There are a few unconventional details underpinning Henrietta Red, but one thing in particular impacted all the others. The have-you-been-yet popularity of this Nashville restaurant, which opened earlier this year in the buzzworthy Germantown, is likely due to the obvious shift of a top-notch oyster bar in this landlocked city. But that’s not it. Nor is it that the dining room’s light palette offers a fresh foil to the darker tones often seen in eateries there. Rather, its most compelling feature may be the simple but notable fact that three women are behind it.
"We knew that it was a female-run restaurant and we really wanted to stand out," Kathryn Lager says, whose eponymous studio oversaw the design while working with architect Manuel Zeitlin. "None of us are super girly girls, but we’re all very proud females, so we didn’t want anything to be frilly or overdone. It’s just clean, simple, and pretty."
Part of separating themselves from the pack had to do with their relationships. Lager came on board because her younger sister, Allie Poindexter, is Henrietta Red’s general manager and sommelier. And Poindexter’s business partner is chef Julia Sullivan, who is also a friend of Lager’s. As a trio, Lager says that they worked together to create a space that's based on "bold simplicity, craftsmanship, lightness, and warmth."
The restaurant features three cohesive areas: the sleek libations bar, the green-tiled oyster bar, and the open dining area. Given the fresh menu, the design factored in materials that would evoke a seaside palette without feeling too nautical. And in keeping with those breezy shades, the women stuck to a minimalist approach to all of the fixtures and furnishings.
"While the goal was for it to be functional, it also needed to be beautiful and inviting," Poindexter says. One of the biggest ways the team made the space feel welcoming was to include local artisans in the restaurant’s construction. Nashville-based Masaya & Company brought in wood sourced from Nicaragua, and local woodworker Caleb Simpson of High Plains Drifter lended a hand on natural elements, too. Nearly everything in Henrietta Red was commissioned through people in the area, and that provided its distinct personality.
"Everything is beautifully done, but nothing is heavy-handed or forceful," Lager says. "It’s all light but strong—it has a presence, whether it’s the custom plates or the tile we used on the wall of the oyster bar. We really wanted to show the handcrafted nature of the materials. That was the driving force, in my mind, of that feminine energy."
And while the behind-the-scenes story has its layers, the night-after-night goal is straightforward: the three women just want guests to have a good time. "We wanted it to still feel fun, like a place where you could come in and you didn’t have to have a fancy outfit on," Lager says. "I mean, you can if you want to, but you don’t have to."
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