Design Week: Public Eateries

Last week, I attended "Public Eateries: A Conversation on Designing Restaurants in the Era of Food," an event with a slightly nonsensical name (who knew we were in "the era of food"?) but a very interesting and engaging panel of speakers. Jeffrey Alan Marks, who designed Tavern in Los Angeles—and is currently filming a new series for Bravo called "Million Dollar Designer"—moderated the talk with Cass Calder Smith, Principal of CCS Architecture, Stephen Brady, a designer and Creative Director of Gap, and Charles DeLisle, Principal CDL Workshop. Here's a glimpse into the evening.
 

The event was held at Coup d'Etat, a cool interiors/design store in Showplace East in San Francisco's 'design district.'
The event was held at Coup d'Etat, a cool interiors/design store in Showplace East in San Francisco's 'design district.'

The event was held at Coup d'Etat, a cool design/interiors shop in San Francisco's Design District.

The 8,500-square-foot interior is filled with an eclectic mix of industrial, modern, and antique furniture.
The 8,500-square-foot interior is filled with an eclectic mix of industrial, modern, and antique furniture.

 

Marks began by showing us images of Tavern, a Los Angeles restaurant he created in a formerly boarded-up disco. Next, he'll open the Hungry Cat in Malibu: he has six weeks to make it into a restaurant. This is the subject of his new Bravo show.

At the back of the showroom, a large crowd gathered.
At the back of the showroom, a large crowd gathered.
Then the mike went to Smith, who called restaurants "our most memorable quasi-public spaces." After a quick rundown of the history of restaurant design (apparently restaurants first became design projects in the 1980's) and a tally of the ones he's designed to date (fifty), he took us on a visual tour of his latest project, 25 Lusk. At this restaurant, he brought in glossy white surfaces and sleek materials like stainless steel to form a counterpoint to the existing brick and timber space. "High end, but not taking itself too seriously," says Smith.

The interior of 25 Lusk, designed by Cass Calder Smith.
The interior of 25 Lusk, designed by Cass Calder Smith.

Smith identified San Francisco's approach to restaurant design as being "about being timeless in the fundamental ways architecture is timeless." In New York, on the other hand, "if you don't do something a little ballsy, you won't get noticed at all." In his approach to 25 Lusk, he aimed to "create a gem down the alley—to make it quite glamorous. I think we were pushing the limits of what makes a timeless restaurant. But time will tell."

From left, Cass Calder Smith, Stephen Brady, and Charles d'Isle.
From left, Cass Calder Smith, Stephen Brady, and Charles d'Isle.
Brady's fashion background informs his approach to restaurant design. He says he takes "a residential approach." At the new Cafe des Amis, he created "a pleasant, comfortable place to be," with dim lighting and a zinc bar imported from France. He praised mohair fabric for its incredible durability and ability to absorb sound. He used the material at Spruce, a restaurant that exclusively employs furniture designed for Williams Sonoma Home. His advice for would-be restaurant designers? "If you have money, put it where you can see it"—in other words, splurge on the things that diners will notice right away, to give the whole place a luxurious feel.

Moving right along… D'Isle took a punkier approach to the talk, having snagged images of the restaurant Canteen, which he designed six years ago, off Yelp. The place cost $6,000 to renovate, and D'Isle traded the chef-owner his design services for food. He agreed with Brady's advice, pointing out the bright green laminate counter at Canteen, the project's biggest splurge. "You have to ask yourself, what is going to have the biggest impact?"

Here's view of the bright green countertop at Canteen.
Here's view of the bright green countertop at Canteen.
D'Isle's latest project is the House of Shields, one of San Francisco's oldest bars. It reopened a month ago, after an extensive renovation whose goal it was to "make it look like it hadn't been touched." Among many other subtle moves, D'Isle refinished the rosewood and mahogany bar and upholstered the booths in mens suiting and hemp trim.

The newly renovated House of Shields.
The newly renovated House of Shields.
The talk ended with some talk about the challenges of acoustics (at the value-engineering stage of design, acoustic tiles are usually the first thing to go), and predictions about trends—namely, luxury is coming back, more and more major restaurants will open in hotels and malls, and celebrity chefs are on the decline. Then we all headed next door to the new Almond-Hartzog showroom for cocktails among the mid-century splendor.

 

Some of the furniture on display at Almond-Hertzog.
Some of the furniture on display at Almond-Hertzog.
The funky window display at Coup d'Etat, as I made my way back into the night.
The funky window display at Coup d'Etat, as I made my way back into the night.

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