ON January 17 this year, An-yu Luan, known to her friends as NuNu, had a dream. 'I woke up at seven, and anyone who knows me would know that I never wake up that early, but it was all thought up in a flash,' she says. 'The whole idea for brown was worked out in that dream.' Ms Luan's baby, brown is a restaurant-cum-wine-bar in Happy Valley's Sing Woo Road. It soft-opened in July, six months after her vision, and after some tweaking, it had its grand unveiling on October 7. Everything within its (smoked brown) doors is brown including as much brown food as it is feasible that the Hong Kong public might want to eat. Or even drink: the menu offers brown Island Iced Tea, Chocolate Martinis, and a brown Booster (green apple and ginger, in fact, which turn brown in combination). What about the blue corn tortilla chip nachos? 'They're brown, actually.' Ms Luan is an American-born architect, trained at Harvard and Cornell, who used to be part of a Hong Kong communal design group called 01 (pronounced 'zero one'). Last December, the members of 01 decided to pursue their separate interests. Ms Luan was keen to investigate the possibility of several ideas which had been parked, engines running, in the back of her mind: a handbag line, a range of lighting fixtures, a possible boutique hotel. The restaurant, however, made its presence felt most vividly by roaring to the front of her subconscious that January night. As a colour, brown is not, perhaps, the first one you might choose to decorate a restaurant. But among Ms Luan's friends the word had become a verb ('Do you want to brown?') as opposed to an adjective. It was a shorthand way of asking 'Do you want to drink whisky?' and thus brown became associated with comfort and relaxation. 'That was the idea and it became expanded to other brown things,' she explains. 'Things like cigars, coffees, dark beers, tiramisu, chocolate desserts and wines. I wanted to create a neighbourhood place where people could have these things and just hang out, the sort of place I'd be happy to sit in by myself.' The day after the dream, Ms Luan wrote out a 20-page business plan. Then she started to look for a space. As it happened, the first one she inspected - about two minutes' walk from her flat - was the one she eventually chose. She liked the fact that it had high ceilings and a large courtyard, and even a loft area where she now has her office and which can only be accessed by a steel ladder set, ship's-style, into the wall. 'I'm afraid of heights, it took me three weeks to get up there, but I've always wanted a private office,' she says. (This eyrie contains lots of boxes and one plastic chair, which is white.) Oddly enough, given the fact that she is an architect, she says that she kept procrastinating about the design. Perhaps the very word 'design' these days suggests such hard-edged glitz that she simply preferred brown to evolve in a more cosy, homely way. At any rate, she decided she wanted the interior to call to delicious mind a chocolate cake - all dark, yummy layers - and that the bar stools should resemble chocolate biscuits. The glossy walls, a shiny milk-chocolate, look as if they could be the coating on the side of an enormous Malteser. 'I wanted the theme to have something to do with the things we sell,' she says. 'Whiskies get their colour from wooden casks, so there's lots of wood here. And tobacco plants are protected from the light by strips of cheesecloth.' She opens The New Connoisseur's Guide To Havana Cigars and points to a picture of young plants growing under a canopy of flapping cotton, then points to brown's ceiling where loops of fabric have been used in the same way. As part of the wood motif, she created wood-veneer lights - that is, a sliver of wood veneer applied to plexiglass and then placed around the light source. During the day, the line of lights which separates the main dining area from the library section is like a solid row of timber columns; at night, it glows from within. Having a reading area is a fulfilment of one of Ms Luan's ambitions. For years, as an architect, she was always trying to persuade her clients that what they needed in their homes was 'a reading nook'. No one went along with this proposal ('People don't seem to have so many books in Hong Kong'), so now she has incorporated it into brown. Such is her enthusiasm for this aspect of the project, that she asked people to bring along a favourite book to donate to the library at the opening; other party suggestions (instead of those big, wasteful floral tributes which last about a day and a half) were a contribution to brown's 'tree registry', in order to buy greenery for the courtyard, or a donation to the Red Cross Taiwan Earthquake Relief Fund. That sums up the atmosphere in brown's: laid-back, well intentioned, bookish. Ms Luan would be the first to say it is not perfect. The toilets, for instance, were supposed to be copper-coloured but have somehow ended up bright blue, and the veneer is already peeling off some of the lights because of the heat. But she has created something more elusive than a perfect, hassle-free design - and that is a genuinely welcoming atmosphere. 'I do find this more homey than my home,' Ms Luan admits of her dream restaurant. 'During the day, you can come here and read a book and treat it like your living room. I prefer to read here now than in my flat.' Of course, if she ever finds herself completely browned-off (she admits to having spent 21 hours on the premises, opening a restaurant being one of life's steepest learning curves), takeaway food is available. In a brown bag, naturally.