Seoul, South Korea

As Seoul’s new Bornyon restaurant prepares to welcome guests, Youngkwon Kim and Geonyoung Kan reflect on the journey that brought their vision to life.

When Youngkwon Kim of the real estate development company PLAYA and Geonyoung Kang, architect and CEO at A-D-O Design Architecture Office, joined forces to design the interior of Bornyon, a restaurant in the heart of Seoul, they envisioned a dining destination beyond mere sustenance. Looking to a mutual belief in the transformative power of space, food and community, they wanted to create an experience steeped in authenticity and comfort.

The essence of Bornyon lies in its commitment to understanding the needs of its customers deeply. In a landscape where many restaurants struggle to sustain themselves, Youngkwon Kim and Geonyoung Kang recognised the importance of crafting a space that resonates with patrons on a fundamental level. Through meticulous surveys and careful consideration, the vision for the restaurant emerged: a sanctuary of naturalness and comfort where guests could find solace and delight in the simple pleasures of life.

“We aim to create a new genre with our restaurant, infusing the concept of the Korean woodfire with fermentation. Woodfire cooking, the oldest culinary technique since the discovery of fire by humanity, involves cooking crops and meat over the flames and smoke. Just as fermentation has broadened the diversity of our food, we dream of becoming a natural restaurant that embraces these fundamental techniques. A place where the smoke rising from the fire connects people, creating bonds over delicious food shared in a warm and comfortable space. We wish for everyone to come together, enjoy delicious meals, and naturally engage in conversations in this cosy atmosphere,” explains Youngkwon Kim.

Rooted in a deep respect for craftsmanship and an unwavering commitment to excellence, Bornyon embodies the spirit of collaboration and innovation, setting a new standard for dining experiences in Seoul and beyond.
“We aimed to create a space rich in contrasts, paradoxes and ambiguities in design elements, providing a quiet yet abundant sensibility to the space. So that every time guests visit, they encounter a slightly different space,” says Geonyoung Kang.

“The crucial element in this space is time. The feeling of time passing, the sensation of time standing still, the ambience of sunset and, occasionally, an environment where the background fades away, allowing focus on cuisine and conversation,” he adds. It’s no coincidence that the very name of the restaurant means the essential state or nature of something.

At the heart of Bornyon’s design philosophy is furniture that embodies comfort and heritage. In step with customers seeking naturalness and comfort in both space and service, the restaurant is filled with “pieces that have emerged from craftsmen’s long deliberation, endlessly refined, and born through their dedication,” explains Youngkwon Kim.

Each piece carries its own sense of time and history, most notably the Series 7 and Swan chairs – the latter selected in a dining height. With these, the duo sought to create a space that not only exudes sophistication but also prioritises the physical and emotional well-being of its patrons.

“The chairs were chosen before the spatial design was finalised. Compared to many other decisions, Fritz Hansen chairs were selected swiftly and firmly. In fact, the design changed completely from the next day onwards. It's a project where the furniture selection wasn't tailored to fit the space, but rather where the space design was influenced by the furniture considerations,” notes Geonyoung Kang.

The decision to choose the chairs upholstered with natural leather was driven by a desire to imbue the space with a sense of enduring beauty. Despite initial concerns about the practicality of leather in a restaurant setting, both Youngkwon Kim and Geonyoung Kang were captivated by its ability to age gracefully, bearing the marks of time as a testament to its enduring charm.

“From the perspective of an architect, the sense of the passage of time and its naturalness was the key reason for this choice. It was important to evoke the essence of serene relaxation, making it essential for the chairs to be more comfortable, cosy and age naturally over time compared to others,” explains Geonyoung Kang. “I have come to believe that true durability is about furniture that becomes more beautiful over time. For these reasons, I found natural leather highly appealing because even if it gets stained with wine or marks from hands, it ages beautifully. I imagine it would be very welcoming to see those marks when revisiting the restaurant in ten years’ time,” Youngkwon Kim adds.

The restaurant at the Therme Vals spa in Switzerland was a source of inspiration for Youngkwon Kim. Furnished with Swan chairs, he initially pondered over why such designs were chosen instead of more traditional dining chairs: “I found the answer to this question after spending several hours dining in them. It was the first time I experienced dining chairs that allowed me to sit comfortably for extended periods without twisting my body or feeling uncomfortable. It made me rethink the necessity of installing chairs designed for prolonged sitting in a restaurant for the first time.” Just like the Swan chair, designed in 1958, the duo intend for the restaurant to evolve naturally, improving through years of love and use, and reflect the time and effort invested in its creation. Already they have created a space where moments of respite and connection await, inviting patrons to savour the simple joys of life in a warm and inviting atmosphere.