Chow Fun pix
The master of restraint changes his wengé ways at Buddakan, New York's first Christian Liaigre restaurant since the Mercer
Craig Kellogg -- Interior Design, 4/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
At New York restaurant Buddakan by Christian Liaigre, painted window screens were cut from 1 1/2-inch-thick aluminum plate. The screens punctuate the lounge's view of the subterranean main dining room. Photography: David Joseph.
Fixed panels of brushed oak mark the boundary between the lounge and the reception area, where a digitally printed, distressed vinyl tapestry reproduces a 1615 painting by Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder. Photography: David Joseph.
In the main dining room, theatrical spots highlight the oak boiserie. Photography: Eric Laignel.
The main dining room's oak-topped communal table is 30 feet long. Photography: David Joseph.
A frieze of Buddha photographs lines part of the basement's dining alcove.
Faux bookshelves define the basement's Library dining room.
Oak doors and a hidden street entrance make the room appealing for VIPs. Photography: Eric Laignel.
The fake spines were painted on. Photography: Eric Laignel.
Another digitally reproduced painting on vinyl anchors the Library's table on cast-iron pedestals and seating of ebonized oak. Photography: David Joseph.
The images, some of them lit by halogens, are framed in lacquered wood.
A new, nonstructural brick-veneered wall demarcates the Chinese Lounge on the ground level.
The adjoining hallway leads to the kitchen and back-of-house. Photography: Eric Laignel.
Liaigre designed the lounge's ebonized-oak tables and seating. The oil on canvas above the bar is based on a travel sketch by a French 17th-century Jesuit missionary to China. Photography: David Joseph.
|Eight years ago, New York's Mercer hotel set the gold standard for Christian Liaigre's ethnic-inflected minimalism. On a wintry afternoon more recently, Liaigre is sitting on a streamlined cream banquette in a corner of the stripped-down lobby. When he rises to his feet, it becomes immediately clear that he's wearing blue velvet trousers. Is this a clue to a new, exotic phase? For the answer to that question, take a cab over to Buddakan, his hotly anticipated project for restaurateur Stephen Starr.
A made-up word that plays off the name of a Japanese concert hall, Buddakan has no actual connection to a deity. Nevertheless, a 12-foot-tall gilded Buddha casts his watchful eyes on the "modern Asian" food that Philadelphia-based Starr serves at the original Buddakan, in his hometown. Reports of an astonishing 45-foot statue for the New York location turned out to be false, however. Liaigre says that he never seriously considered supersizing Philly's big Buddha in the Big Apple.
Strangely, in yet another piece of Buddha synchronicity, the new Buddakan space—a onetime hardware store attached to an old town house— had been slated to become the Manhattan outpost of Paris's Buddha Bar, and renovations were in progress. So most of the ground level, for example, was already raised 2 feet to create extra height in the basement. As Liaigre puts it, "The structure was there."
The visual banquet begins in the sidewalk-level reception area, with Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder's Feast of Acheloüs. Liaigre had the 1615 painting digitally reproduced, enlarged, and printed on a vinyl tarpaulin, which he then distressed. Opposite this loose-hanging tapestry, the transition to the lounge is marked by a short flight of steps and a row of tall brushed-oak panels. The latter sport bronze decorative door handles that would make fantastic hippie earrings at about a 50th the size.
Along one sidewall in the lounge, Liaigre placed a slim oblong bar faced in stainless steel. Above the bar hangs an oil-painted 20-foot-wide enlargement of a sketch by a Jesuit missionary who explored China during the reign of Louis XIV. Gilded portrait busts of our Jesuit top the lounge's pair of oak curio cabinets, personifying one of Liaigre's many starting points for the interior. Another source of inspiration was the occasion on which an embassy for the King of Siam visited Versailles—the 1686 event that gave rise to France's chinoiserie craze. (Never mind the ambassadors' actual nationality.)
Continuing the cross-cultural mix, Western-style cut-velvet brocade covers the backs of benches in the lounge, while interior windows are fitted not with glass but with colorfully painted Asian-style screens milled from aluminum plate. They're so thick that no one could ever accidentally crash through—which is critical, considering the drop beyond. Just past the lounge, a grand staircase descends 18 feet to the formal main dining room.
This spectacular hall, which Liaigre likes to call the Box, is entirely clad in hand-carved oak boiserie. "It's a Versailles for New York," he says, despite admitting that the monumental scale of this paneling "doesn't exist anywhere else." Over the hall's 30-foot-long communal table hangs a quartet of 30-arm chandeliers carved from the same oak. Though their large size is not unusual, Liaigre notes that at Versailles they would have been gilded.
Both the paneling and chandeliers were made by craftsmen outside Paris. From the 320 seats to the taxidermied birds, Liaigre imported almost everything at Buddakan from France rather than exploring cheaper fabrication in China. Asians imitating Europeans imitating Asians, he explains, might risk creating "caricature."
In the cozy basement alcove that encircles the Box, the brick walls have been skimmed with beige grout. Some of the chairs have faux-leather upholstered backs embroidered with insects, vessels, and fish rendered in gold thread. And we finally encounter Buddha in his many guises. Thanks to a photographer with an extensive Thai and Burmese archive, Liaigre was able to arrange 40 repeating images in a black-lacquered grid of a frame that runs like a frieze near the alcove's ceiling.
In the adjoining "library," a private dining room, wraparound shelves hold rows of fake spines, all gold-painted. The tables have cast-iron bases that could be French antiques. It's all deliciously superlative—and supremely decorative. The new Liaigre clearly has the Midas touch.