August 24, 2022
Brooklyn-based Sarah Carpenter & Studio is Redefining Community-Driven Hospitality
Raised in the Midwest before graduating from Columbia’s GSAPP, Carpenter’s designs foster a small-town feel among the crush of urban life. “I went to high school in a tiny town, and coming to New York City was eye-opening,” she says. “I was a fish out of water, so I think there’s a certain scrappiness to how we work, which comes from my background. I grew up on a farm in the middle of nowhere–we don’t need that much to go off, just something that sparks our design idea.”
One of the firm’s notable new projects is HAGS, a community-driven, potluck-inspired dayglo eatery in the East Village. “The concept was queer fine dining. A space for everyone to feel comfortable, luxurious, and lavish within,” says Carpenter. The cotton candy pink destination was crafted to capture the exuberant personality of its creators. “HAGS was the project of a lifetime,” she says of outfitting the micro, 800-sq-foot space with refracting mirrors and acid green details. But the mission, primarily, was to enhance the well-being of its creators, another partnership in life and art. “In designing, we asked, ‘how can they experience each other through service in a way that reinforces their relationships?’ There was a lot of thinking about eye contact and movement.” Carpenter notes that design is often only one component of success. “The rest is the owners, the atmosphere. They create the food or the drink. For us to have a successful project, it has to feel like there’s a potential for all those elements to align.”
Recently the team completed a second Talea location in Cobble Hill, utilizing the same weavers and makers from the original Williamsburg location, with the addition of pops of color paired with Bauhaus-inspired design elements. “Working in New York inherently means that two projects for the same client can’t look the same, but we take that as an opportunity rather than a limitation,” she says, explaining that the studio, which works with many hospitality clients with an established point of view, prides itself on coming to each commission with new eyes.
“While we have a design aesthetic, each project must be a reflection of the brand, identity, and food,” but with the caveat that the studio must retain some creative control. “Otherwise, it’s just skinning a design that’s already been given to you.” Ultimately, the essentials of a successful creation lay in the floorplan, which is often overlooked for flashy materials and color palettes. “The layout, the flow, and the height–that encourages guests to congregate and gather, and makes a space feel good,” says Carpenter, pointing to the special sauce of her works. “So that is something we really emphasize from the beginning of a project.”
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