This week is devoted to my restaurant project, The Painted Burro, opening March 19th. (By the way, to see the interiors of the restaurant, click here and then click on "something brighter and rustic-ier.") I wrote earlier about how, in a twist of fate, breaking my foot in Italy last summer brought this project my way. Today I turn to the collaborative process between designer and client.
There's a time during a project when you know you're in sync with your client. Sometimes you're lucky enough that this happens instantly when you first meet. More often, it takes a little time to build trust and secure your client's confidence in your design. How you colloborate with your client builds this trust and is a telltale barometer of the ultimate success of the project. My collaboration with Joe on The Painted Burro is a good example of how this process unfolds.
At the end of October, I meet with Joe for the first time. Like many clients, he has a vision of how he wants the restaurant to look. Unlike many clients and, to his credit, he has precedents to point me in the right direction. The restaurant's cuisine is Mexican from the Oaxaca region. Joe is clear from the get-go that the restaurant will not be your typical Chili's, Margarita's or other American interpretation of Mexican decor (picture the serapis, sombreros, cacti, kokopelli, painted tiles and terra cotta). There is an edge Joe wants but can't describe. But he's certain the restaurant has to feel casual, in step with the Davis Square vibe.
On our first walk-through, Joe already has a space plan in mind. The bar will be completely reversed so that the back bar aligns with the storefront windows. He wants a colorful curbside display of tequila bottles which we'll set aglow with LED lights. Ok, and you need me because . . .? Here I go: If we move the bar, we could open up the dining room to natural light. Let's demo all partial walls and a useless soffit around the perimeter of the dining room to further expand the space.
Bar Before The Painted Burro After (photo by Melissa Ostrow courtesy of UrbanDaddy.com)
Dining Room Before The Painted Burro After (photo by Melissa Ostrow courtesy of UrbanDaddy.com)
Joe is a phenomenal researcher and a total Martha Stewart wannabe (I say this with the utmost respect for Martha and affection for Joe). He has already found a supplier of furniture made from reclaimed wood and is set on the host stand, dining room tables, chairs, bar stools and tables. We also purchase old Mexican doors, panels and columns of different shapes and sizes. Some of the columns make supports for the back bar shelves. Again, Joe's ideas. My turn: let's use some to suggest transitions in the space.
In the restaurant previously occupying the space (click here to see), an alcove off the dining room could be curtained off to create a small private dining area. The curtains have to go, but what to do with the alcove? Here's my chance: the dining room really needs a focus--an accent wall--that contrasts with the walls in the rest of the space. I suggest wallpaper--something to bring in color and pattern. I run all over the Boston Design Center and search high and low on the internet for just the right paper. Score! Joe falls in love with an Elitis Cuirs Leathers pattern in orange. It isn't cheap, and in commercial projects, cost trumps all. But Joe realizes nothing else will do.
Elitis Cuirs Leathers Wallpaper Alcove Dining Area (photo by Melissa Ostrow courtesy of Urban Daddy.com)
One of my best expeditions with Joe is a day we go looking for bathroom tile. I had shown Joe a tile he flipped for--a random mosaic pattern in yellow, orange, opalescent white and tan. It has a retro vibe but the colors are totally now. Again, not cheap. So Joe asks me to meet him at a tile showroom in Malden, MA. I've never been to Malden, and have no idea how to get there (yay GPS!). If you've ever had to navigate around Boston, you've probably experienced our poor signage, frequent rotaries and local roads masquerading as major thoroughfares. Just finding my way is exhausting. After pouring over various combinations of floor, wall and accent tiles, Joe knows he can't settle. The original tile is it and we have to figure out a way to make it work. I show Joe inexpensive 12x24s in a strie pattern that I found at a local supplier and just happen to have in the back of my car. Done deal! That alone makes my day but then he decides we need to go to a place to look at reclaimed wood. (I had proposed using reclaimed barn board in certain parts of the restaurant.) By this time, it's rush hour. To avoid traffic, Joe leads me on a back street tour of Malden, Somerville, Cambridge and Belmont. With all the turns and shortcuts, I feel like I'm doing the chase scene from The French Connection. But at this lumber yard, I spot reclaimed white oak with the most beautiful silver-grey patina. I know it will work perfectly with the orange wall paper. Yes! Joe is sold. This is my moment--when I know things are in sync and everything will be great.
After that, our collaboration is, for the most part, smooth. Flooring, paint colors, stains, lighting. We each have our non-negotiables. When Joe emails me a link to serapi pillows for the banquettes, I say, Excuse me? When I say no to his penchant for outdoor lanterns in the bathrooms, he chooses . . . not a lantern. One thing he will not compromise on: the art work. From the beginning he is determined to use a type of grafitti art he's seen. As time passes and there's no art, we think about alternatives. Joe holds out. Near the finish, still no art. Megan Cormier, the restaurant's general manager finds Raul Gonzalez, a Somerville resident and celebrated Mexican artist. Raul agrees to paint a mural in the Painted Burro. Joe gets what he wants. Win win for all!
Mural by Raul Gonzalez (photo by Melissa Ostrow courtesy of UrbanDaddy.com)