Opening in the shadow of the Gherkin building, Zebrano in the City is a project born out of pure passion for food and drink between, two long standing friends, Cevat Riza, the founder of Seymour-Valentine Coffee, and former Head of Hospitality for JP Morgan, Don Cameron. 
Award-winning designer Rama Perparim was welcomed on board to help create a sumptuous and sophisticated surrounding for diners at the new destination. Through the use of recycled materials, the multidimensional design is both inviting and eclectic, creating a raw combination of earthy sophistication and industrial chic. FOUR finds out more about how Rama finds inspiration for his harmonious designs...


Where were you born and where did you grow up?

I was born in Prishtina, Kosovo, and lived there until age sixteen, when I moved to London. 


How did you get into your line of work? 

My father was an artist, a fine art painter, and my grandfather was a scientist. Architecture felt like a natural merging of Art and Science. This was my first step into Architecture.

During my architecture and design studies I had to work to make a living. I loved the social aspect of working as a bartender and the creative aspect of mixology, yet at the same time I always wondered why some bars and restaurants were packed and others empty, even though they all on the surface appeared to be similar. As my interests expanded I started to notice many of the smaller, fine aspects of what makes a space successful, and I discovered that success goes far beyond the visual aspect of a space. There is a complex multi-dimensionality that has to be in tune with human subconscious behaviour in order for the mix to work, and this has a lot to do with spatial aspects, with materiality, with light and shadow. All of these things have to  interact with the human sensory system on a level beyond the conscious mind—both in order to pique the interest of people, but also at the same time to maintain a feel that is welcoming and friendly.

I started sensing the space, feeling the space, like an abstract painting and the sound of jazz. For me, Architecture is about bringing Art and Science together with the human subconscious, about creating spaces that dance with human emotions. 


Tell us about the design of the new City restaurant, Zebrano, and what makes it so unique in your opinion... 

Zebrano in the city is brave and bold. It is different, and not afraid to show it. It is a restaurant that on many levels is not about the end result—it is also about the processes that occur in nature and about celebrating these things. The space incorporates the rustication of materials, aging, movement flow, deterioration, explosion, force fields, and transformation of energy into mass. It is about celebrating nature and the life of the materials as they are transformed though the processes of oxidation, aging, or maturing, and it is also about revealing the true nature of construction processes and how things are put together. Zebrano in the city is about exploration using all of the senses. It is about the unknown, about the search for the new and the love of surprise. It is about being true and open.

The design may appear to be complex, but it is actually a result of the interaction of simple rules combined with the parameters that have created it. The design is ultimately about the path of least resistance, the energy, the flow. It is about celebrating explosion and what happens to the elements that are transformed as a result of these forces,  it is about the transformation of energy into functional form, into mass.


Where did you get your inspiration for this project, and more generally where do you get your inspiration with your other creative designs?

Nature and the subconscious human mind are my two key inspirations. These two always coupled with and adapted to specific sites and contexts, programs, clients and budgets. The above are key parameters, but they are always different in different contexts, and as such the outcome is never the same. Zebrano in the city is an emergent outcome of the context related to the above parameters.

When you think of the two existing Zebrano Bars you cannot help but feel the explosion of fun in these places. They celebrate an explosion of energy and are filled with fun-loving people having a great time. This was the initial idea of explosion of energy, and we created the space by asking what the effect of this explosion would be once it was intertwined with materials and space. 

When one discusses concepts which start with an abstract base or out-of-the-box thinking, one has to also surround oneself with like-minded people that have a passion for exploration and are excited about finding creative solutions to problems. Together, you must create a platform of collaboration where a problem is only a parameter for an interesting and innovative design, thus becoming a positive part of the process. In this respect I was very lucky to have clients such as Don, Cevat and Pauline, who were completely open and embraced the explorative and unknown. I was also lucky to have collaborators, staff, manufacturers who did not shy away from this challenge but plunged into the deep to help reveal the new and unknown. I believe that the result is truly explosive, exciting and unique.


When it comes to designing the interiors of restaurants, bars and hotels, how do the design considerations and approach differ from other sectors—for example, residential projects? 

The approach is quite different in one aspect and very similar in another. Residences are private spaces which are generally catered to people/families with certain needs and wants. Whereas bars, restaurants and hotels are public. As a result, their functions are different. But they both still need to spatially work on the same level with the human subconscious mind. 


What do you hope guests should expect when they walk into the new restaurant, or any of the venues that you have designed?

I hope they will be pleasantly surprised, provoked and inspired.  


Do you have a signature design style that is apparent in all of your interiors?

I try not to fall within a signature design style, but this is almost impossible. We are encouraged by our subconscious mind into creating spaces that are based on our lifelong learning and experience, and even though I try not to fall within a ‘’style’’, the natural forces that I have been exposed to create an easier path to do this. When one has to work with various constraints, such as time, budget, and regulations, it becomes more energy-efficient to fall into a signature style, even though I am constantly battling not to do so.

I would say that my one ‘’apparent’’ signature style is dealing with space and energy flow. My key principle is about creating a harmonious choreography of space that flows effortlessly with the subconscious human mind, allowing the spaces fill you with energy as you move/dance through them.


What has been the most memorable moment in your career so far?

There have been several memorable moments, and it is not very easy to separate them. Winning the best bar design award in 2013 is probably the most memorable moment, purely from the point of view of being acknowledged by the industry.


Favourite restaurant or bar interior that you wish you had designed?

ZUMA London


Do you have any future collaborations and projects lined up you could tell us about?

Yes, we are working on some very exciting projects in Bali, Jakarta and Perth, with one of the most famous brands in Asia called KuDeTa. We are in the process of designing some very exciting spaces and places in iconic locations.


In terms of top design trends what is hot on your radar at the moment?

Rebellious chic


Favorite place to eat?

My all-time favourite is ALINEA in Chicago. The food in there combines art, theatre, science, emotion, scent, tactility, and performance. This is all served on your plate in a way that awakens many multi-sensory pleasures. When I am there, time both stands still and takes me by surprise. The entire experience often brings tears to my eyes.