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When Reuters broke the news that IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad had overtaken Bill Gates as the richest man in the world, modern interior design was given a strange new context. Whereas not so long ago a trip to IKEA felt like an outing to a land of fairly cosmopolitan, forward-thinking minds, its brand of sleek, affordable furniture could theoretically now be found inside of more homes than a copy of Windows 2000. If everyone from college students to grandmothers has homes full of budget, knockoff mod furniture, attaining a unique modern interior becomes, well, tricky.
This presents a particular challenge for the interior designers of public spaces like restaurants, hotels, and lounges. Of course, the best (though not always the most monetarily successful) designers are those whose visions have a bit of their own magic and madness, nodding to contemporary context without giving in to ephemeral, majority-approved trends. The two who come foremost to mind are Adam D. Tihany and Kelly Wearstler.
Tihany famously shocked the old guard when he replaced the prim old New York restaurant Le Cirque with the dramatic stream-lined design of the new Le Cirque 2000. He admits it was his "most whimsical and theatrical project," but explains that "once people realized how appropriate the design was for both the space and [owner] Sirio Maccioni, it was taken seriously."
The outré designer has since created daring, decidedly singular spaces for Aureole in Las Vegas, with its four-story glass wine tower; injected warmth into minimalism at New York’s extravagant Per Se; and managed to make the fires of hell sexy with deeply sensual designs at the Sin restaurant and Angelo bar in Rome’s chic Aleph hotel. In the works are The Line restaurant in the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore, a rooftop restaurant at the Pudong Shangri-La in Shanghai, as well as a bar and restaurantin the Landmark Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong.
Of his success as a maverick designer, Tihany observes, "There is no right or wrong. Some of us [are able to] reinvent ourselves with each project." He stresses the importance of following the evolution of restaurant design and keeping an eye toward the future.
Perhaps more of a surprise success, but no less staunchly individualistic, is Wearstler, who rose to prominence on the strength of her unexpected interior designs of Beverly Hills hotels the Avalon, with its lux update of retro-motel style, and Maison 140, with its Asia–meets–French empire lobby and minimalist eclecticism. She has since created once of L.A.’s hottest scenester spots with the Viceroy hotel in Santa Monica, whose lobby bar and Whist restaurant reflect a spectacular blend of postmodern, Asian, and classical influences.
"I was always in my own world," she explains, "dabbling in color and using a mix of furnishings in opposite architectural dwellings—modern interiors in 1920s Spanish architecture, for instance. It worked and it looked fabulous."
Next up from Wearstler: a Viceroy Anguilla and an as-yet-unnamed restaurant for posh retailer Bergdorf Goodman.
When queried about her favorite restaurant interiors, Wearstler cites the dining room at the perpetually trendy Hotel Costes in Paris as one of her favorites. Its designer, Jacques Garcia, is one of France’s hottest, yet is infamous for his perhaps overly flamboyant embellishments of contemporary interiors.
Indeed, in chic new restaurants the world over—from the nouveau-Baroque outlandishness of Restaurant Alchymist in Prague to the mod-meets-classical Hostaria dell’Orso in Rome to Philippe Starck’s sleekly opulent restaurant in the new Baccarat headquarters in Paris—designers are giving new context to modernism by connecting it with the past.
What this means for the design-minded epicure, of course, is that there has rarely been such a time of ideas and inspiration for the design of one’s own home dining space. Be a little minimal, be a little Baroque, just don’t ever, ever be boring.