant.

Ikea Tunholmen Chair in gray, $19
Threshold for Target Carlisle Metal Counter Stool in dusty pink, $90 for set of two

Buy: Colorful shelving

Swapping plain metal shelving brackets for ones that pop is an easy way to bring the Nyum Bai aesthetic home. Find a shelf with color built in, buy colorful brackets yourself and attach, or spray-paint plain metal brackets, like Laput-Mendoza did.

Knape & Vogt Milano Shelf Bracket, $2.73
Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch Gloss General Purpose Spray Paint in ocean mist, $4
Loop Design Studio Floating Modern Shelf, $50

Mix midcentury furniture....

Thinking through the references that Yun gave her — the golden age of Cambodian rock in the ’70s and the color palette of a Wes Anderson movie, as well as the ingredients in the kitchen — brought Laput-Mendoza to a midcentury modern vibe that would allow her to room to play while also keeping the small space streamlined enough to function as a high-volume restaurant.

Buy: Plywood-edge tables

For tidy tables in the dining room, Laput-Mendoza used Ikea legs and custom laminate tops with plywood edges. The look is casual, unfussy, and just a bit retro (especially when paired with the Ikea chairs).

Ikea Billsta Bar Table, $179
World Market Wood and White Metal Leilani Tulip Dining Table, $280
Muuto Base Table with Plywood Edges, $950

... with Southeast Asian references.

Staying within the midcentury modern umbrella, Southeast Asian influences are also expressed in the furniture choices — as in pendant lamps and bar stools that were commercially available in the U.S. but made in the Philippines — plus the Cambodian record covers on the wall and the custom-illustrated wallpaper in the bathroom (more on both below).

Buy: Woven bar stools

Laput-Mendoza says natural materials, like the wood-topped benches and the rattan bar stools, help keep the space feeling warm. The “Mistana” stools below, available on Wayfair, are the actual ones used in the restaurant.

Opalhouse for Target Linnet Rattan Barstool, $95
Mistana Emile 28” Bar Stool, $310
Bloomingville Natural Rattan Bar Stool, $352

Buy: Capiz shell pendant lights

Shimmery Capiz shells — so named for the province in the Philippines from which they hail — bring Southeast Asian materials into the space, while hanging the pendant lights in a waterfall fashion brings the ceiling height down to create a more intimate space and define the bar space. The CB2 lights below are the actual ones used in the restaurant.

PBTeen Scallop Capiz Pendant, $159
Serena & Lily Scalloped Capiz Chandelier, $298
CB2 Luna Capiz Pendant Light, $329

Have fun with the walls

A bonus with white walls: They make any decorative elements stand out. Laput-Mendoza proposed a mural from the get-go. To make it a reality, she turned another friend from college, the New York-based mixed-media artist Erik Otto. Otto sent sketches back and forth to Yun and Laput-Mendoza before coming into Oakland to complete the piece in the span of a week.

In keeping with the starting inspiration of the golden age of Cambodian rock and roll, the restaurant boasts a collection of vintage Cambodian record covers displayed on the wall, along with vintage radios to bring the theme home. And since bathrooms can handle a fun print, there’s playful custom-illustrated paper from local artist Ratha Nou.

Buy: Neon signage

Commissioning a custom neon mural might not be in your budget, but smaller neon wall pieces can deliver a similar retro — or modern, given how widespread the trend is now — vibe.

Seletti Neon Art Letters and Numbers, $71
Hey Lights Triangle and Circle LED Neon Signs, $95 each
Oliver Gal Hearts Neon Themed Sign, $196

Buy: Music-themed wall art

While Yun sourced the vintage Cambodian records, you can get a similar music-inflected look at home by mining your own record collection, heading to your local record shop, or scouring Etsy.

House of Hoodlums Vintage Album Covers, $15 each
Paulswish LP Frames, $40 each
Victrola Retro Wood Bluetooth AM/FM Radio with Rotary Dial, $40

Buy: Cheeky toile wallpaper

Trying out a bold look like this at home calls for removable wallpaper. There are fun ones to be had.

Friends Toile Removable Wallpaper, $90 per roll
Hygge and West Cities Toile Wallpaper, $140 per roll
Flavor Paper Brooklyn Toile, $200 per roll

Hillary Dixler Canavan is Eater’s restaurant editor.
Editor: Ellie Krupnick


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