At Toronto’s VELA Restaurant, PARTISANS Sculpts With Light

The local design studio pays homage to the grand hotel lobby bar in a contemporary restaurant space defined by its sculptural ceiling.

4 Vela Photo By Jonathan Friedman Partisans
Toronto’s new VELA restaurant was designed by local architecture studio, PARTISANS, in collaboration with owners Amanda Bradley and Robin Goodfellow. Courtesy Jonathan Friedman

In 1904, the Parisian Laundry Building was used for servicing restaurant linens. In 2021, it now hosts VELA, a hospitality experience whose sinuous lighting and magnetic aura attracts patrons from the street. Designed by Toronto-based architecture studio PARTISANS, in collaboration with owners and restaurant industry luminaries Amanda Bradley and Robin Goodfellow, the restaurant pays homage to a bygone era of grand hotel lobbies and gilded bars. 

The Classical detailing of the early 20th-century warehouse facade is juxtaposed against an organic interior that invites patrons to sit at the helm of Toronto’s contemporary dining culture. The 6,000-square-foot venue is divided to allocate 4,000-square-feet for indoor use and 2,000 for a covered patio. Visitors courted by the glowing steps within the entrance are pulled into the lobby and up a cavernous-like passage that serves as the grand stair. 

3 Vela Photo By Jonathan Friedman Partisans
PARTISANS describes the act of designing the intricate ceiling as “sculpting with light.” Courtesy Jonathan Friedman

A sculptural ceiling serves delectable views from beyond the threshold. Patrons may indulge in the full experience or enjoy each moment a la carte by traversing the celestial lightscape. The lighting installation originates above the stairs meandering around the reception, then passes the champagne bar and lounge area, before making its way along the chef’s counter to its terminus in a proscenium. It then cascades down a wall in the main dining room adjacent to a bank of intimate booth seating.

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The novel lighting system is integral to the cultural programming and elastic performance of the space. Created with LED Linear, the organically shaped armature houses a tremendous amount of acoustic management, HVAC, and mechanical systems to support an open kitchen and dining space—a core design tenet that allows for a dialogue between guests and executive chef Jeffrey Lapointe.

2 Vela Photo By Jonathan Friedman Partisans
Created with LED Linear, the sculptural ceiling element also provides space for HVAC and mechanical systems. Courtesy Jonathan Friedman

“We see light as an opportunity to be a material, and how we may sculpt spaces with light rather than separate them,” says Jonathan Friedman, a partner at PARTISANS.

Nuanced material choices such as leather for the curved bar and scalloped banquettes also help reduce noise pollution while exposed brick, heavy timber, and metal accents nod to a palette steeped in industrial tradition. 

With ongoing aspirations for the future of hospitality, VELA more than occupies an address—it aims to improve the community’s local dining experiences over time. “The bars are cast concrete surfaces, but also work surfaces for the chefs to utilize. They’re built to last,” Friedman continues. “They’re going to age and they’re going to patina and they’re going to change colors slightly. That’s part of the richness.”

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