Soup kitchens just got chic

Refettorio Felix is a London soup kitchen designed by Studioilse, and run by Massimo Bottura

When you think of soup kitchens, stylish interiors and Michelin-starred chefs don’t exactly spring to mind.

But Refettorio Felix in South Kensington, London, offers exactly that.

The Refettorio (“refectory” in Italian) is a community kitchen located at St. Cuthbert’s Community Centre, in the hall of a former Victorian-era church that’s been given a pro-bono redesign by acclaimed British designer Ilse Crawford (with architect Charles Wainright).

The project is the work of Michelin-starred Italian chef Massimo Bottura through his charity, Food for Soul, in collaboration with The Felix Project, which sources high-quality in-date ingredients that would otherwise go to waste from supermarkets and delivers them to charities.

This stylish soup kitchen opens its doors to the homeless and hungry, five days a week, serving restaurant-quality lunches.

Crawford’s studio, Studioilse, came on board to design a space that felt cosy, welcoming, and would help create a sense of community.

With visitors primarily being from socially vulnerable or homeless backgrounds, they felt the focus should be on making them feel closer together.

Studioilse generated a sense of intimacy with darker paintwork and low-hanging pendant lights that would make the vast ceilings appear lower. Other lighting is kept soft to enhance this effect, while plants bring colour and a natural element to the space. The studio also used lots of natural materials to create a warm and homely space.

In addition to the dining hall, the building has a dedicated reading lounge, private counselling rooms, and film screening area for movie nights, while updates to the commercial kitchen ensure it can keep up with the volume of food production needed.

By designing the space in this way, Crawford also noted that the kitchen and dining room could become more attractive as hire venues, which could in turn help fund and sustain the project.

To bring the design together under a very tight budget, top design brands such as Alessi, Artek, Artemide and Vitra chipped in and generously donated the lighting and furnishings.

It’s these small but stylish details that add up and help make the place feel special and cared for.

Aside from Massimo Bottura, chefs of the calibre of Alain Ducasse and Margot Henderson have also cooked up meals here.

Although the dining hall is not open to the general public, everyone has the chance to take a tour of Refettorio Felix during weekday visiting hours from 4-5pm.

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