Chefs Michael Cimarusti and Donato Poto launched their new restaurant Connie & Ted’s this past June into the headwinds of high expectations and food scene buzz. But one key element that gets overlooked is the design.
Chefs Michael Cimarusti and Donato Poto launched their new restaurant Connie & Ted’s this past June into the headwinds of high expectations and food scene buzz; KCRW’s own “Good Food” host Evan Kleiman lauded its coastal New England menu with an LA twist. But one key element that gets overlooked is the design. Guy Horton reports on the driveby showstopper by (fer) studio, with curvaceous roof structure and Modern spin on a theme, that brings to mind our region’s Lautner-inspired Googie tradition.
“Everybody’s talking about the food, but no one knows who designed the place,” says architect Christopher Mercier, principal of Inglewood-based (fer) studio, who, along with partner Douglas Pierson, designed this adaptive re-use project to re-energize a busy corner in West Hollywood.
The architecture and interior design took cues from Cimarusti’s childhood in the fishing and boating culture of New England, while avoiding the themed environment route. “We were keenly aware of the dangers of thematic design, especially in West Hollywood,” says Pierson. “For us, it was an opportunity to do something contemporary, that fit with the spirit of the cuisine. To fit into the neighborhood we kept references abstract, interpretive, and playful.”
“There was no way we were going to have portholes and nets and stuff like that,” says Cimarusti. “Doug and Chris worked closely with us through the whole process. They even used steamed lobster shells from our Providence restaurant on their finish board to set up color palettes.”
A case in point would be the arching exposed structure of the curved roof that sails over the outdoor dining patio. Tables, flooring, custom built-in cabinetry, wine storage, and wall panels all have the precise joinery and finishes of wooden boats. “All the wood was reclaimed from sources back east even though it was originally harvested out here,” says Mercier. “It’s like bringing it back home.”
From the street, patrons ascend the elevated porch area and are greeted by large, red, suspended “boats” that house gas heating elements and LED lighting. From here they can view the restaurant’s interior through a curving “S” shaped glass wall. Passing through a large off-center pivot glass door with its polished stainless steel cleat handle, they find themselves under a central atrium that lets in natural light through small windows the architects call “the gills”. This is where all filtration takes place in the restaurant—from hood exhaust to conditioned supply air.
The procession from exterior to interior was part of the design strategy. Rather than place a column to hold up the end of this high space they instead opted for a deep transfer beam. This made the uninterrupted view from one side to the other possible. “We felt both views, outside-in and inside-out, were important” says Pierson. In this way, the restaurant maintains a connection to the street while creating an intimate and relaxed atmosphere.
With its integration of kitchen, bar, and dining, (fer) studio’s design evokes efficient nautical craftsmanship. “I knew it had all come together once it was full of people on the first night,” says Cimarusti. “It just works perfectly.”
“Our goal is to make everything we design as integrated and efficient as possible,” says Pierson. With Connie & Ted’s, the challenge was how to do this with the large open kitchen with its huge island hood, cook line, and extensive air system. “Rather than try to hide a complex array of equipment, we used this as a springboard for integrated design opportunities.”
So the kitchen was designed to be displayed on the restaurant’s central axis, and the cook line surfaces flow out and weave into the dining area and evolve first into an expediter’s station, then a raw bar, then a dining bar at the far southeast corner of the restaurant. These spaces follow sweeping curves that echo the form of the “S”-shaped glass wall at the front.
Donato Poto says that even though the kitchen is open you can barely hear it in the dining zones. “You can also see into the kitchen from the very furthest seat on the patio,” he adds. “There’s not a bad seat in the house.” So while the kitchen is designed to be spotlighted as a social aspect of the restaurant it doesn’t dominate or overwhelm.
“We were trying to capture a vibe,” says Mercier. The architects say they were inspired by the chefs’ very personal take on traditional New England cuisine, which includes sourcing specific fish from boats working out of New England ports, like Gloucester.
As the architects were designing the chefs were developing their menu and trying things out. “We developed a very close relationship and were involved all the way down to the menu boards,” says Pierson. One of the best things about working on this project? “We were frequently asked to taste test,” he says.
Images Courtesy of Noe Montes