Fortune Cookie Not Included pix
James Nestor -- Interior Design, 7/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
In the men's restroom at Sino restaurant in San Jose, California, the hand-painted Chinese characters running down a canvas panel proclaim, "The sea is the home of the dragon."
To paint billboard-size Chinese characters for the hallway outside the restrooms, calligrapher Ming Chan uses a moplike brush and a bucket of ink.
Creating the large-scale calligraphy entails tai chi footwork and arm motions.
Here Chan completes the character for spirit.
Installed in the 66-foot-long hallway, the murals complement custom glass pendant globes and polished-concrete flooring.
|"Wow, that was really interesting!" is not an exclamation often heard from patrons exiting a lavatory. But animated, half-giggled remarks are exactly what echo in the hall outside the restrooms at Sino, a restaurant and nightspot on hopping Santana Row in San Jose, California.
"It's provocative, something a little voyeuristic," explains EDG senior interior designer Catharine Tarver. Between the men's and women's restrooms, she constructed a permeable partition of sorts. As guests stand at the sink, they spy each other through peekaboo slits between frosted-glass and mirrored panels.
On each side of the semi-communal washroom, a mural of Chinese characters graces the red-painted walls. The women's side says, "The sky is the home of the crane." On the men's side, the characters proclaim, "The sea is the home of the dragon."
The characters measure 18 inches tall, but that's nothing compared to the billboard-size ones in the long hallway connecting the lavatories to the rest of the space. The idea was to mimic the look of the side streets that snake their way through urban China. "We knew that we weren't able to do anything structural," Tarver says. "So we worked on making the hall an interesting part of the journey, like walking down a back alley in Shanghai."
"To make a statement, you need to do something big—but also simple," adds Sino owner Chris Yeo, who also owns several of the Singapore-themed Straits restaurants in the Bay Area. In keeping with his taste for spectacle, he instantly agreed when Tarver proposed turning a solitary fabrication process into a public event.
Unlike most easel painting, large-scale calligraphy is a full-body performance. One Saturday morning, in front of the restaurant, master calligrapher Ming Chan set up shop with a bucket of ink and a brush the size of a mop. On each 10-foot-square pre-painted red canvas, he carefully articulated brushstrokes with a series of elaborate, graceful tai chi movements.
Glued on the wall of the restroom hallway, right to left—the direction in which Chinese calligraphy is read—the seven finished canvas panels exhort diners to "celebrate excellent health and good fortune." As they make their way back and forth, dimmed track lights shine down on the gray polished-concrete floor, like streetlights on rain-slicked asphalt, and the 9-foot-high Chinese characters fade in and out, like the frames of a movie. Inspired by traditional paper lanterns, amber glass orbs hang in progressively larger sizes, creating a deepened perspective.
Every detail adds to the intriguing film noir atmosphere—as patrons roam the streets of a mysterious city, searching for an answer to an age-old question: "Is this really the way to the bathroom?"