Design Dish: Tangata by Heather Ashton


The Bowers Museum in Santa Ana is home to the newly remodeled Tangata restaurant by designer Heather Ashton. Orange County’s largest museum and a wonderful space for catching lectures, exhibitions and many children activities has lovely indoor / outdoor spaces, including the alfresco dining on two large patio areas. The Tangata Restaurant (or “mankind” in the tribal Maori language of New Zealand) features modern decor enclosed by glass walls and repeating ceiling framed windows throughout the main dining area highlighted by organic red light fixtures that are illuminated by the sunlight that shines through. Heather Ashton Designs, based in Los Angeles, collaborated with the Patina Group to remodel this new restaurant and bring the cuisine of Executive Chef Donald Harris to life.  Heather Ashton, shares with us, some insights on her new design…




What was the brief given to you and how did you approach it?

When Patina asked me to work on the renovation of Tangata at the Bowers Museum, the owner, Joachim Splichal really gave me the creative freedom and allowed me to present my vision. I viewed the Museum as a clean and modern space, so the restaurant needed to be brought up-to-date to complement that aesthetic while still respecting the original Spanish courtyard that borders the outdoor dining area. I knew immediately that I wanted to streamline the interior and develop a color story that complemented the wine-colored bougainvillea in the courtyard. Everything else fell into place from those two moments.  


What were some of the biggest challenges?

Before this new iteration, Tangata had the same design since the early nineties and with that, a very loyal following. It was a challenge to create a new, fresh space while still appealing to the space’s core clientele. The result is a successful balance of the two.


Is there any one element that you’d like us to point out or share with our readers?

The lighting is my favorite aspect of the space. It’s a band of wood veneer stained a deep red and then formed into a ribbon shape. It really makes the room. I also love the wine color that serves as a pop of color throughout the entire space. It adds a sense of warmth and depth to the clean, modern aesthetic. 




Were these pieces custom-made or designed by you or was there a brand or a collaboration with an artist etc. that you’d like to highlight?

The banquette was custom made to my design specifications as was the bar and back bar.


Photo: Jennifer Mehditash / Bowers Museum


We had the most lovely lunch, the service was friendly and the food was great! I highly recommend it and make sure to save some time for a visit to the Bower’s Musuem.

My meal:

CRISPY CALAMARI Fresh Monterey squid, espelette, pickled peppers, Thai eggplant purée;

CHICKEN BANH MI Grilled chicken, pickled daikon and carrots, cilantro, mushroom pâté, charred jalapeño aioli;

KOREAN MARINATED SKIRT STEAK Sesame glass noodles, spicy cabbage, charred green onion 



Tangata is open for lunch Tuesday through Sunday, with a diverse menu of Pacific Rim-inspired cuisine. 

In addition to an array of appetizers and main courses, Tangata Restaurant offers a tantilizing selection of desserts and a sophisticated drink menu. 

Reservations are recommended.
Phone Reservations: 714.550.0906

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