Selected Projects by Seoul-Based Design Studio LABOTORY

 

Seoul is a complex metropolis of cultural extremes. Residents embrace Western cuisine and European designers, yet simultaneously honour and appreciate traditional crafts. These paradoxes extend to design, with towering glass skyscrapers residing beside historical structures. Seoul-based studio Labotory is one of an ever-growing collective of noteworthy Korean design studios, marrying traditional aesthetics to the city’s contemporary progression.

Across both hospitality and retail projects, Labotory looks to cultural references including art and film to form quirky design concepts, expressed in simplified, minimalist form.

Here we take a closer look at some of our favourite projects.

 

Cafe Oriente by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Cafe Oriente by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Cafe Oriente by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Cafe Oriente by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Cafe Oriente by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Cafe Oriente by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Cafe Oriente by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Cafe Oriente by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Cafe Oriente by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Cafe Oriente by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace
Café Oriente in Seoul. Photography by Yongjoon Choi. Styling by Studio Lit.

 

Located in a hipster-leaning neighbourhood of Seoul, Café Oriente ticks all the boxes that seemingly reoccur across trendy coffee shops built in the past couple of years. But Studio Labotory nails every detail, so even the most cynical eye (cough, us) can’t fault the space.

Along with coffee, the café sells artisanal versions of traditional Korean snacks, and the client requested the design ‘imply oriental aesthetics’ to echo this. The 58 sqm, basement level site sits at the end of an alleyway, in an ex-electronics shop. The rectangular layout has a central courtyard in line with a traditional Korean ‘Hanok’ structure.

Labotory expanded on this by echoing elements of a traditional Korean house, including elaborate curved awnings, calming cream wallpaper and warm timber. The coffee counter and bench seats that frame the courtyard mimic the traditional rectangular shape, adding a sense of structure and stability.

Contemporary elements such as terrazzo flooring and concrete grind on the interior and exterior walls create a clean, minimalist aesthetic. Mimicking the awnings, a shiny white structure curves above the coffee counter, drawing attention to the barista as a focal point. Another white ceiling structure is inset over the courtyard, with indirect lighting on the perimeter making the ceiling appear deeper, and as if floating. Pebbles, small plants and rocks border the courtyard, natural elements that bring warmth to the cool, concrete-heavy interior.

 

Caligari Brewing by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Caligari Brewing by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Caligari Brewing by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Caligari Brewing by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Caligari Brewing by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Caligari Brewing by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Caligari Brewing by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Caligari Brewing by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Caligari Brewing by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Caligari Brewing by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Caligari Brewing by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Caligari Brewing by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace
Caligari Brewing in Seoul. Photography by Yongjoon Choi.

 

Caligari Brewing is a boutique beer brand popular across South Korea, which takes its name from the 1920 German silent horror film ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’. In keeping, the brand image is a little dark and moody, in contrast to the traditional Korean architecture of Ikseon-dong where the 92sqm site is located, an alley popular with tourists.

Labotory married the two, combining motifs that speak to the brand’s identity with local sensibility. The designers kept oriental formations intact and added contrasting contemporary finishes and materials. The sloped roof features exposed beams of traditional lauan timber, below which stainless steel panels and concrete walls create lively contrast. Red LED strips and neon signs create a sensuous atmosphere come nightfall, when Caligari Brewing transforms from a lunch spot to a bar.

The layout is sectioned into smaller offshoot ‘secret’ rooms for private groups, and a main seating area opposite the service counter. Inspired by a bunker layout, each differs in elevation, giving the various sections unique, intimate character. Décor includes framed newspapers from the 1900s discovered while demolishing the previous building, traditional Korean mulberry wallpaper and timber moulding.

 

Honest Sushi by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Honest Sushi by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Honest Sushi by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Honest Sushi by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Honest Sushi by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Honest Sushi by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Honest Sushi by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Honest Sushi by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Honest Sushi by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace
Honest Sushi in Gyeonggi do. Photography by Yongjoon Choi. Styling by Studio Lit.

 

“Honesty and warm hospitality. These were out first impressions of the client. In fact, it could also be said that we adopted this first impression and reflected it onto the concept of the space,” says Labotory.

In designing this 115sqm sushi restaurant, Labotory aimed to combat the stigma of sushi as an expensive cuisine in South Korea, with the client wanting to cater to everyone from teenagers to middle-aged customers and families. A beerhouse occupied the site prior, with a lack of sunlight and uneven levelling making it feel cramped. Labotory evened the floors, removed the kitchen, and added windows to create a bright open plan space, making the most of its corner position and northeast-facing aspect. The south-facing façade has a more industrial outlook, finished with frosted glass to let in light while obscuring the view.

The central timber veneer sushi counter commands the space. White plaster cladding on the sushi bar and walls curves into repetitive points, reminiscent of fish scales. The sushi counter’s side panels are made of small bricks often used to clad the exterior of buildings in Japan, harking back to delivering the feel of an authentic Japanese restaurant.

Mirrors are placed strategically throughout the interior, specifically there to encourage photo-taking and social media sharing. A long mirror above the largest four-person table is of particular note.

“The angles were calculated so that those walking through the corridor can see the food placed on top of the four-person table. This adds a playful element while customers are enjoying their meal, or even when they are headed to their table,” explains Labotory.

