The Carmen restaurant and bar is a modest endeavour, but it’s executed with great skill. Photography by Juan Esterban Ramirez
Juan Manuel Pelaez and his father, the artist Luis Fernando Pelaez, jointly designed the Plaza de Cisneros, which complemented the EMP Library and infused a decrepit section of downtown Medellin with new vitality. The son was solely responsible for the Collegio Las Mercedes, which is one of the most expansive and successful schools of recent years, and he is currently developing his competition-winning design for the Spanish Cultural Centre in Bogota. By comparison with these ambitious projects, the Carmen restaurant and bar, located beside Pelaez’s office in El Pardo, is a modest endeavour, but it’s executed with great skill.
It’s hard to judge a restaurant from photographs because, to a greater degree than other commercial spaces, success depends on intangible factors — from the warmth of the welcome to the attentiveness of the servers and the consistency of the cooking. That’s what draws people in and keeps them coming back, but design plays an essential supporting role. It takes special skill to calibrate the flow of traffic, the quality of the lighting, and the acoustics, in order to achieve the sense of intimacy and comfort most diners are looking for and strengthen the identity of a talented chef.
Pelaez worked with Pascual Celis to achieve those goals at Carmen, employing a rustic minimalism that makes best use of the lofty shell of rough brick that was originally a clothing store. The street-level bar is six meters high and the architects were inspired by the Matadero in Madrid, a former slaughterhouse that is now a contemporary art space, to preserve the open, patinaed character of the existing room. Glass and wrought iron give a more polished quality to the downstairs dining room, with its vintage Thonet and Mogason chairs, palm wood banquettes, and light fittings by Tom Dixon and Peter Bowles. At the end of the room, a winter garden opens onto a patio with flowing water and green walls created by landscape architects Mesa & Uribe.