James Nestor -- Interior Design, 10/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
"The Craft restaurants present food in its purest, most natural state," says Peter Bentel of Bentel & Bentel, Architects/Planners. "And that's reflected in the design." His firm has completed 10 fizzy "fast-casual" locations for the burgeoning Craft empire headed by Tom Colicchio—now best known as the resident gastronome on Bravo's hit reality-TV series Top Chef. Besides successful Craft, Craftbar, Craftsteak, and 'Wichcraft launches in New York, Colicchio and Bentel headed to Las Vegas and Dallas, with various outposts, and then to San Francisco for the first Left Coast 'Wichcraft.
Originally intended as a hotel lobby, the 7,000-square-foot double-height space posed an immediate challenge because of the size: Previous 'Wichcrafts averaged 1,000 square feet. "We knew we needed some creative solutions to make this enormous room more intimate," Bentel says. To assist with those solutions, he called Mark Horton/Architecture.
It might seem odd to select a collaborator that had experience with houses and banks, even synagogues, but had never worked on a restaurant. However, Mark Horton is known for projects with unusual scope, constrained budgets, and interesting results. Leading 90 percent of the design and construction at 'Wichcraft, he had an offbeat approach that worked.
"In some ways, I think that people choose restaurants the same way they choose a dress," he says. "You ask, 'What's the mood? How is the quality of the materials? Does it look good, and do you look good in it?'" He pauses, then adds, "Restaurants are a feeling thing." The feeling lacking first and foremost in the cavernous 'Wichcraft space was intimacy.
With the rear 2,000 square feet cordoned off as a commissary kitchen for other Craft-family restaurants planned for the Bay Area, Horton and project designer Daniel Mason began tailoring the massive front space for a more comfortable fit. They constructed a mezzanine along a sidewall and, in a corner underneath, placed a small wine bar. These more private areas add depth while still retaining visual access to the rest of the room.
Repeating throughout, simple elements complement one another without muddling, the essence of Colicchio's culinary philosophy as well. Stainless-steel trim snaking along counters, dark gray epoxy flooring, jumbo graphics—they all add up to a layered yet restrained program. And the green accents are more than just pretty paint, wall tile, and upholstery; they're symbolic of the restaurant's message of sustainability.
To conserve energy on lighting, Horton left the 18-foot-tall south- and east-facing glass walls completely exposed. "I remember thinking, This is beautiful. We don't even need lights inhere," he says. (Of course, he did add some: incandescent recessed and track lighting.)
Dampening noise and adding textural interest, ceiling and wall panels are fiberboard made of Sustainable Forestry Initiative–certified aspen. Walnut-veneered panels in the wine bar, on the main counter, and behind the staircase are composed of 54 percent pre-consumer waste. Tabletops combine hurricane-downed and smart-growth cherrywood.
"Craft's philosophy is that cooking can only be as good as the ingredients. Use the best stuff, and people are going to know it," Bentel says. "The same thing goes for building materials. 'Wichcraft is Craft between two pieces of bread." And four delicious walls.