Into The Blue
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 7/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
Brothers Mandi and Mehdi Rafaty, principals of Tag Front, are the club kids of the design world. Ask anyone who's trolled the Los Angeles scene revolving around Geisha House, Ivar, or Paladar, all Tag Front projects. Blue Velvet, one more contribution to downtown L.A.'s renaissance, is the Rafatys' most recent late-night venture—with daytime appeal as well.
The restaurant-lounge sits poolside at the base of the Flat, a six-story Holiday Inn converted into rental apartments averaging a diminutive 400 square feet. Conversely, Blue Velvet is a cavernous 5,000. Tag Front conquered the space by dividing it into a series of distinct areas with sliding panels and doors—built-in flexibility.
Then the Rafatys "trademarked" each area with their customary materials-intense distinguishing elements, starting with exterior branding. The architects gave Blue Velvet a facade of anodized-aluminum panels along the navy-to-gray spectrum. That and a glass-box entry are capped by an overhang of apitong, the same tropical hardwood used for flooring inside.
In the main dining room, a sunken space, tables are topped either in apitong or in icy-blue resin. The resin, in turn, reappears in the form of ceiling fixtures, rectangular blocks glowing with fluorescent light.
However, the real action is in the lounge, which centers on a monolithic granite table set Japanese-style above a well in the floor. The 17-foot-long top appears to cantilever from a stack of granite slabs at one end of the well but is actually supported by two steel tubes underneath. Overhead hover a quartet of massive fiberglass pendant fixtures, each 4 feet high and 3 feet in diameter.
L-shape banquettes hug the corners. The walls behind are covered in a blue-and-gray wool felt that echoes the grid of the anodized-aluminum panels outside. To confer some intimacy on the diners here, slide a gray felt-wrapped partition closed. Or leave it open, so the lounge can rock with the main dining room.
The Rafatys call another part of the lounge the "cloud room," so named for its dreamy white U-shape enclosure. It's composed of five layers of PVC panels, each featuring oval cutouts that overlap randomly with the panels installed ½ inch apart. When light from outside shines through, it dapples a gray wraparound banquette and blued-steel tables.
Blued steel is used to sculptural effect in the private dining room at the rear. For an intriguing play of solids and shadows, long bars of the metal are scattered like pick-up sticks across the front or back of two cherry-red laminated-glass dividers. The show can either be for the select 30 occupants or be viewed by all, depending on the position of a recycled-wood slider.
An existing kitchen is still in use, but that didn't stop the Rafatys from making the space their own. They clad its outer wall in dark gray river rock, held in place by a mesh backing. For punctuation, they carved out a niche and inserted an aluminum box to hold a votive candle. How's that for leaving no surface untagged?