 

The Ilma Showroom by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

The Ilma Showroom by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

The Ilma Showroom by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

The Ilma Showroom by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

The Ilma Showroom by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

The Ilma Showroom by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

The Ilma Showroom by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

The Ilma Showroom by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

The Ilma Showroom by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

The Ilma Showroom by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace
The Ilma Showroom in Seoul. Photography by Yongjoon Choi.

 

The client for this retail showroom has worked in fashion for over 20 years, and operates 8 clothing stores each designed with a distinct concept. Ilma means ‘weather, air’ in Finnish, and according to Labotory, the client wanted to focus on the deeper origins of modernism throughout the brand’s store and identity.

“By interpreting a constructivist El Lissitzky’s artwork which served as a foundation for modernism, the designer introduced geometric figures of the artwork into the space by using the elements of overlapping, arrangement and textural contrast.”

Labotory introduces formative and textural contrast with Ilma’s façade, comprised of a white oak half-dome beside a perfectly flat, straight concrete plane that forms a thoroughfare. The dome’s exterior is treated with a powdered stone finish, creating cool contrast with the warm, white oak interiors. Juxtaposing materials continue inside the 87sqm space, with clear glass furnishings against stainless steel racks and walls finished with more cool grey powdered stone and concrete hardener. Geometric sequences repeat throughout, such as a rounded dressing room, rectangular counter, and straight racks.

 

Ready2wear Le Cashmer Showroom by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Ready2wear Le Cashmer Showroom by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Ready2wear Le Cashmer Showroom by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Ready2wear Le Cashmer Showroom by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Ready2wear Le Cashmer Showroom by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Ready2wear Le Cashmer Showroom by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Ready2wear Le Cashmer Showroom by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Ready2wear Le Cashmer Showroom by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Ready2wear Le Cashmer Showroom by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Ready2wear Le Cashmer Showroom by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Ready2wear Le Cashmer Showroom by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Ready2wear Le Cashmer Showroom by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Ready2wear Le Cashmer Showroom by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace
Ready2Wear X Le Cashmere showroom in Seoul. Photography by Yongjoon Choi.

 

READY2WEAR is a Korean boutique championing local brands alongside its own line, with a focus on sustainable practices and materials. Laboratory drew comparisons with the pioneering modernist work of Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi, known for his abstract, simplified shapes.

The concept is expressed in READY2WEAR through contrasting simple, pure materials and introducing abstract forms. The interior is split into two floors, the first of which is used as a studio for campaign shoots and storage, and the second a retail space featuring a collaborating collection with Le Cashmere. Each street-facing façade comprises full height glass, offering a clear view of the store’s interior, bordered by ivory painted concrete and a contrasting stone column.

The ivory interiors feature curved structures used to display clothes, clad with contrasting red oak timber. Another curved form creates a dressing room. Linen curtains wrap the perimeter, giving a softening effect against the stark clean surfaces.

 

Beauty in B.O.W by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Beauty in B.O.W by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Beauty in B.O.W by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Beauty in B.O.W by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Beauty in B.O.W by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Beauty in B.O.W by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Beauty in B.O.W by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Beauty in B.O.W by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace
Beauty in B.O.W store in Seoul. Photography by Yongjoon Choi.

 

B.O.W is a wellness and beauty store in Seoul that curates lifestyle and makeup products from a number of various brands. Standing for ‘Balance of Women’, the Hyundai Department Store brand occupies its own 105sqm space within the larger retail premises.

Labotory aimed to break away from the uniform expectations of a traditional department store, differentiating B.O.W from surrounding shops and counters. To combat the sometimes-chaotic appearance of multiple brands and products in one place, the studio introduced bold, large furniture objects to display smaller selections of product. These guide customers through the space.

Oak timber panels, terrazzo tiles and brass edging add textural interest and feminine, bright tones. A full-length mirror, installed specifically for customers to take selfies, fronts a bench sheltered by a curved oak panel.

 

Sappun Flagship Store by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Sappun Flagship Store by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Sappun Flagship Store by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Sappun Flagship Store by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Sappun Flagship Store by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Sappun Flagship Store by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace

Sappun Flagship Store by Studio LABOTORY | Yellowtrace
Sappun Flagship Store in Seoul. Photography by Yongjoon Choi.

 

Sappun is a women’s shoe store set on an upmarket shopping strip in Seoul’s Garosu-gil Road. The brand has another store that customers often have to line up to enter, but considering the reputable Garosil-gil location, the new store was picked as the flagship.

“In contemporary times, women’s shoes have an expressive function, of expressing oneself, rather than the simple function of a tool. Accordingly, the design of shoes is advancing rapidly. We wanted to reflect that trend in the space from the formative aspect of shoes,” says Labotory.

Clad with white marble, Sappun’s shoebox-shaped exterior stands out amongst the surrounding dark tinted-glass buildings. A curved glass storefront mirrors the rounded edges of the interior walls, curving rather than meeting the ceiling at a point. Furniture is designed to reference the shape of shoes and heels, with changeable functions as both chairs and planters.

 


[Images courtesy of Labotory. Photography by Yongjoon Choi.]

 

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