Ashley Sutton Design
Imagine stepping into a bar and restaurant and being transported to a whole other time and space, far, far away from reality. Ashley Sutton Design creates imaginative wonderlands that are dramatically theatrical and seductively otherworldly, inviting guests to become part of a magical narrative.
The Australian-born interior designer has carved out a niche for himself in Asia, originally in Bangkok where he created iconic F&B concepts like Ferries, J.Boroski, Maggie Choo’s and Sing Sing Theater. The Iron Fairies is a gorgeous fairytale bar with a menu complete with orange tungsten workshop lamps, fairy dust and designer cocktails, while J.Boroski is an innovative cocktail bar tucked away at a secret location in Bangkok’s popular Thong Lor area. Jazz club Maggie Choo’s is styled around a colonial-themed speakeasy vibe, with Sing Sing Theater heading back to the 1930s with Chinoiserie charm. There is more than a stylistic nod within these creations to taking design elements from Asian culture and reimagining them.
Meanwhile the Bangkok nightlife legend has branched out to Hong Kong and Tokyo, and most recently Kuala Lumpur with the opening of the latest The Iron Fairies outlet. The three-storey venue in Kuala Lumpur represents a fairy dust making factory, featuring an enchanting outdoor rooftop called the Fairy Garden, a dark enclosed Butterfly Room with 50,000 handmade butterflies hanging from the ceiling and one million bottles of fairy dust.
ADF caught up with Ashley to get an insight into his design ethos.
How did the Iron Fairies concept begin?
I started out with a small workshop literally making small iron fairies in Bangkok for the US market. Friends, curious passersby and customers would drop by and want to hang out. I wanted to offer drinks to them and so creating the hospitality side was a natural step in many ways. I was a designer who went into F&B.
As The Iron Fairies brand has grown, are you more business-led today?
I’d say I’m still really creative with the brand first and foremost. However, I compromise on a level that makes the business profitable for the investors.
Being original, having a sense of class and reading the market trend.
How involved are you with each project?
I’m hands-on with every aspect from the initial design right down to the final details of the materials used. The only area I try to avoid is with the sound systems which I leave to passionate experts in the field.
Since you opened The Iron Fairies in Bangkok many other concept bars have popped up. Do you think that you sparked this trend?
No, I don’t see myself as a trendsetter. I do believe that when I arrived in Bangkok and Southeast Asia over 10 years ago, the bar industry in particular was really minimalistic in relation to design, atmosphere and drinks selection. I think that it lacked soul. Because I was coming from a design background, I had a totally different approach that was more about creating an exciting customer experience.
What are some of your design influences?
I have a huge passion for maritime history which impacts my design, as does my childhood. I grew up building treehouses in my family’s and friends’ gardens and I think this sense of childlike wonder is woven into many of my designs. When I lived in New York I admired Manhattan’s Flatiron neighborhood with its iron facades and the masonry workmanship of the buildings. The district’s early 20th century architecture and talented tradesmen who created these impressive structures inspired me.
What projects are you currently focused on?
I have several of new design concepts underway. One is in Macau and the other in Hangzhou, in China, as well as a rooftop octopus bar in Vietnam and continuing with The Iron Fairies brand. I’m extremely happy with how these are all turning out.
What’s your forecast for bar and restaurants design trends in 2019 and beyond in Southeast Asia?
I envisage the bar scene becoming more and more competitive. I believe this will make design a critical aspect in that style and originality will be key to a bar’s success in the future.