A Palate for Pallets
Annie Block -- Interior Design, 6/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
Among the menu offerings at Cheryl's Global Soul in Brooklyn, New York, are a Moroccan vegetable tagine and Thai coconut-curry mussels. Yet ask chef-owner Cheryl Smith what her taste in design is, and she'll say, "Between Japanese and Scandinavian. Natural materials with a modern feel."
She hired Rickenbacker + Leung after admiring a Manhattan restaurant by the architects. "We're not into environments that are too staged or too polished," says Shawn Rickenbacker. Sam Leung adds, "Cheryl was after intimate."
Although her entire restaurant, a former sports bar in a prewar row house, measures 1,050 square feet, the dining area is only a tidy 500. "Since it's small, we decided on one large gesture," Leung explains. That the large gesture would involve wood was a given. "We all agreed that it should be rough-hewn—but authentically," Rickenbacker says. "We weren't going to make a new material look old."
Smith suggested driftwood, but it's difficult and expensive to locate good quality in a large quantity. The eureka moment came after noticing the pallets and skids used for large deliveries near the firm's office. Besides being wood—spruce offcuts, to be exact—the planks were pleasingly light in tone and definitely rough-hewn, with burns, knots, and all manner of irregularities.
A two-month search yielded a pallet source in New Jersey. "When I told the supplier we were using the wood for a restaurant interior, he thought I was crazy," Rickenbacker recalls. Not so, Leung responds: "We love the idea of reinventing something that's ordinarily undesirable." The fact that it cost $1.40 per board foot—compared to, say, walnut at $20 to $50—was icing on the cake.
Through 3-D models and CAD drawings, the architects worked 880 board feet into a dramatic intervention cladding an entire sidewall and wrapping upward to form an angular canopy. Each board was carefully selected—the greater the wear, the better—and screwed to a frame. The installation complete, it envelops patrons and forces perspective back to the open kitchen, where Smith presides.
Opposite the wooden structure, the architects stripped the plasterboard covering the party wall to reveal original brick, which they then painted white. They hid mechanicals in the dropped portion of a new ceiling. Underfoot, floor tile was ripped up and replaced by recycled oak boards.
A built-in banquette and stacking chairs provide seating for 32 at tables with white Corian tops and reused cast-iron bases. Two brushed-aluminum stools serve the L-shape bar, faced in white back-painted glass that appears spearmint-tinted because of its iron content.
The apparent color of the glass plays off swaths of apple-green low-VOC wall paint. "The green also pops against all the wood," Rickenbacker says. "Plus, it links to the neighborhood's trees."
Those trees are clearly visible through the retractable glass storefront—along with the work of graffiti artists. What if the Cheryl's facade, clad in pallet spruce treated with no more than water-based sealant, should get tagged someday? Both architects say it would add to the restaurant's street cred. If not, simply unscrew and replace.