The Inside Story

The economy may be sluggish and budgets tight, but five up-and-comers are doing incredibly rich interiors.

It’s always an interesting challenge to find an emerging crop of interior designers. When we look for young talent in other disciplines—especially architecture and graphic design—it’s fairly easy to check out the winners of the American Institute of Architects’ and Art Directors Club’s competitions, or even do a quick Google search to uncover designers promoting their own work. Not so for interior design. To turn up the five promising firms from around the country that are highlighted on the following pages, we often solicited the opinions of people we trust. The selected work runs the gamut. There’s a modernist working in a historic town, a resourceful firm that handles full-service projects on a shoestring, architects who layer cultural references into spaces with real challenges, a pair of designers trying to recapture the luxury of department-store dining, and a high-end hospitality specialist who’s not too shabby at making do with found objects. Whatever their style, these are people we expect to hear a lot more about—especially as the economy begins to pick up. —Paul Makovsky

San Francisco
Palo Alto, California

Ruti, a women’s boutique located in a strip mall across the street from Stanford University, may be the ultimate recession baby. Nicole Hollis would surely have passed on the 500-square-foot project (and its very modest design fee) in flusher times. But since her San Francisco–based interior-design firm—which ordinarily does high-end residences, restaurants, and hospitality projects—was not particularly busy late last year, she jumped at the chance. “We had to design and build it in about ten weeks,” Hollis says. “We looked at it as an installation, a chance to do this pop-up shop. I think we all found we were collaborating more because we had more time on our hands.”

The oddly configured corner space is an exercise in found and reclaimed materials. Four hanging display cases were crafted from discarded shipping pallets, shelves were hung with nautical rope, and an old sewing table was repurposed as the register counter. Some vintage chairs (“I pushed the client to spend a little more to get those pieces,” Hollis says) completed the look. “It was almost like a school project,” she says. “You don’t have any money, so you find materials that are laying around and say, ‘OK, we’re going to build these boxes…’ It was not our typical project.” —Martin C. Pedersen

Garces Trading Company

Jun Aizaki has an enlightened outlook for an architect: the 37-year-old is eager to work with young chefs who don’t have much of a budget. “I see someone talented who has potential to grow,” says Aizaki, who founded Crème Design in 2004. So far, that perspective has paid off. “People have been coming back to us. We build relationships. We really try to create a synergy between the food, the services, and the design. We understand
the design is just one part of the experience.”

His Brooklyn-based firm’s biggest repeat client is the Philadelphia chef Jose Garces, also 37, who recently won a James Beard Foundation Award and the Iron Chef title. Crème designed Garces’s first restaurant, Amada, in 2005, and just completed his sixth, Garces Trading Company, which opened in March. The challenge this time was accommodating both a perimeter market area—with cheese, charcuterie, pastry, and beverage stations—and a central eatery in the 2,918-square-foot space. Globe pendants demarcate the seating area, which is further emphasized in the evening by a shift in lighting. Crème also did the graphic identity. “It’s a natural development,” Aizaki says. “As a designer, you’re one of the first to visualize the space. Not even the client has it in their head yet.”

Of the firm’s five current projects, two are for Garces, a beer-and-sausage joint and a farm-to-table concept in César Pelli’s Cira Centre, near 30th Street Station. Surely the jobs are no longer shoestring? “Right,” Aizaki laughs. “In this time and age.” —Kristi Cameron

Charleston, South Carolina
Pitt Street Residence
Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston, South Carolina, is not exactly a hotbed of contemporary design. For the interior designer Angie Hranowsky, that’s both a boon and a burden. Most folks in the Holy City want old homes or homes that look old, but among those with more modern leanings, Hranowsky has virtually cornered the market. Still, it’s after she lands a job that she faces the real challenges: one, her clients have usually inherited furniture they’re unwilling to part with; and two, she has few local options for modern pieces.

When decorating a downtown property from the 1800s, she first went “shopping” among things homeowner Carolyn Evans already had in her home. Then she hit the Web. “I found the vintage barrel chairs in the kitchen online,” she says. “Carolyn really liked them, but she had the same question a lot of my clients have: ‘If you find furniture online, how do you know if it’s comfortable?’ I use so much vintage furniture that I can pretty much tell from looking at the shape, angles, and dimensions.” Hranowsky re-upholstered several more online scores: a couple of ’70s side chairs in a China Seas ikat and the two benches under the kitchen console table in a Missoni-like pattern.

Hranowsky, who is trained as a graphic designer, started the interiors arm of her business in 2005. “My background translates in the sense that no matter whether you are looking at two-dimensional or three-dimensional design, you’re still looking at shape, form, balance, and color.” —K.C.

Fin’s Sushi + Grill

As just about any architect will tell you—even if they don’t quite believe it—constraints can be liberating. A case in point: Hansy Better Barraza and Anthony Piermarini had to bring a fair amount of ingenuity to the task of transforming a long, narrow 1,500-square-foot site in Boston’s Kenmore Square into Fin’s Sushi + Grill. The gutted retail space had a row of windows on one side and a series of awkward columns on the other.

Rather than fight the room’s rhythm, Barraza and Piermarini, the partners of Studio Luz Architects, embraced it. Inspired by torii—the ceremonial Japanese gates used as thresholds to sacred spaces—the designers lined the room with LED-embedded arches that mask the original columns. “Because it was a Japanese restaurant, we wanted to bring some of those cultural ideas to the interior organization of the space,” says Barraza, who worked at Office dA before founding his firm with Piermarini in 2002.

Created in collaboration with Angelina Dallago, the project manager; Diana Yurkus, of Light This; and the fabricator Mark Chagnon, the cold-rolled-steel gates don’t just provide a kinetic experience for diners, with the irregularly patterned LEDs suggesting a curved passageway; they also act as a spatial device and structural element. “The tables that line the walls are all supported by the framework of that scaffolding,” Piermarini says. “They literally unfold to frame the windows and then create the shelves and bracket work.” —M.P.

New York
Scottsdale, Arizona

During the heyday of the American department store, there was a certain glamour attached to lunching at a brand’s top-floor eatery. For many baby boomers, it was their first taste of urbanity. This was the nostalgic impulse behind Fred’s at Barneys, which opened in 2001 inside the retailer’s New York flagship. “We worked with Barneys’s in-house design people to come up with this backstory,” says the architect David Schefer. “It was all about the great department-store restaurants from the fifties.”

Schefer and Eve-Lynn Schoenstein—the founders and partners of David Schefer Design—subsequently created two more stand-alone Fred’s, the most recent in Scottsdale, Arizona. All of the restaurants share a similar aesthetic, Schefer says, “but for each location we try to customize it for the locale. In Scottsdale, we picked up on the desert-modern appeal.”

Located on the second floor of an upscale mall, the Scottsdale space can be entered either from the street or through the store. The dining room faces east, toward impressive views of the mountains. “We wanted to focus the space on those windows and the mountains,” Schefer says, “so we came up with these screens that wrap over your head.” Last year, the firm Designed a Fred’s in Chicago, featuring a large fireplace as the central element; and a fourth store, this time in Dallas, is in the works. “That one has not started construction yet,” Schefer says, “but it’s designed and ready to go.” —M.P.

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