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Wednesday
Sep182013

Workbook: Bringing a Dash of New England to West Hollywood

The sweeping clamshell roof at Connie and Ted's in West Hollywood welcomes guests to the modern take on a clam shack designed by (fer) studio. How do you integrate a New England–style clam shack into an existing building and its West Hollywood neighborhood without resorting to tired—and incongruous—nautical references? For Michael Cimarusti, the seafood star behind LA’s acclaimed Providence, and his partners, you turn to (fer) studio and architects Christopher L. Mercier and Douglas V. Pierson.

“The place was falling apart, but we were able to keep 50 percent of the exterior walls and most of the roof,” Pierson says of the space that would become Connie & Ted’s. “The existing building became more of a texture for the interior and exterior finishes. When we have the opportunity to reuse existing structures, we do—it’s one of the greenest things you can do.”

To integrate Connie & Ted’s into its urban surroundings, Mercier and Pierson created a welcoming façade that draws patrons into the restaurant from the street, despite its being set back in parking lot. There’s also glazing. It allows diners to see in and passersby to see out, enhancing the connection between the street and the restaurant.

During the design process, “we struggled to figure out how to respect its roots and make it fit into Los Angeles and West Hollywood,” says Mercier. Their solutions, inside and out, some philosophical, some more direct, create a space that’s of its place but connected to its New England inspiration.

On an abstract level, the architects aimed for transparency and broadly emphasized the “visual honesty of seafood,” notes Pierson. In practice, it means that the kitchen and its goings on are on view as is a raw bar.

More direct, yet subtle, references to New England and to the sea in general abound. Perhaps most clearly, it’s the roof, with its shell-like gesture that immediately signifies a seafood restaurant, without overstating the case. As a patron progresses through the spaces, more witty, nautical-inspired details reveal themselves. Suspended “boats” outside house heating elements and LED lights. Inside, door handles are reminiscent of cleats, and the sculptural light fixtures are hanging crab traps. Even some of the wood used has a New England connection. The red elm the architects specified was harvested in the West over 100 years ago but then became part of a barn in New England until it was reclaimed and used in the restaurant. The end result both honors its East Coast origins and feels right at home in West Hollywood.

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