By Heidi Mitchell
Close your eyes. Picture a family-friendly Italian restaurant. It’s loud and it’s boisterous. Now place that rowdy rendezvous spot in the center of Copenhagen, all tidy streets and pared-down design. It’s hard to imagine, right?
“We tried to see what was Italian through Scandinavian eyes,” says Linda Korndal, partner and head of architecture for the Danish design firm Norm, which in April completed Cofoco Italy, the second restaurant of a new everyday-Italian chain in Denmark. “Italians always seem to be enjoying life compared to us Danes. So we wanted to create a festive interior, but not the place where you would have your wedding.” To do that, Norm came up with four “values” that define Italian dining—warmth, temperament, familiarity, and celebration—and approached the interior with each of them in mind.
Known for a soft minimalism that pays homage to its Scandinavian heritage, Norm treaded gently while translating the architectural language between the two cultures. “You would never say ‘fun and festive’ about the Scandi palette,” says Korndal with a laugh. “We give small hints rather than grand gestures, so as not to overdo it.” From the floor up to the ceiling, whispered details and subtle flourishes together sing a delicate Italian song. Rather than, say, Danish hardwood on every surface, black-and-white hexagonal tiles bring to mind casual New World trattorias. The region’s traditionally cool palette here has the heat turned up, with walls done in pale yellows and warm teal rather than that icy Nordic blue.
Because Cofoco Italy will expand to fit different markets and aims to attract a wide range of diners, this restaurant in the Danish capital’s Søborg neighborhood includes four different interpretations of Norm’s Scandi-Italian aesthetic. The “niche” offers high tables with spindly metal barstools, jazzed up with teal cushions. In the “passage,” long benches in narrow spaces allow couples to cozy up to one another, love seat–style. “These are meant for a date night, or for people-scouting,” says Korndal. In the “courtyard,” filament-bulb chandeliers made by Norm’s co-founders hang above potted firs, giving the impression and openness of the outdoors—without the requisite chilliness.
In the dining room, leather-upholstered booths are primed for early birds grabbing a bite with their children. “I was thinking a lot about my kids when I made Cofoco Italy,” says Korndal, who explains that Danes don’t dine out with family on weekdays, though the restaurateur hopes to change this status quo. “Cofoco has a democratic approach to children; we serve comfort food that isn’t challenging and all of the ceilings are acoustic, so the kids aren’t a nuisance.”
Norm was founded in 2008 by Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen and Kasper Rønn, who made a name for themselves with another Cofoco project, Höst. (Last year, the firm won Surface’s Endorsement Award for Furniture Design.) “We try to refine everything we do and have a minimum of expression,” Korndal says. “But without losing a poetic touch.” Taken in broad strokes, Cofoco may not look very Italian, but it certainly feels it; to Korndal, that’s an architect’s greatest responsibility—to be aware of what emotions to evoke. “When I was at the restaurant recently, there was a vibrant feeling,” she says with a touch of pride. But then she dampens her self-praise with typical Danish stoicism: “It will be interesting to see how it will be when the buzz fades.”