Great Spaces: Calgary’s Two Penny Restaurant Goes All In with a Shanghai-Chic Design
Interior designer Sarah Ward created a masterful mix of art deco and traditional Chinese architecture.
It’s not every day a restaurant can make you wonder if time travel is possible, but Two Penny makes a pretty convincing case: step through the hand-built moon gate in the entryway, and you leave modern-day Calgary behind for 1920s Shanghai.
Interior designer Sarah Ward has done something special here, converting a heritage space in the downtown core into an homage to Chinese Deco. “There’s such a wealth of inspiration from that era,” says Ward. “We wanted that warmth and faded glamour.”
And so the entryway was decked out in hand-glazed seafoam tiles laid in alternating stacks, and in the dusty-rose-and-teal dining room Ward mixed of-the-era wicker-cane millwork with buttery leather banquettes. Big round tables (topped with lazy Susans, of course) sit beneath fringed lampshades custom-made from palm-print fabric sourced in London. The bar, with its curved Streamline Moderne shape, is the heart of the room, covered in custom concrete tiles that were based off old Chinese armour. “They’re actually laid out so that they’re almost like scales from a dragon, overlapping slightly,” says Ward.
It’s one example of Ward’s heavy use of texture here. “Materiality played a key role in this palette,” the designer explains. “Because Two Penny is in a heritage building, we had to gear it in that direction.” Brass inlays that pop from teak millwork, a fan-patterned plaster wall finish that plays against the sleek marble bar top, and velvety rust-coloured upholstery all work together to create a rich, layered environment.
Another nod to the ’20s? The speakeasy-style “tea room” downstairs: down a gritty, neon-lit stairway lined with tea lights and crumbling brick, those seeking a nightcap will find a second bar nestled under a swath of red paper lanterns. The walls here are covered in vintage Chinese ads and posters, and with a cocktail in hand on a buzzy spring night, it truly does feel like a world—and a time—away.