Sundholm Studio Redefines Granny Chic in Nanas Restaurant

Inside a jewel-toned grandmother-inspired restaurant remodel.

“Nanas isn’t stuffy,” designer Shaun Sundholm, founder of Sundholm Studio, says of his latest project, Nanas Restaurant in Durham, North Carolina. “The guests are there to have fun and feel comfortable, much like at Grandma’s house as a kid.”

The restaurant has been a Durham institution for 30 years and was bought by chef Matt Kelly in 2022. While some designers would balk at the pressure of reimagining a beloved stalwart, Sundholm says it was the most exciting part. Kelly and fellow chef and business partner Nate Garyantes knew they wanted to update the interior while maintaining Nanas’s sense of place. The designer, who splits his time between Durham and Oaxaca, found ways to honour the original interiors in the reimagined version: the burnt-orange accents throughout recall the fiery orange walls of the past, a tufted-velvet orange seat is dubbed Nana Howell’s bench after the original owner, and the curved entry wall was revitalized with green tiles from Spain.




When the Sundholm Studio first began conceptualizing the project, they looked to a wide range of resources, as varied as abstract impressionist art of the Smoky Mountains, ’70s Cadillacs, vintage Ralph Lauren, and The Golden Girls. “The goal was to distill these inspirations into their core elements and convey them in a fresh, nongimmicky manner while maintaining a sense of whimsy,” Sundholm says.

The finished space combines elements of the state’s natural beauty with contemporary takes on grandmotherly decor choices. Colour plays an important role in establishing the interior’s context: the jewel tones both capture hues found in nature—blue for water, green and walnut for trees, and orange for sunlight—and also summon memories of a grandmother’s rings.




The space comprises a dining room and private dining room, which seat 50 each, and a bar area with room for 40. The curved wood-slatted entryway is meant to evoke wandering down a forest path, in honour of the Kelly’s experiences on the Appalachian Trail. The entryway gives way to the salon, with walls clad with navy fluting, and then a larger dining room with grasscloth wallpaper, all connected with tall brass-framed arched doorways, a common motif in the space inspired by architecture in Old North Durham. “I wanted the salon to feel like you were entering a serene meadow after winding through a dark, shady forest, and the dining room was like a strange combination of your grandmother’s living room and an opening in a forest where trees tower above you and the sun filters through,” Sundholm explains.

Blue-velvet and cognac-leather banquettes circle the dining space over plaid carpets. Many of the items were made and designed locally, like the banquettes, the tobacco-leaf tables, the ceramic pots throughout, and the sheer dining room curtains that let in a soft dappling of light. On the walls, colourful abstract mixed media pieces by Raleigh artist Jason Craighead add a relaxed residential feeling.



In the back bar, black walnut millwork takes centre stage with backlit arched cutouts containing shelves for liquor bottles and backed with brass and aged gold mirror. Surrounded by tufted dark-green stools, the L-shaped bar features dark-wood backing with a green-tiled kickplate, also featured behind some of the shelves. Bola brass disc pendants hang overhead, illuminating the moody back room.

“Our design ethos embraced contrasts in the form of colours and textures—the wood slats echoing North Carolina’s tall pines, the jewel tones found throughout, hearkening back to crystal clear river pools found in the Appalachian Mountains, and gem-coloured quartzite encountered on trails,” Sundholm says.