Sure, the buzzworthy new eateries in Atlanta have amazing delicacies to eat but, lucky for us, they’re also smoking hot in the department of fabulous restaurant design. As part of the overall dining experience, patrons are gravitating to places as visually interesting as they are delicious. So, what do hot spots like The Mercury, Bread & Butterfly and The Cockentrice have in common? Atlanta design firm Square Feet Studio was behind them all (as well as Staplehouse, Saltyard and Kimball House, in fact)! Square Feet, made up of architects, interior designers and other creative folks, has won multiple awards for their projects and, not surprisingly, they’re located in Downtown Atlanta just off the Beltline — right in the epicenter of their best projects.
We interviewed Laura Jenkins, one of the interior design masterminds behind these trend-worthy restaurants, to delve into the thought process.
Back when you were studying at Georgia State University, did you ever think Atlanta would have a restaurant design culture?
When I was in college, the food culture wasn’t as developed as it is today and restaurant design wasn’t a design specialty. So, it has been really fun to watch Atlanta’s food scene grow and see chefs return home to help further build the food culture here. Since the restaurant world is a competitive one, there has to be more than just good food to help a restaurant stand apart. A restaurant should tell a story and there are many elements that help tell that narrative, such as the interior design, graphic design and, of course, the menu.
How does the business’s cuisine affect your restaurant designs? The setting plays such a strong part, too, right?
Our design process usually begins with a meeting to understand what our clients’ goals are and that usually starts with a menu or a theme. Most of our clients select their space based on the best location and then turn to us to help them realize their vision within a particular space. Every empty shell presents a different challenge.
For example, our clients for Bread & Butterfly came to us with a very specific mission: They were looking to create a small cafe with an intimate environment inspired by Parisian bistros. Their space was in a new building so our team was given the task of creating an interior and exterior that felt old — much like the cafes you would find in Paris. In contrast, The Mercury team wanted to create a classic steakhouse on the second floor of Ponce City Market. We presented three different overall concepts for the look and feel and they selected a mid-century modern-inspired design direction.
Where are some of your favorite restaurants’ decor? What made the design special to you?
Two restaurants that recently made an impression on me are The Butcher’s Daughter and The Musket Room, both in Manhattan’s Nolita neighborhood. The restaurants have vastly different menus but both allow the original details of the space to become design features while adding understated touches. In Atlanta, one of my favorite spaces is Miso Izakaya. This place has a fantastic vibe, along with some of the best food in the city.
What do you think are the really special attributes of your restaurants, both architecturally and design-wise?
The Cockentrice: Our clients, who also own The Spotted Trotter, wanted a restaurant that showcased their housemade charcuterie. Taking cues from vintage machinery, a light green cork wall-covering from Innovations covers the under bar, along with a striking gold and chocolate wall-covering on the feature wall of the main dining room. Custom metal work from a local craftsman create the bar shelving and the bar top. Featured throughout the restaurant are vintage butchering tools, along with collected antiques and artwork. And custom charcuterie cases and a large glass cooler allow the art of the butcher to be a part of the show.
The Mercury: The mid-century interior was inspired by the space race and Project Mercury. To go along with its strong cocktail program, we gave the restaurant a large feature bar with a stunning quartzite bar top that resembles moon rock. Feature lighting by Roll & Hill and The Future Perfect add character to the different dining areas. A custom walnut host and serving stations were inspired by original mid-century furniture pieces.
The entry is anchored by an “Art-o-mat,” which is a vintage cigarette machine re-purposed to dispense art. Mid-century art, accessories and books round out this space, giving it a finished and lived-in feel.
Bread & Butterfly: Inspired by the cafes lining the streets in Paris, our client wanted to create an intimate all-day bistro and coffee shop. To capture the feel of a European cafe, we created a front porch with a custom steel and glass storefront that can fully open or close to the street, depending on the weather.
On the right side of the space, an outdoor patio opens onto a neighboring courtyard and is covered by a green- and white-striped awning. A painted wood bar with a marble top creates a coffee and pastry counter, along with a few seats for patrons to enjoy a glass of wine. Parisian navy and white cafe chairs sit alongside vintage ones. Vintage artwork, mirrors and light fixtures found by the client also are featured in the space. Finally, a rich dark green was selected for the exterior and interior color, accented by a playful green tile wall with inset mirrors.
The next time you’re dining out at one of Atlanta’s delicious establishments, pay attention to the restaurant design, as well as what’s on your plate. It’ll be a feast for your eyes!
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