Dazzling lights, wobbly chairs and tiny cups that wobble towards the edge of the table, threatening to shatter into a million pieces. Sometimes the decor can spoil a fine dining experience, as we only notice when everything is wrong.
So where is the praise for beautifully crafted pieces that are considered works of art?
Look for a complete collection at the Craft in America center in Los Angeles. Emily Zaiden, director of the center, put together a laser-focused exhibit titled âConsume: Handcrafting LA Restaurant Designâ. Running through January 4, the exhibition highlights collaborations between chefs and designers in LA with 90 objects by 30 artists from over 30 restaurants, including Auburn, n / naka, Otium and Providence.
It is not what you might expect. Rigidly starched linen, fine porcelain and velvet benches are out. Today’s refined dining rooms surround guests with casual yet luxurious seating, tableware, linens, and lighting. Los Angeles has developed a look of its own, Zaiden says. To demonstrate this, she brought together bowls, charcuterie boards, chairs, cups, plates, chef’s knives and other fascinating pieces.
âOver the past 10 years, restaurants have started reaching out and trying to buy locally made items of all kinds,â Zaiden said. âCalifornian cuisine is now made all over the world and it has taken on its full significance. â¦ Much of what defines haute cuisine has been going on in the craft industry for hundreds of years.
It’s a feedback loop, she said, citing the sushi craze that started in the ’80s as an example. Chef counters and show kitchens were a big part of the scene in sushi bars and this design made its way into mainstream dining rooms where it is still popular today. Even tableware has changed dramatically with the popularity of sushi.
Local chef Morihiro Onodera, former owner of Mori Sushi, became a ceramist and helped launch a new look in dishes that went beyond his own restaurant in dining venues such as Providence, MÃ©lisse, Orsa & Winston and others. âHe understood how important tableware was for presenting sushi and started making ceramics in the 90s,â Zaiden said.
Onodera took a ceramics course and was inspired by Kitaoji Rosanjin (1883-1959), a Japanese calligrapher and ceramist who had his own restaurant in Tokyo. âHigh quality ceramics? We just assumed you would buy everything in Japan and now there is a market here, âshe said.
In LA’s best dining rooms, the designs are artistic, the materials durable, the items built to last. Artists and conductors care about works that last, not trendy pieces that are âinâ one year and discarded the next.
Zaiden brought together Eric Bost, chef / owner of the Auburn restaurant, his wife and partner Elodie Bost, and the designers of his furniture and tableware for an interview that turned into a conversation about the challenges of elevating the restaurant’s decor. and how important it has become in setting the scene for the kitchen.
Bost could buy porcelain and series furniture, but he prefers to support craftsmen with whom he can collaborate. âYou create an atmosphere for the guests to come and have an experience,â said Bost. “So you have to surround them with quality objects that match the style of the food.”
Ceramics on display in the exhibit include tableware from the Auburn Restaurant designed by Delphine Lippens of Humble Ceramics. Its sturdy mugs, bowls and plates in neutral colors are both substantial and ethereal – these beauties are dishwasher safe too. She has set her artistic standard and every time she receives an order it is a challenge to deliver infallible quality en masse.
âThere’s a big difference between making one part and making 200 parts or a hundred parts, or even 50 parts,â Lippens said. Sometimes she has to wait for the raw materials; bacteria can ruin the clay, and if it gets the wrong batch, it may take a month for a new one to arrive. It also depends on the workers who press, sand and polish to finish their job.
âIf I say yes to something, I have to make sure I can deliver,â Lippens said. “And I’ve learned the hard way that sometimes it’s better to say no.”
Beyond the delivery of an artistic product, collaboration means making sure that what you offer matches the style of the restaurant. That’s a big part of the preliminary conversations between chefs and designers, said Jon and MaÅ¡a Kleinhample of Klein Agency. âI think initially it’s about style for the style of service, the feel, the touch, the materiality,â said Jon Kleinhample. “How do you want the space to be read?” How do you want your guests to live there? How do you want them to feel when they are in space? Is it a space where you feel at home or is it a space that gives the impression of being in a restaurant? And I think Auburn was really about being in a house and having the chef invite you into his personal space.
Once the furniture arrives, the chef and staff have to work the objects, said MaÅ¡a Kleinhample. âA lot of things are so optimized; the way they bend, where they can walk away and where they can fight each other, âshe said. “The tricky thing is that (our chairs) normally weigh more, so the waiters and anyone who prepares the space has a bit of a hard time moving them around, having to handle them a bit more carefully.”
The chair on display is striking, crafted in silver metal by Klein Agency, with an elegant, gravity-defying shape. It contrasts with another designed for n / naka which is constructed with the simplicity of a Shaker stool, fitted with dovetail joints. It has a defined gravity, fashioned into a large, throne-like structure from rich, chocolate-colored wood.
Furniture, linens, dishes and light fixtures must come together because, in the end, it is the whole. Creating the right restaurant decor is like composing a carefully detailed symphony that creates a welcoming ambience, even if the diner completely ignores it, said Lippens.
âAlchemy just works together. When I walk into this space (Auburn) the smells work well, concrete, leather, wood, âshe said. âMost of the things that we take in internally, we don’t realize we’re taking in, like VOCs, volatile organic compounds. You know, he (Chef Eric Bost) works with amazing ingredients that are non-GMO, organic, biodynamic, and high quality. You can’t see it, but your body knows it.
Consume: Handcrafted LA Restaurant Design
Find it: Craft in America, 8415 W. Third St., Los Angeles, 323-951-0610, craftinamerica.org/center.
Open: 12 pm-6pm Tuesday to Saturday. Free entry. The exhibition will be closed on December 25 and January 1.