Enjoying a hot meal in the company of others is important to us, maybe even conditional for the human spirit? So, when you are at your most vulnerable, can the moment that reminds us of what makes us feel human through the gestures of a meal, give the comfort of that things can change to the better? The Refettorio Felix project gives this a go and are making dining experiences that are for everyone.
Images by Denzeen magazine
The initiator Massimo Bottura, world renowned chef who runs Osteria Francescana in Modena with his wife, approach food like a work of art. The three star Michelin chef wanted to tackle food waste and combined it with also creating a community for people in need. He started Refettorio Felix in 2015, a dining place now in more than seven countries, where people who are homeless or have limited means can go to have lunch. The guests are served with a three course meal each day prepared by some of the best chefs using only food waste (the food is delicious).
Ilse Crawford, who brought humanity into interiors in our modern days, joined Massimo to change the tired community space of the beautiful St Chutberth’s church. All the prerequisites were there, with an enormous ceiling height, beautiful windows and amazing features. One thing was missing though – the gesture of love. Ilse and her team transformed the space with small means into a beautiful dining area where people from all types of background can find some delicate refuges from the streets and come into a space that provides the comfort of home.
The calming green colours, down to earth choice of material such as the rice lamps that create big impact with their scale and with a repetitive pattern, fill a previously hollow high ceiling into something meditative to watch. The long table communal arrangement encourages the guests to start conversations with someone they didn’t know before.
The dining table is an interesting space to watch. As the dining table is vanishing from our homes: we find ourselves eating at the computer, standing in the kitchen, lounging on the sofa in front of the TV, in the car or walking along the street. What’s the point of a table if we prefer a meal on our laps?
On the other hand, if you have noticed the transformation of restaurants that has happened the last years, you would have noticed a big difference. We see the usual two or four seating being replaced with long tables. The bar seating added for a new type of guest – the solo diner. The urban living doesn’t per default solve the human interaction need, nor does it sooth our loneliness. Isn’t dining together a quintessential experience after all?
If you haven’t been homeless (like most us luckily haven’t had to experience) you probably haven’t felt the extreme loneliness I can only imagine you’d be carrying. But what we can connect with is the short moments of feeling a bit left out and instances of feeling lonely at times. That feeling connects us and is crucial to understanding how important initiative like these are. Not because they will solve everything, they are still the utopia of how we should be thinking about equality and creating spaces for people who can’t pay for the luxury. Think about all the public spaces in a city, hospital waiting room, official buildings – it can be difficult to think that these were designed for humans in the first place.
To end this story I wanted to share an insight someone found after interviewing hundreds of people about their living situation. He found that people who had very little money to spend, they still want to feel like they have “something”. They would rather spend more on a few items (such as a new phone, an exclusive sofa etc.) if the object was related to their feeling of having dignity. The word dignity kept coming up and seemed to be is something that people always value despite how little they have.
I think the dignity aspect is important to remember as we design for people.
All images by Denzeen Magazine
I volunteered at the Refettorio and it was a wonderful experience. I could chat to people I wouldn’t usually meet in my everyday life and be part of a really great initiative that is making life a little bit better through the simple ideas of community, sharing and food. Read more about volunteering here: Refettorio Felix
Additional information about the project: Foodforsoul