FORM's current print edition features the winners of the AIA|LA Restaurant Design Awards. Inspired by the amazing spaces, we reached out to Greg Merkel to get some insight into his approach to restaurant design. Merkel, the creative director of ICRAVE, joined the company in 2006 and has worked on projects ranging from nightclubs in New York and Los Angeles to restaurants around the country. Here, he unpacks what makes a great restaurant and how, with today's diners, the expectations are bigger than ever.
Entries in restaurant design (8)
There’s no shortage of amazing Chinese restaurants in the Los Angeles area. One of the standouts—the one that requires serious strategic planning in order to score a table—has to be Din Tai Fung. Of course, when you went to its two San Gabriel Valley locations, it was all about the food. The surroundings were an afterthought. Happily, outstanding dumplings and compelling architecture have come together in the company’s newest outpost in Glendale, just north of Los Angeles.
There is something uniquely American about the beach and backyard culture created here. One look at a striped beach ball or a vinyl pool lounger brings back a flood of memories—lazy days spent at the beach or lifeguarding at the neighborhood pool or cooking up a barbeque as the sun set. For Cannonball, in San Diego at historic Belmont Park, architect Nathan Lee Colkitt, of Colkitt & Co., wanted to translate those memories into a lively new rooftop restaurant.
“We wanted to take the word design out of it,” Siobhan Barry, a partner at ICRAVE, a design and branding studio, says of The General, a new restaurant in the Bowery. It’s a provocative thing for a designer to say but one that makes sense when you consider that the spot is a contemporary riff on the classic Chinese restaurants that used to dot this stretch of Manhattan.
“It was in rough shape from years of use and misuse and had seen better days,” architect David Shove-Brown says of an 8,000-square-foot, 1907 building in Washington, DC, that he and his Studio3877 partner David Tracz had been asked transform it into the latest outpost of Matchbox. Over the years, the building had done duty as a bowling alley, a jazz club and a car dealership and still retained a great character, so, he says, “It was pretty clear we wanted to be true to the building”—with a straightforward approach to its history and materials that matched the restaurant’s approach to ingredients.