Tag Archives: DIN TAI FUNG

LIVE LEARN EAT INTERVIEW PART 2 OF 2: RESTAURANTS BY POON DESIGN INC.

April 30, 2021

A wall of honed sandstone at Din Tai Fung, South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa (photo by Gregg Segal)

(The complete Zoom interview is here, and part 1 on school design is here. The book, Live Learn Eat, is available at Amazon and your local retailers. Excerpts below.)

Michael Webb: Let’s finally get to restaurants. You’ve designed more than 50 varied examples, working on both generous and frugal budgets. Like schools, restaurants have to accommodate all their uses in the kitchen and dining area, and in between. How do you choreograph those movements?

Anthony Poon: That’s a good word, Michael, choreography.

Architect Anthony Poon and author Michael Webb on Zoom; lower image: pages of Live Learn Eat, displaying Linea Residence G, Palm Springs, California (photo by Mark Ballogg)

All of us who go to restaurants spend time in the dining room, at the bar, or the outdoor patio. Behind the walls is a tremendous amount of activity. Roughly 50% of a floor plan goes to the back of house. It’s like a theater where one sees the play—sees what’s presented to them at the front of the stage—but they are not explicitly aware of all the activity going on behind stage, all the people running around. In the case of restaurants, there’s dozens of people in the kitchen with 30 cooktops, waiters dashing around, dishwashers, circulation moving everywhere—all while trying to present the most elegant dining experience for the user.

We choreograph all this—like a football coach with his green board, drawing X’s and O’s in chalkboard lines—to understand how a waiter needs to move from spot A to spot B, and not conflict with diners coming in for their nice anniversary dinner. There’s quite a lot of planning before we even get to choosing, for example, light fixtures and materials.

Concept diagram for Din Tai Fung, Americana at Brand, Glendale, California

Michael: A lot of this is both physical, but also intangible. Restaurants define themselves by their cuisine, their service, and the atmosphere, the feel of the place, the acoustics, the way that everybody dresses. There are places that are super casual, others that are more formal. How do you bring all those things together in a seamless whole?

Kit-o-parts model for Chaya Downtown, Los Angeles, California (photo by Poon Design)

Anthony: We offer to our restaurants what we call comprehensive design. It starts with looking at the type of cuisine and the service model. It might be the handcrafted sandwiches of our client, Mendocino Farms. It could be the world famous dumplings of the Chinese restaurant, Din Tai Fung. We look to how their ideas can be represented in the architecture, but space-making goes far beyond architecture. For a lot of our restaurant clients, we have designed the architecture and the interior design, of course, but also bring in landscape ideas and lighting design. Also, we custom design furniture, and handle graphic design, the branding, website, and for some clients, even evaluate their uniform design.

Graphic design for the Chaya restaurants, by Sue and Danny Yee with Poon Design

And then comes the music. Architecture is more than the experience you feel as you walk into a restaurant. As a musician, I believe that music is part of that architecture. I don’t know how many times I’ve been in a restaurant and the general manager has plopped in his iPod, and it’s just playing his playlist, a selection of music irrelevant to the style and flavor of the dining room.

At Poon Design, we feel that music should support the ideas of the chef. It’s the same way that some might say, “Let’s look at the way sunlight moves through the day, through the windows, through the restaurant.” We ask the same thing. What kind of music should be playing at lunchtime when the professionals arrive? At happy hour when everyone’s celebrating the end of an exhausting workday? What’s the appropriate music for fine dining? As a crowd winds down for late night drinks or dessert, what’s the kind of music for that? We think of music the same way we think of lighting design, the same way we pick the fabric for a banquette, or the wood stain for the tabletops. It’s all a comprehensive, integrated experience.

Artisanal plaster arches made by hand in Marrakesh, Morocco, and installed at Vosges Haut-Chocolat, Beverly Hills, California (photos by Poon Design and Marrakesh Designs Ltd.)

Just one last aspect, Michael, you’ve mentioned the acoustics. That plays into the quality of experience as well. I’m sure many of you have been to restaurants where you sit three feet from your friends, and you can barely hear their voices, because there’s such a loud ringing in the restaurant. Finally, you leave the restaurant after 90 minutes realizing your throat is sore from having yelled so much, and your ears are ringing from all the reverberation.

Sushi Noguchi, Yorba Linda, California (photo by Poon Design)

Part of the quality of the restaurant architecture is not just what it looks like but what it feels like—to all the senses. For music, that’s the ears. But we have to also bring our technical experience with acoustic engineering to control the sound, give a wonderful environment that is not just visual, but that is physical, that is aural.

Michael: I’d been told that restaurants actually welcome noise, because people drink more and eat faster, and therefore, the turnover and the profit is greater—that there is actually a kind of country movement against quiet acoustics of the kind that existed when there were carpets, upholstery, curtains, and all the old-fashioned things that we remember from long ago in restaurants. Now it’s all hard reverberant surfaces.

