Clive Wilkinson had none when it came to designing his first restaurant, Paperfish in Los Angeles.
-- Interior Design, 3/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
Clive Wilkinson Architects has become synonymous with ingenious workplace design. But why, we all wondered, hadn't the firm's talents been tapped for equally vibrant restaurant solutions? Frankly, Clive Wilkinson had been wondering that, too. At least until Joachim Splichal came along. The Los Angeles chef and entrepreneur, founder of the Patina Restaurant Group, specifically ordered up a hospitality neophyte to reinvent the space that used to be Maple Drive, a dining landmark in Beverly Hills.
The Splichal commission was for everything, soup to nuts: not just interiors but also tableware, uniforms, graphics, and even the restaurant's name. Wilkinson dived in headfirst. Except for the kitchen, his team gutted the 7,700-square-foot space and rebuilt it according to his conception of the Beverly Hills see-and-be-seen scene.
In the gospel according to Wilkinson, restaurant and office design actually go hand in hand. “In both environments, function is incredibly important,” he says. “In a workplace, openness is vital. In a restaurant, circulation is key.” The circulation question here involves three slight level changes. Most elevated is the bar-lounge, right inside the glass front door. From here, a runway-ready maple ramp brings drama to a mundane task: bridging the 1-foot drop to the 130-seat dining room. The final level change comes near the dining room's window wall, where a gray-carpeted incline brings diners down to tables at the sidewalk.
So far, all is crisp and modern. But what about the visual narrative key to any Wilkinson project? In this case, he found his story line 2,500 miles away. “When I was in New York, I bought a little Japanese art book on goldfish,” he relates. “The pages are pure white, emblazoned with fish in beautiful, intense reds and oranges.” With that, the restaurant's palette was born.
In the dining room, crimson bouclé covers most of the seating. For virtually all the chairs, Wilkinson went cool and classic with Eero Saarinen's armless Executive. “When it comes to comfort and durability, there's nothing better out there,” Wilkinson notes. C-shape banquettes, a run of five, back up to a partition that's interrupted by vertical panels of orange glass. Through the glass is the bar, where the dominant color is “carp orange,” he continues. Padded panels, for noise control, and a banquette are upholstered in orange faux suede. He chose the same upholstery for the round pod seats of swiveling lounge chairs.
As for fish forms, there's nothing overt. However, the dining room's sculpted partitions and undulating canopy suggest the fluid surface of water. “It's an immersion experience,” Wilkinson says. The bar's pendant fixtures, small drums in chrome and perforated PVC, are “lobster pots” to his eyes.
Maple Drive always had a hopping bar. For a re-peat performance, Splichal allocated a third of his restaurant to the new version. Then he let Wilkinson get his groove on. According to the architect, this is where he really brought fresh ideas to the table. For starters, he says, “The bar in-the-round keeps the energy level great.” While the bar's face is sober maple slats, the same as the floor, the free-form white terrazzo counter flows like an ocean current. (Even before a few cocktails.) Overhead, Wilkinson proves himself a mix master with a steel framework that multitasks as a wine rack and glass storage.
About the restaurant name: The delicate folds of the white-painted drywall partitions and canopy“led to thoughts of origami,” Wilkinson explains. “Plus, there were the goldfish from the book.” A few brainstorming sessions later, voilà Paperfish.
That settled, an in-house graphic designer took her computer “knife” and cut up the nine letters in the name. The resulting red vinyl confetti appears sprinkled across the maître d' stand and the menu—where the restaurant's signature dish, red snapper en papillote, stays on theme. Fortunately for Wilkinson, warm mushroom salad and pan-roasted filet mignon are offered, too. He's allergic to fish.
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