While Nolan Hirte is well-known for the role he’s played in transforming Australia’s coffee culture, his design acumen and furniture-making skills are talents he’s kept close to the vest—until now. Countless details inside the new Proud Mary cafe in Portland, Oregon, were painstakingly designed and handcrafted by Hirte himself—with a little help from his mom and dad. He also worked with Harka Architects and Butler Built Construction to bring his vision to life.
Aptly housed in what was once the studio of a furniture maker for stars like Liberace and Frank Sinatra, the 2,700-square-foot restaurant exudes a unique balance of earnestness and glamour. From the marble-tiled wall, the 1970s sound system, and the oak-lined skylights—to the exposed old-growth beam, communal tables, and 30-foot coffee-making bar—the design is equal parts exceptional and accessible.
"Every detail is here for a reason. When designing the space, I constantly asked myself if what I was creating had a functional purpose or would make the customer feel something. If not, I took it out."
Set smack in the middle of Portland’s artsy Alberta Street, Proud Mary’s details reflect the warmth of the neighborhood and the bounty of the Pacific Northwest. A giant open kitchen, walnut-and-leather stools, and handmade oak window frames all impart an organic, welcoming vibe. There’s even natural light in the walk-in cooler, thanks to a special window installation.
"Just when we got a design element ‘good enough,’ we’d go one step further." —Nolan Hirte
While the kitchen is busy juxtaposing flavors that both surprise and delight, the design of Proud Mary does the same with materials and textures. Where most restaurants would use stainless-steel shelving on the serving line, Hirte used maple, and when the wall running the length of the space required support beams, he decided to showcase them alongside the original 1920s brick and raw cement tiles. "The goal was to simply infuse the beauty of the old bones with clean, modern ideas," he says.
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