The event was held at Coup d'Etat, a cool design/interiors shop in San Francisco's Design District.
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.
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.
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."
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?"
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 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.
When not writing, editing, or combing design magazines and blogs for inspiration, Jaime Gillin is experimenting with new recipes, traveling as much as possible, and tackling minor home-improvement projects that inevitably turn out to be more complex than anticipated.