Designer Interview Series:
Craig Stanghetta

Craig Stanghetta of Ste. Marie

Craig Stanghetta of Ste. Marie

Craig Stanghetta is the founder, principal and creative director of Ste. Marie, a Vancouver-based studio. The sought-after creative group is responsible for designing many of Vancouver’s most successful restaurants, including the Homer Street Cafe, Kissa Tanto, Como Taperia and Botanist at the Fairmont Pacific Rim. In addition to creating incredible spaces for others, he is co-owner of three successful local establishments: Savio Volpe, Pepino's and La Tana Alimentari e Caffè – all designed with his instinct for mixing drama and glamour. Currently his team works extensively across hotels & spas to diminutive cocktail bars. Despite his hectic schedule, he made time to sit down with us and answer a few questions for our readers.

Cadine, designed by Ste. Marie

Photo credit: Conrad Brown / Design: Ste. Marie


OBAKKI

You named your acclaimed Vancouver studio after your hometown – how do you think growing up in the “Sault” affected your style?

CRAIG STANGHETTA
I named the studio from the same perspective that we work: that there’s an underlying feeling or a sort of untapped, undiscovered world that exists in a place. I always felt growing up that there was some kind of energy there that wasn’t reflected in the more obvious known aspects of the place. It was more than a steel-town with nature in its backyard. It had a kind of enigmatic glamour below the surface.

And I’ve always loved the way Ste. Marie sounded.

But in terms of influence I guess the other thing was, I was always having to escape into books or films to travel beyond this town and that wonderment and living within the imagined world has really affected my life/work more than anything. Also just learning to trust that and getting comfortable with not having a defined path. I look back now and I’m so thankful there was no real training or education for where I’d eventually end up.

Florist, designed by Ste. Marie
Florist, designed by Ste. Marie

Photo credit: Conrad Brown / Design: Ste. Marie

OBAKKI
You don’t just create the most iconic restaurant spaces, you also own a few. Which came first? The love of food or the love of setting the scene?

CRAIG STANGHETTA
Well technically food, family and restaurants came first. Growing up with Italian friends and family, food became synonymous with those moments. My grandfather owned the oldest hotel in town and it was passed to my uncle so we spent a lot of time there as kids. Also my grandparents — grandfather on my dad’s side and grandmother on my mom’s — were both cooks and so whenever we were with them they always had something on the stove. So thinking about it now, I feel that food and fond memories and a sense of warmth and connection all got kinda bundled up in my psyche. I later spent my high school days as a cook in various restaurants and later in university I moved to the front of house and that’s when I started to really see how atmosphere can change everything.

At any rate, it felt natural to go into the ownership world. I obviously feel very comfortable in restaurants. Being a restaurateur is about building a world unto itself and that’s had a profound impact on how we do our work as a design studio. We think of our projects as a manifestation of a possible world. So these two sides have been feeding into one another for as long as I can remember.

Cambie Gardens, by Ste. Marie

Photo credit: Conrad Brown / Design: Ste. Marie

OBAKKI
In your post-secondary education, you combined Fine Arts with Drama/Theatre. You do the same thing with your rooms. Even though it had nothing to do with design – your studies seem to have foreshadowed your true calling. When you came to Vancouver to try your hand at acting, did you have any inkling you would end up as a top Canadian designer?

CRAIG STANGHETTA
Well, I’d probably argue it has everything to do with design. Good design in my opinion puts emotional response over aesthetics. You can see how the lineage of restaurants and a sense of hospitality, memories, family, come into play in our work, while the world of the theatre brought a layer of narrative thinking and a sense of character to our perspective. Also in the theatre you’re trained to trust your instincts and to act as a vessel for creativity. You learn how instinct, listening, communing with others with absolute trust can bring moments of surprise and originality that can’t be muscled. This is where the best design comes from as well. You sort of fill the cup with research, context, materiality, form, etc, and allow that to live in the unconscious while, with a sense of ease and play, you find your way into the world of the project. In the end we, as designers, should be surprised by our ideas and we should learn, like performers, to work in deep collaboration with our colleagues and clients with an open heart and mind.

…and yeah, I always thought I’d end up working in design in some capacity.

OBAKKI
How would you describe your distinct style?

CRAIG STANGHETTA
Cinematic.

We like to think of our work as some kind of pilgrimage to find the story that the place wants to be. Like our favourite filmmakers, we want our work to evoke a world unto itself. I think that’s why our style can shift and change depending on where the space exists, who’s going to own, run or live in it, etc — if the space doesn’t have a voice you can feel we’ve missed the mark.

