Opened in September 2020, Pantechnicon is a celebration of Nordic and Japanese creativity and craftsmanship – a story told through food, drink, design, and experiences. Inside a 200-year-old warehouse within London’s Belgravia, it houses two dedicated Japan x Nordic concept retail spaces and a range of drinking and dining options, including the UK’s first Café Kitsuné; Sakaya, a boutique bar and bottle shop; and a roof garden bar and terrace.
Designed by Open House Projects with lead designer Barry Hirst at its helm, Mr. Hirst, who is also Founder and Director of Pantechnicon, took inspiration from his travels across Japan, Denmark, and Finland to create a destination that celebrates Nordic and Japanese tastes. Inspired by architects such as Kengo Kuma and Tadao Ando, Pantechnicon brings together the calm tones of concrete and wood to create a sophisticated contemporary minimalism that is synonymous with the ethos of the design industries that represent these countries. Pantechnicon’s design concept was to pull together a timeless collection of unique finishes that are both inviting and intriguing to guests. The building itself is of a truly imposing nature, and, in our opinion, is perhaps one of the strongest facades to house a retail and hospitality venture in London. The challenge was to create an interior that truly reflects the Japanese and Nordic aesthetic that originally inspired Mr. Hirst, whilst adopting a broader, more welcoming approach to a neighbourhood that, as Mr. Hirst puts it, was ‘typically the stomping ground of the well to do English society gentlemen and ladies.’
Mr. Hirst explains, ‘We really considered every finish and tone of every individual material... This gave all aspects of the design a sense of depth by layering finishes, resulting in what we like to think of as minimal sophistication. Our core principles were to follow nature through colours and textures, thereby creating a harmonious flow through the building. We researched the commonality of earth tones between the Nordics and Japan, which led to a cohesive colour palette throughout. By using these core values, we emphasised the multiplicity of light sources and differentiation of luminous atmospheres that create spaces to encourage dwell time and a sense of calm contentment. We removed the rear elevation of the building and replaced [this] with huge metal framed windows. The spaces are therefore bathed in natural light, and ever-changing shadows and moods throughout the day.’
Modern design between the Nordic countries and Japan share a passion for clean lines, natural materials, and little want for unnecessary decoration. There is a long history of knowledge sharing, diplomatic relations, and a cross pollination of ideas and values between the two continents and, while Mr. Hirst acknowledges that both cultures certainly have their differences, he believes that they also have a lot in common; from their relationship with nature, to their passion for simplicity and functionality in design. He is also adamant on working closely with the Japanese embassy to ensure the sharing of authentic cultural exchanges with visitors.
The two gallery-cum-shop spaces engage the senses through soothing music and signature fragrances, which float gently across the area as shoppers peruse products that celebrate the talent and craftsmanship of Japan and the Nordics. The Edit on the ground floor showcases a curation of 200+ brands including handcrafted products, from designer tech and ceramics to outdoor equipment, footwear, and fashion accessories. The Studio on the first floor brings together a wider range, including a selection of beauty products from Bijo, whose mission is to introduce Europe to the Japanese wellbeing lifestyle. Pantechnicon is particularly committed to supporting and promoting new artistic talent, so this floor also acts as a large experiential space where guests will be introduced to emerging brands, artists, and creators through workshops and pop-ups. ‘We are truly excited to host chef residencies, guest artists, and a flow of workshops from kintsugi [the traditional art of repairing broken ceramics, amongst other things, with lacquer and gold powder] to tofu making classes. One of our ongoing programmes will be a spotlight on new talent, offering a showcase for fashion designers and artists that may otherwise struggle to gain exposure.’ says Mr. Hirst.
Café Kitsuné at Pantechnicon marks lifestyle retail brand Maison Kitsuné’s first permanent outlet in the UK. Founded in 2013 by Masaya Kuroki and Gildas Loaëc, it is renowned across the world for its quality coffee, minimalist aesthetic, and French-Japanese speciality menus that range from pork katsu sando to caramel miso rice pudding brioche.
Designed with neutral tones, stone walls, and wood furnishings, the café is located on Pantechnicon’s ground floor and outside terrace. Mr. Hirst explains, ‘Having visited Café Kitsuné in Tokyo, I fell in love with the space. It merges modern design with traditional Japanese architecture, attracting Tokyo’s younger generations to create a relaxed, stylish atmosphere. Kitsune means ‘fox’ in Japanese, and it is this animal that has become the brand’s mascot. The fox is considered a wise and revered animal in Japan, with folklore portraying them as companions and guardians. When I visited the tori gates of temples in Kyoto, foxes sat in stone at the entrance. It felt only right to position Café Kitsuné at the main entrance of Pantechnicon, as a nod to this Japanese tradition’.
Sakaya offers a journey through the liquid flavours of Japan through a careful curation of boutique Japanese whisky, sake, umeshu (Japanese plum liqueur), yuzushu (Japanese citrus liqueur), and shochu (a distilled spirit generally made from sweet potato, barley, or rice). General Manager, Lorenzo Cannavina, has drawn on his passion for Japanese culture and his time living in Japan to shape a dedicated team committed to honouring seasonal ingredients and bringing the world of Japanese liquors to London.
Sakaya stocks an extensive Japanese whisky list, including the last two Chichibu London Editions, single malts from Nikka (Miyagikyo, Yoichi), and several vintage Suntory expressions such as the Yamazaki 18, and Hakushu 18. Visitors can also find an extremely rare Karuizawa 1981 Sherry Cask, bottled at 60.3% from the closed Karuizawa Distillery in Nagano, amongst other rare editions, but it is not only a vast whisky collection to amuse oneself with, Sakaya also offers a large number of sake expressions, including certain UK exclusives, such as the Daruma Masamune koshu (mature aged) sake from Shiraki Brewery in Gifu. Kamo Kinshu, a special junmai genshu from Kanemitsu Brewery in Hiroshima, is another UK limited edition. Junmai meaning ‘pure rice’ indicates that it does not contain brewer’s alcohol and genshu, meaning undiluted sake, shows that this differs from typical production methods, which add water after fermentation to bring the alcohol content down from 18-20%.
The drinkware selection is sourced from across Japan. For whisky there is the Crumple Glass, inspired by wrinkled paper and designed by product designer Makoto Komatsu for Kimura Glass in Tokyo. The sake collection includes tin sake cups and carafes from Nousaku in Toyama. Each piece is handcrafted; the soft properties of tin make them impossible to make by machine. Pantechnicon exclusively provides the yure sets of cups, named after the Japanese word for ‘to sway’. These two piece sets are made from 100% tin, allowing them to express the soft characteristics of the slightly malleable material, and the bottoms are round so that they ‘sway’ when placed on a surface. For those who only occasionally drink sake, the 1616/arita cups from Saga, on the island of Kyushu, are ideal as they double as espresso cups. For beer, there is the Mount Fuji glass designed by product designer Keita Suzuki, and hand blown by master craftsmen at Sugahara Glassworks. Gift wrapping options are another nod to traditional Japanese culture in the form of special solid paulownia wood boxes and furoshiki cloth wrapping.
Unique and tailored tasting experiences are held in Sakaya’s private tasting room, offering guests the chance to sample rare curated whisky flights with expert Richard Patrulei, and sake flights with Natsuki Kikuya, who was awarded the prestigious title of ‘Sake Samurai’ in 2015.
At a time when travel is an out of reach, distant memory for most, Pantechnicon offers Londoners an exciting international journey through the senses as they explore the food, design, art, and culture of Japan and the Nordics.