Eating at a restaurant is about more than just the food. Just ask Griz Dwight, principal and founder of GrizForm Design Architects . For the past decade, Dwight has been leading the charge as restaurateurs’ go-to architect and designer for both new and revitalized restaurants in the Washington, D.C., area. He’s not afraid to take risks with his design, and as a LEED AP, he’s experienced in taking sustainable design practices to a whole new level, whether he’s turning reclaimed tire treads into wall art at farm-to-table restaurant Farmers Fishers Bakers or salvaging wood scraps and organizing them so that they mimic bamboo flooring at Mandu , a Korean eatery.
Here, Dwight talks to us about the importance of brand identity, the shift from masculine to feminine restaurant design, and why he’s only as good as his last project.
Interior Design: You’ve made a name for yourself as the architect and designer for restaurant renovations. Why do you think so many restaurateurs have your firm on speed dial?
Griz Dwight: We know how to have a good time and we enjoy what we do, and I think that translates in our projects. It makes our designs unique and interesting. We try to ensure that every project is fresh and new, and we push clients to do the same. We’ve found that the restaurants we design tend to be successful because we understand how the business works; it’s not all about designing a pretty face.
ID: Since the restaurant industry is so hot right now, with new establishments popping up frequently, what does your firm do to stay ahead of the design curve?
GD: We try to be aware of what the design curve is and take inspiration everywhere we go. That means pulling ideas from outside the restaurant industry. We’re only as good as our last project.
ID: What are some design trends you’re seeing in restaurants right now?
GD: The trend I’m seeing is moving away from dark and industrial spaces and going lighter and brighter. Over the past five years, restaurants have been very masculine dark spaces, and we’re seeing a shift to more optimistic and female-friendly designs. We’re trying to be more approachable and more comfortable [in the restaurants we design].
ID: How has designing for restaurants changed over the years?
GD: The budgets have changed. Before the recession, we had more money to work with to spend on materials, finishes, and the overall design. But now we have to get really creative and not just rely on the next new cool material someone invents. We’ve had to push ourselves to use materials in new ways. We do a lot on a dime and make it look like we spent a lot when we really didn’t. One example is Estadio , a low-budget project of ours. We spent money on tile salvaged from a villa in Spain to give the space a sense of richness, but went cheaper on background stuff that no one would ever see.
ID: In what ways have you been able to help hospitality venues become aware of brand identity?
GD: Having done as many restaurants as we have, we also visit a lot of competitors and see what they’re doing to learn what’s out there and what’s working. We tell clients how they should move their brand in a certain direction. Some come to us with a strong brand identity. For example, Farmers Fishers Bakers isn’t trying to do anything new, so we stuck within its brand. But on other projects, we’re doing something new and developing a brand as we move ahead. This keeps things fun, since no two projects are ever the same. There’s no one way to do things.
ID: Most of your clients are based in Washington, D.C. Do you plan to expand your reach outside of the nation’s capital?
GD: We love to work everywhere, but we started our firm in D.C. Right now we’re working with Kimpton Hotels on a project in Florida. We’re also starting to get our fingers into other projects across the country, including a cafe in Vail, Colorado called The Blü Cow.
ID: Sustainably seems to be a common thread with many of your designs. Why is it so important?
GD: I think it’s important for the world, since there are a limited number of resources. We’re trying to be creative and get out of the sustainability look with the exposed-wood kind of feel. Instead, we use green products almost everywhere in our designs. For example, we built a wall at Farmers Fishers Bakers made from old tires from a salvage yard. Tires are a great material and have nice texture. We try to [use materials] that are multi-trick ponies.
ID: You’re in the process of renovating an old carriage house and turning it into offices for your firm. How’s that project going?
GD: It’s coming along. We finished the framing over the weekend. It will be a two-story space, which will give us more room for our library and our team. I like that we’re moving into an up-and-coming neighborhood, and I hope we can help establish it.
ID: What is it like designing a space when you’re both the designer and the client?
GD: It’s interesting. In the past, I would fantasize what it would be like to be the client. It’s nice because I’ll say we should move something here, and it’s done. There’s no checking back and forth. But there is a downside. Sometimes I have to tell clients it may cost more. Now I find myself telling myself the same thing, and it hurts more than I thought.
ID: Do you have any new projects on the horizon that you’re particularly excited about?
GD: We have the Kimpton project, so we’re learning a whole new language as we start to work with hotels. We’re also working locally on a project with a distillery component to it [but I can’t give any details yet].