Chic Eats

With the exception of theme-driven locales like Las Vegas and Orlando, fine dining is having a Zen moment. That is, some restaurant designers are focused on providing sophisticated diners a more soothing, serene setting — while indulging a desire for opulence in materials and craftsmanship.

Design firm Yabu Pushelberg, with offices in Toronto and New York City, is at the forefront of this movement. Its design vision “walks a fine line between edgy and elegant,” according to cofounder George Yabu's biography. With a client list that includes such design-forward hotels as Starwood's W brand, Four Seasons and Mandarin Oriental, they've got plenty of space to spread their gospel of less, with more.

Yabu Pushelberg designed Nine Thirty restaurant on the ground floor of the W Hotel in Los Angeles. Nine Thirty's striking design plays on the contrast of light and dark woods. The designers framed the room with panels of intricate screening, made from woven rattan and coconut shells. The hand-crafted screens combine with the W's verdant landscaping to create an air of serenity, “evoking the seclusion of an island bungalow” and forming many intimate seating areas.

“Our goal was to transform the existing restaurant, that didn't perform well and was too cold in its modernity, to something that connected more with the neighborhood and was more laid back, and moody,” says Y-P designer Mary Mark.

Mark talks enthusiastically of the “new luxury” movement, which is evident in the design of her current project, the Mandarin Oriental in Barcelona, Spain. “It's a different way of approaching design,” says Mark. The trend is to reject high-gloss, reflective surfaces and materials in favor of very high quality, yet subtle elements — say fine woods and luxurious linens. “So when you first look at something, it will seem very laid back, but upon closer inspection and touch, the luxuriousness becomes evident.”

Designer Mark theorizes that today's well-heeled traveler and diner is less impressed by “flash and embellishment. Also, people are more stressed from work and their fast-paced lives. They go to hotels and hotel restaurants for escape and renewal.”

Serene shouldn't spell stagnant, however. Mark says operators specify frequent changeouts, either in lighting or multi-media elements and art, to keep their restaurants interesting, and to encourage repeat business

Feeling Groovy

Subtlety and serenity were NOT the driving force behind the recent lobby redesign of San Francisco's Hotel Triton. Instead, it's a whimsical kaleidoscope of over-the-top themes. According to Kimpton Design Manager Andrew Alford, the idea was to “mash together various movements in San Francisco design. We brought together the fussy and layered Victorian era, with the free spirit of the Hippie era, along with the high-tech sheen of San Francisco's modern computer era.”

The wall mural was created to seem as if the walls had grown and evolved over the years as the city's vibrant art scene grew and evolved. Alford wanted it to appear as if there was an original layer of Victorian wallpaper that generations of artists had added onto as time passed. Using digitally printed vinyl gives the property the ability to make changes as the local art scene changes. New elements can be worked into the design by changing single panels year after year.

Befitting Kimpton's commitment to environmental sustainability, instead of buying new pieces of upholstery, existing pieces were recovered.

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