Botanist Dining, designed by Ste. Marie

Photo credit: Ian Lanterman / Design: Ste. Marie

OBAKKI
How long has your aesthetic been evolving and what are some of the more memorable design stages you’ve travelled through?

CRAIG STANGHETTA
I guess since I was born. I don’t know why I’ve always felt a connection to space. As I get older I learn that I’m actually terribly introverted and I guess quite sensitive in my own way. I’ve always loved how certain smells, or how light & shadow somewhere, could make you feel something. So my aesthetic has not been so much about how things look but a language of space — I want to know what the place has to say. Really, now as I look back on this, I think it’s one of the reasons I was so drawn to the theatre. I’ve always loved how theatres felt. They emanate energy. We want everything we do to emanate its own energy. But my god it becomes so much harder when you’re working on such huge spaces with so many decision makers…

OBAKKI
Can you tell us a bit about your process?

CRAIG STANGHETTA
Sure thing. These days we are quite formal in how we get going as we’re close to 40 people now and our projects and clients are, as mentioned above, spread all over the place and are quite big. It‘s no longer about having dinner and drinks with clients and trying to get a feel for who they are or what unspoken truths they hold, although we certainly still do that as often as possible. These days, we do loads of research into the history of the property, neighbourhood and city; we have a team whose sole job at the beginning of a project is to work on research, envisioning and programming (how a space is used and what happens in it). I work very closely with this team and so does our senior design team. We are likewise attached at the hip with our clients during that phase — it helps us create a sort of north star for the work and drudges up all the primordial raw material we’ll need to form something special.

From there we begin to work in 3D modelling, material studies, furniture studies, colour story, and lighting strategy, all the while using our envisioning work as a touchstone to keep coming back to the nucleus of what this place wants to be and what will make it surprising and thrilling for us.

Render credit: Ste. Marie

After that we’re usually on a path that all the design team and stakeholders are galvanized and excited by. Then things become technical as we do drawings and specifications. That said, at this point our team is now starting to unlock other layers of what this space needs and that’s usually in the form of industrial design pieces, custom lighting, artwork and furniture. This is both through bespoke pieces we design in house and through finding the best vendors and collaborators to help fulfill the complete vision.

Next we coordinate with trades, vendors and a myriad of consultants to deliver everything through the eye of a needle to meet project budgets and deadlines…

And Voila! Everyone is happy, hugs & kisses all around, crack the champagne and get ready to do it all again!


OBAKKI

What’s your secret power for understanding what clients really want?

CRAIG STANGHETTA
Well we mostly work in the world of commercial design. So clients all want the same thing: to be successful financially while having work they can be proud of that aligns with their brand. If there are clients who only want the financial outcome and not something special in lockstep, we can smell it a mile away and avoid those projects at all costs.

Specifically when it comes to personal taste and the like, we try to move that conversation to what the space wants and can be in its most compelling and complete version of itself. So we try to move it to an objective discourse so that we’re now all talking about manifesting something rather than trying to pull a secret out of someone's subconscious. We conjure what the space wants to be, not what any individual wants. Those projects aren’t for us.

Gilmore Place, designed by Ste. Marie

Photo Credit: Conrad Brown / Design: Ste. Marie

OBAKKI
What are your favourite sustainable materials to work with, and do you believe sustainability is a key element of great design?

CRAIG STANGHETTA
In the last few years we’ve liked working with cork as a super beautiful, timeless and sustainable material. But moreso we’re very driven by ensuring that our projects can stand the test of time — that they become staples of their places and as such can have a long life. We’re mindful of sustainable materials and vendors but fundamentally believe the best practice is to make work that can live on and not find its way into a landfill after the trendiness of the design has expired.

OBAKKI
What trends and colours are you predicting for this spring and summer?

CRAIG STANGHETTA
I hate trends and couldn’t care less. I will say anything is possible at any time and everyone should be chasing whatever world they feel draws them in. If you’re out there defining your style by what is current then everything you do will have a very short expiry date. Also, yellow.

OBAKKI
What are your favourite Obakki collections or products? Are there specific artisans whose work speaks to you in a deeper way?

