How A Restaurant’s Design Can Be Its Secret Weapon
Karen Herold’s approach to restaurant design is unconventional. The principal designer/partner at Studio K Creative, a Chicago-based firm she launched in 2014, Herold makes a point to get into her clients’ heads to interpret their visions of their dream restaurants.
It’s a method that’s proven successful for the Amsterdam-born artist, and more important, it ensures that no two concepts look the same. With the restaurant’s interior being a key element to guests’ experience, Herold’s objective is to make it distinctive, engaging and welcoming enough for them to keep coming back.
“I really try to translate what a chef and/or the restaurant operator wants to do,” explains Herold. “’How do you want your guests to feel?’ That drives the entire design of the restaurant. Is (the concept) going to be highly energetic? Or is it going to be a little more date night?”
For example, she designed Chicago’s award-winning Girl & the Goat made world-famous by celebrity chef Stephanie Izard. “It has that smoky, deep layered, very rich textured (look)” to match the food, Herold describes. “And it’s not fussy because that’s not what Stephanie is. It’s very straightforward.”
She’s also behind the looks of the flashy steakhouse Maple & Ash in Chicago; BLVD, a 10,000-square-foot Chicago restaurant with a nod to the golden era of Hollywood; and Las Vegas’ N9NE Steakhouse, a futuristic-looking establishment with clean lines and a bit of clubby appeal.
“I’m not trying to design to get on the cover of a magazine,” insists Herold, whose next big project is designing the restaurant for Robert DeNiro’s Nobu Hotel chain’s Chicago outpost. “I want to design such that people feel good. Sometimes they don’t know why they feel good, but they feel good so they want to come back. … I create spaces for those emotions.”
How guests react when they first encounter The Albert, a globally inspired restaurant inside Chicago’s Hotel EMC2, is important to Scott Greenberg. The restaurant is an homage to Albert Einstein, so the design team went all out, featuring an open kitchen enhanced by copper pots and pans hanging overhead, 40-foot-high bookcases and a flamboyant mural depicting ultra-hip foodies in action.
“When people are inside this space they get kind of a magical feeling,” gushes Greenberg, president/CEO of SMASHotels, the parent company of Hotel EMC2. “I had fun just watching a couple of people picking up on some things without me even saying anything. There are so many small details. I can foresee people doing 50 or so ‘selfies’ with different things in the restaurant that they will giggle about for a long ti
Rockwell Group partner and designer of The Albert Greg Keffer adds that with the rise of social media, particularly the photograph-obsessed Instagram, restaurateurs must rethink how they define fine dining.
“The traditional three-hour dinner with white tablecloths is not where fine dining is any more,” says Keffer. “Having a sense of whimsy and fun is an interesting play that a lot of restaurants should be tapping into, but they must stay within the bigger narrative. We cannot just do something (to be) gimmicky.”