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The project that shaped me: Esther Stam, Studio Modijefsky

The founder and creative director reflects on the project that translated her love of hospitality into a one-of-a-kind destination.


4 min read

Esther Stam is the founder and creative director of Studio Modijefsky. Fifteen years after starting the studio, she remains fascinated by the challenges and possibilities of creating a space around people, playing with a space’s dimensions and filling it with colours and materials to tell rich and involving stories.

With a passion for craftsmanship and commitment to collaboration, Stam is always on the lookout for new techniques and insights. “Even if it’s a kayak factory, I can’t pass by a workshop without going in to speak with the maker. Knowing how something is made, whether it’s the space itself or the objects that fill it, reveals insights that create unique designs rooted in each specific location.”

The project that shaped me

Bar Bukowski is a café and bar in Amsterdam East. The bar’s name refers to the American writer Henry Charles Bukowksi and the interior design of the bar is inspired by his life, taking reference from his love of literature and drinking. Studio Modijefsky was the interior architect, also designing the logos, menu and website.

The why

This was not my first bar design, but it was my first time working for this client. The client didn’t have experience working with a designer, so it was very much a matter of getting to know each other, trusting each other’s expertise and knowledge and figuring out what the space needed and what we imagined it could be.

We brainstormed the name, concept, menu and interiors together – lots of messages, reference images, sharing inspiration from venues we had visited and menus we had tried. The name Bukowski came into existence, and from there the concept started to really evolve, using the writer’s literature and life story to form the main ingredients for the design language that was developed for the interior.

The centrepiece of the space is a custom light fixture, positioned right above the bar – which is a reference to Bukowski’s most important tool, his typewriter. The barstool window seats that are rotating also reference a typewriter, and the logo is inspired by its metal letters. Next to the bar hangs a real typewriter, with the bar menu typed on the paper roll. We used a very classic American tin ceiling and colours inspired by liquor bottles, and we asked an illustrator friend to design some murals based on quotes, book titles and trivia about Bukowski to give the adjoining space of the bar its own character.

This collaboration was a success thanks to a shared passion for hospitality and defining a venue to the very last detail. The bar was packed from day one, and still exists. It was a start of a long-term collaboration between the client and we have since built 25 bars and restaurants and counting – always challenging each other with ideas, ambitions and visions, pushing each other to the limit and becoming good friends.

The challenge

It challenged me to be at my very best, to think about every centimetre, how it could work in the optimal way, how I could put all my love for bars into this venue and translate it into a one-of-a-kind destination. How to make it accessible for a bigger crowd and at the same time make it interesting enough for me. How could it be the perfect spot for an early breakfast and the ideal backdrop for an endless night out drinking cocktails? How could we realise all our ideas for custom spatial elements and meet the budget?

The education

This project made me think very practically in a strict workflow. It taught me to overthink all the standard measurements I knew and see how we could optimise the space to create the perfect layout for each function, to make it suitable for a crowded Friday night as well as an easy Tuesday morning. It encouraged me to find the right people to realise the designs for custom elements that needed to be engineered and puzzled out, and you can only do that with people who are enthusiastic, willing to go that extra mile and accept the challenge.

The collaboration

Everything about this project was collaborative. From the collaboration with the client to working together with all the executing parties – from the metal worker to the painter, from the carpenter to the upholsterer, from the beer installation person to the kitchen supplier and the wood specialist to the sign painter. There were so many people working on different parts, something that is always the case working on a hospitality project, and even more if you design a lot of items yourself. I absolutely love this collaboration and I think it’s our signature as Studio Modijefsky.

The inspiration

Bar Bukowski gave me affirmation that creating a space with a strong identity through custom spatial elements, light fixtures, furniture pieces and material and colour use, works. This is interior design that fits like a glove in their architectural and historical context because it has been taken in consideration while designing, telling the story of that specific place and creating a stage for people to discover, for new stories and memories to happen. It taught me that making something different draws people in and that adding detail is experienced by guests and makes the difference. This is something that we have continued to use in our projects – we start with a story and using all there is in our resource to honour it and turn it into something that tells those stories in different layers, through materials, colours, shapes and forms, light and texture.


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