A Popular Burger Joint Flaunts Its Roots With the Help of a Design Collective

A Popular Burger Joint Flaunts Its Roots With the Help of a Design Collective

By Paige Alexus / Published by Paige Alexus
When Project M Plus was approached by Umami Burger to design two new locations that could help unify their brand, they set a goal of bringing the mystery of “umami” to life.

With new destinations now completed in Chicago and Santa Monica, the brand’s connection to its Japanese routes is elevated—but with a modern, American perspective. As a Los Angeles–based collective of designers and architects, Project M Plus referenced their principle that design shapes how we experience the world. 

The word "umami" comes from Japanese provenance and describes the enigmatic fifth taste, which is said to include an unexpected fusion of salty, sweet, bitter, and sour. With this in mind, they figured out ways to introduce refined design details while referencing the brand’s history of serving burgers out of a sushi bar. 

Continue reading to see the final results of these two casual, newly-designed burger joints.   

As one of the new locations, the facade of the Chicago Umami Burger was left mostly untouched besides a simple, modern logo and dark black windows that help keep the mystery alive.

At the Chicago location, Project M Plus installed panels of custom wooden slats on the ceiling. The geometric shapes refer to the art of origami.

At the new Santa Monica locale, they took cues from Ruth Asawa—the legendary Japanese-American sculptor—by scattering woven Nama pendant lanterns by Ay illuminate.

The graphics team at Project M Plus created street-inspired décollage wall art for both locations. Made popular by artists François Dufrene, Jacques Villeglé, and Raymond Hains, this technique is created by layering posters on top of each other, and then tearing away pieces to reveal what’s below. This wall art (at the Santa Monica location) is inspired by Japanese graphics and slang—and also incorporates vintage postcards.

The bar at the Santa Monica stop features crackled ceramic tile from Heath Ceramics. It’s shown here in a layered, glazed finish in chalk and gunmetal.

For a lighthearted touch, Project M Plus created custom neon signs, which customers have been known to gravitate towards already. The copper chairs are by L.A.–based brand, Bend Goods.

In order to help create a bit of privacy in certain areas of the Santa Monica locale, they created perforated metal screens that were are by traditional shoji screens.

The stenciled floor takes cues from Sashiko embroidery textile designs.


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