Carlo Mollino once said that everything is permissible if it is fantastic. Fittingly, the Italian polymath inspired the new – and rather maximalist – Caffè La Tana in Vancouver. Constructed old-world charm is not a new aesthetic storyline for Millennial-friendly cafés, but La Tana’s statement is particularly timely right now: it screams that we are finally ready to leave Airspace and pilea plants and neo-Memphis behind, and bravely venture into opulence.

But today, opulence has been killed by widespread blanding – that is sans-serifing and de-accenting the life out of a logo, like Burberry and Celine and every beauty start-up this side of The Ordinary has done. In response, some daring graphic designers are forcing the pendulum closer to the serif ­and further away from black-and-white. Hospitality designers are following suit, and in the case of La Tana, what better culture to look to than the Italians for lessons on expression?

Custom hand-painted wallpaper by Kate Richard utilised imagery from archived pomology and zoology textbooks and was inspired by Victor Hugo's Hauteville house and Carlo Mollino's Turin apartment, Museo Casa. Below, a tile backdrop by James Daviduk depicts Savio, La Tana's icon fox as shown in the cover image.

After all, austere and fantastic are hardly friends in the thesaurus. In rapidly gentrifying cities everywhere, the most coveted cafes and restaurants have been touched with a spatial blanding wand. There is something many of these places miss: actual good food and an intimate touch – qualities that Italian restaurants and bars in particular often emanate. Studio Ste. Marie sought to bring that unspoiled ‘if you know, you know’ vibe to La Tana: the eatery is styled after an Italian alimentari, in a cosy neighbourhood gathering space.

But just how cosy is truly cosy? La Tana is situated nearby a hotbed of conversation concerning gentrification: Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Canadian sociologist Zachary Hyde refers to ‘cultural omnivorousness’ – the idea that people achieve social status via cultural materials –  to argue that foodies specifically have played a critical part in making exclusive what was always meant to be inclusive in communities: food. Design is largely in part responsible for this perspective shift… and recovering after years of financial famine, the shift now favours maximalism.

Ste. Marie employed muted grey-green tones and a selection of unique marbles throughout the space. Hints of Aperol orange draw the eye toward the bar, and thus, the food. Together with Scott Landon, antique and architectural salvage expert, the studio found antique objects and fixtures to anchor the ambiance.

In today’s commodity-rich, exclusivity-hungry market, the shift to maximalism seems a natural progression, though decidedly less egalitarian than its predecessor

La Tana plays with this idea of more, especially in juxtaposition with a next door outpost also designed by Ste. Marie called Pepino's Spaghetti House, intended to provide a New World interpretation of Italian cuisine. Where La Tana has sage green velvet and hand-drawn wallpaper by Kate Richard, Pepino's has red vinyl booths and carpet. The point? It’s okay to be a little extra, in whatever vein that may be. In Vancouver and beyond, it’s clear that the setting of food as cultural material must change as to reflect deviations in cultural identity – in today’s commodity-rich, exclusivity-hungry market, the shift to maximalism seems a natural progression, though decidedly less egalitarian than its predecessor.

As a homage to Mollino’s 1945 Casa M2 Photo Panel, Ste. Marie found archival Italian artwork to showcase in 16 separate frames. At the core, La Tana was designed as a physical manifestation of the Italians’ gift to do just this – make art of life – make life fantastic.