If the topic is food, I'm usually interested. And while there wasn't any served at the Design for Dining panel discussion at the Makor Center on July 26th, I was still compelled to hear about the mixed soup this creative discussion would produce. Moderated by award-winning architect Cass Calder Smith, we heard from four different points of view. Those were of a chef, two editors and a restauranteuse. And they cooked up quite a compelling evening.
First course in restaurant design: Uptown vs. Downtown.
Cass noted how "uptown designers" have big budgets and big expectations whereas "downtown designers" (like the Spotted Pig) have lower budgets (but equally great expectations). Rita Jamet, proprietor of the famed La Caravelle said "it's a state of mind, not a location." Jake Klein, executive chef of Rockefeller Center's Pulse restaurant said that the best restaurants for business lunches and dinners are in midtown and that it's not so much about casual vs. formal but fun vs. serious when you're choosing an environment. Michael Adams, editor-in-chief of Hospitality Design thought the "sense of place" is important in dining. Thematic places might be fun, but they don't have as many return trips. Jake followed with "low budges force restraint in a good way. Sometimes when there's a big budget, it's hard to get restraint."
Senior Editor of House & Garden Jen Renzi offered her input regarding residential design. It's following commercial design and the explosion of the open kitchen design is about people wanting to reconnect with their food. Formal dining creates a separateness from food, production and eating; and people want to feel closer to the creation and the creators (chefs/cooks). Manufacturers are designing for this now and have appliances that "drop down" into an island so people can socialize without the machinery around.
Cass wanted to know how to find the balance between what's in fashion, or a trend, vs. what might be a flash-in-the-pan. The Spice Market was mentioned as one restaurant that has that authenticity with an edge, using the space in a dramatic way. Jacques Garcia's (http://www.frenchedonist.com/uk/archive/garcia.htm) hotel in Paris was also mentioned.
Back to residential: Jen commented on how the trend is toward casual. How people want their living space to be more open. The dining room is going away. Why even have it when so many people eat at their sinks or on the sofa watching TV? It's seen as a wasted room that's being transformed into something else in existing properties and is just not even being included in new homes. The trend is towards what we hear about the "great room" – a living, dining, kitchen room all in one. Designers of appliances are getting hip to this too and making products that look great and blend-in better. Enclosed kitchens are in more "grander" homes and the outdoor kitchen has been taking off more and more. It's not just the Weber Grill—now a whole kitchen is on the patio too. Spatially, Jen said there is a diaspora of the kitchen. It is splintering off and appearing throughout the house. There are wetbars in the media room, a coffee/breakfast island in the bedroom. People are thinking in terms of "function" not formal rooms anymore. The kitchen has been liberated!
Kitchen designers are researching how we interact with our machines. She said "appliances are getting smaller and smaller" and, equally but opposite, "big appliances are here to stay." Range Rover came out with a refrigerator. Is that a pun? Even car designers are looking at other areas to output their creative efforts and appliance manufacturers are snapping them up.
When asked about kitchens, Jake said he has one of those classic "closet kitchens" in NYC and only uses his coffee maker. If he cooks, he smokes brisket or chicken out on his Weber grill on his fire escape. A true New Yorker, that Jake! Originally from Miami, Jake grew up with 1/2 a dozen grills and couches scattered throughout his Mom's backyard. I don't think this was a white-trash backyard either, folks.
The motif of living spaces transitioning into the public has been around for a while. We've seen that here in New York City with bars like Apartment and Bed and the panelists referred to the Wynn in Las Vegas. In fact, Cass even produced numbers showing that if you went out (to a public living/dining room) every night for a year, it would still cost less than building your own new (or renovating an old) kitchen! He based his numbers on an average dinner costing $75 vs. the average cost of a kitchen renovation being $520,000.
And just what restaurants would Cass chose to go out to, if he were to dine out every night?
Here are Cass's picks for top restaurants in various categories:
"Sexy" or make you feel sexy
1. The modern (MOMA), the bar room "has perfect, clean, restrained architecture"
2. Brasserie (fashion-driven) "a little tired"
3. Mix (in Las Vegas) "so sexy"
4. The Hudson – Phillip Starck!
5. Terzo in SF
"Handsome" (more formalized)
1. The Four Seasons
2. Del Posto
3. Perry Street
"Funky"/ neighborhoody (or places that end up that way) that New Yorkers love
1. Spotted Pig
4. Lucky Strike
5. Bar Veloce
6. Giorgone 508
1. Tavern on the Green
2. Nobu 57
Now—what are the trends, you say? Well, allow me to impart their knowledge... Rita feels the important element is the lighting; just changing the lighting can make a restaurant look different. The mentioned how Keith McNally lights in an old style, which can make a restaurant. Nobu 57 and Americain are more "upscale" places and are mostly about spot-lighting so people look shadow-y (women: take note). Jake commented this spot-lighting isn't good for the customer. He wants them to be able to look good *and* to be able to read the menu! Ah yes, ever the chef! :) To this point, Michael mentioned how Blue Hill even gives people branded flashlights so they can read the menu! Jen also mentioned how spaces get their character from the people that go there. Very true.