CRAIG STANGHETTA
I’m really into the Coatlicue Oak Cabinet at the moment. I’ve spent a lot of time working and travelling in Mexico and this piece is everything I love about Mexican design — deeply unique, personal and contemporary but with a link to the lineage of Mexican culture at its root. I also love the idea of blending decor, art and pragmatic storage. Lastly, you could just imagine how this piece would only get better over a lifetime. Wonderful.

COATLICUE Oak Cabinet Furniture
COATLICUE Oak Cabinet Furniture
COATLICUE Oak Cabinet Furniture
COATLICUE Oak Cabinet Furniture
COATLICUE Oak Cabinet Furniture
COATLICUE Oak Cabinet Furniture
COATLICUE Oak Cabinet Furniture
COATLICUE Oak Cabinet Furniture
COATLICUE Oak Cabinet Furniture
COATLICUE Oak Cabinet Furniture

COATLICUE Oak Cabinet

$22,995.00

OBAKKI
Who is your favourite designer?

CRAIG STANGHETTA
I have a deep respect and appreciation for so many current studios that I couldn’t possibly name a favourite at the moment. One thing I will say is I love the work being done by some of the studios started by some folks who’ve been part of the Ste. Marie team in the past like Studio Roslyn and Anddaughters.

But if I had to pick my all time favourite it would be Carlo Scarpa. He had such a clear voice and POV and was able to move between scales of work so perfectly. The detail and collaboration achieved through relationships with artists and craftspeople is unmatched. He’s the patron saint for me.

OBAKKI
Where do you think a great sense of design comes from? Do you need to be born with a design sense to be a ‘great’ designer? 

CRAIG STANGHETTA
The diplomatic thing to say is no… but if I’m being honest with what I’ve witnessed over the years I’d say absolutely. The best designers I’ve ever known are just compelled by something within. Even as a kid I was always moving the furniture around in our house, redecorating my room every few months. I didn’t know why... I still don’t. It’s in the cells I guess.

SHOP OUR FURNITURE + LIGHTING COLLECTION

Woven Black Palm Pendant Lighting & Fixtures
Woven Black Palm Pendant Lighting & Fixtures
Woven Black Palm Pendant Accents + Decor
Woven Black Palm Pendant Lighting & Fixtures

Woven Black Palm Pendant

$395.00
Tiered Palm Pendant Shade Lighting & Fixtures
Tiered Palm Pendant Shade Lighting & Fixtures
Tiered Palm Pendant Shade Accents + Decor
Tiered Palm Pendant Shade Accents + Decor Palm
Tiered Palm Pendant Shade Lighting & Fixtures

Tiered Palm Pendant Shade

$445.00
Textile Lamp Shade Wall Hangings Grey 40 x 120 cm / 16
Textile Lamp Shade Wall Hangings Grey 40 x 120 cm / 16
Textile Lamp Shade Wall Hangings
Textile Lamp Shade Wall Hangings
Textile Lamp Shade Wall Hangings
Textile Lamp Shade Wall Hangings
Textile Lamp Shade Lighting & Fixtures

Textile Lamp Shade

$1,445.00
TLALOC Oak Cabinet Furniture Natural Oak
TLALOC Oak Cabinet Furniture Natural Oak
TLALOC Oak Cabinet Furniture
TLALOC Oak Cabinet Furniture
TLALOC Oak Cabinet Furniture
TLALOC Oak Cabinet Furniture
TLALOC Oak Cabinet Furniture

TLALOC Oak Cabinet

$21,995.00

Related Posts

DESIGNER INTERVIEW SERIES: Christine Lin

Back in 2014, I made a solo pilgrimage to Naoshima, an island west of Osaka, known for its art. It has amazing museums designed by Tadao Ando, a favorite architect of mine, and there’s various art installations and art houses scattered around the island.

A Holiday Cocktail Hour with Christine Flynn

Holiday entertaining is magical. Friends and family gather in festive surroundings, and the heart of hosting lies in the careful orchestration of details— creating an enchanting tableau for shared stories, clinking glasses, and joyous conversations. In this artful celebration, hosting is not just an event but a timeless experience that lingers in the heart of guests. Christine Flynn shares a few tips and tricks for styling the most enchanting holiday cocktail hour that creates a sense of sophistication, where every element seamlessly intertwines to evoke a feeling of connection and timeless charm. 

Five Questions: Rufina Ruiz Lopez 

My pottery is inspired by the generations that came before me who have passed down this sacred craft. In my community you are born, raised and live each day by the clay—the Holy Mother. Every part of my being is woven through the story of this magical mud.