Anthony: All of our restaurants clients want their spaces to have a certain buzz—a kind of energy sounding through the room. No one wants to walk in and feel like it’s the university library where it’s too quiet. People go to restaurants for social contact, to be amongst a community of people, similarly to the difference between watching a movie at home on Netflix vs. going to a theater with a large group. There are people you might not even know, but that’s a certain valuable social experience.

Elliptical wine room with shaped slatted ceiling at Heritage Fine Wines, Beverly Hills, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

Most restaurants will want music playing with a certain hum of sound, but it’s about controlling that, like playing the restaurant as if it’s an instrument. Like a musician, you tune it to the right feel. Some restaurants want a certain hyper energy during happy hour, where there’s loud music and a pulse. Other restaurants want that elegant, fine dining experience.

We start by looking to the restaurateur and asking them, what is your experience? Then we tune it to what they want as an identity, an acoustic identity. Just as a quick lesson, we explain to our clients what we call the ABC of acoustic design. A meaning absorb, B meaning block, and C meaning cover.

Chandelier of 1,500 recycled plastic toys and collectibles by a collaboration of Stuart Haygarth and Poon Design, Venetian-influenced mirror décor, and custom furniture, at Chaya Downtown, Los Angeles, California (photo by Gregg Segal)

We choose materials to absorb what we want to absorb. You mentioned carpet. That’s a great material, but of course, very hard to maintain. There are so many other materials that could be used to absorb sound.

Block is about blocking out the sound no one wants to hear. No one wants to hear noises from the kitchen and washing dishes. So we want to block that as well as other back of house sounds—the restrooms, or the cars outside.

Cover is thinking about what sounds you want to cover and what you want to let in. If you’re on an outside patio on a busy street, you may want to cover the sound of cars honking, but you might want to pick up some of the energy of the city. You can cover unwanted noise with music. You can cover that with a fountain.

Michael: One of your star clients in Southern California was Din Tai Fung, who you mentioned earlier. The global chain that moved from its original place in Taiwan. Why do people line up for hours to get in? And what do they expect when they get in?

Entry with a restoration of a mid-century structure at Din Tai Fung, South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa (photo by Gregg Segal)

Anthony: People have waited several hours, even as much as five hours in the San Francisco location to get in. Visitors are expecting a lot, not just from the quality of the food, but also the experience, the service, and of course, the interior design and architecture. We’re proud to be the architect for the restaurant institution that the New York Times have named “one of the top 10 restaurants in the world.”

Design-wise, there were two main themes. The first: Din Tai Fung is famous for their dumplings, of which every day, they hand-make roughly between 50,000 to 100,000 dumplings per location. Folded carefully by hand, each fold represents a different artistic style and what the content is within the dumpling, releasing flavors and aromas as it goes into your mouth. We featured the dumpling-making as a theatrical element. As you enter, there is a large glass exhibition kitchen that presents all the dumpling makers as they’re making dumpling one by one, by hand. And the entire restaurant centers around this one activity, this one architectural feature. People come, even people not dining, just to sit there and watch this artistry in real time.

Dumpling exhibition kitchen at Din Tai Fung, South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa (photo by Gregg Segal)

The second design aspect was this: Din Tai Fung is a traditional Chinese restaurant with cuisine and ideas from quite a legacy of family recipes. But this restaurant did not, in our minds, want to be a Chinese theme park, not a Chinese Disneyland. The clients were not interested in golden dragons, red silk cloths, phoenixes, and Chinese calligraphy. So we reinterpreted the legacy, both in aesthetics and in technique.

For example, we studied the traditional Asian, wood, privacy screens. Then we re-envisioned the traditional patterns, modernized them, and gave it a contemporary graphic feel. We took sheets of walnut plywood and water-jet cut our patterns, a new technique, or laser cut metal plates, then powder coated a finish. It’s a way of blending new construction techniques with traditional ideas, respecting Asian heritage and history, but also looking to the future.

Din Tai Fung, Americana at Brand, Glendale, California (photo by Gregg Segal)

Michael: Din Tai Fung can afford to do it in a very sophisticated way, but a lot of restaurateurs are working on a shoestring, and don’t want to burden themselves with a huge overhead before they proved themselves. Even some of the most important restaurants in L.A. has started in a very modest way. And when your clients have a tight budget, how do you make the best use of that?

Internally LED-lit walls of 3-form acrylic panels at Memphis, Manhattan Beach, California (photo by Sean Rosenthal)

Anthony: Most of our restaurant clients aren’t the big famous Michelin-rated ones. A a number of our clients have been small businesses—even a first restaurant cobbling together through family and friends, their first budget to launch a restaurant. We have to respect that, to know there are limits, and pick our design battles. We decide where best to spend money, being thoughtful and efficient in using dollars.

Custom furniture: outdoor benches wrapped in artificial grass and dining tables with adjustable legs made from plumbing parts, at Mendocino Farms, Marina del Rey, California (photos by Poon Design)
Chalk art at Mendocino Farms, FIGat7th, Los Angeles, California (photos by Poon Design)

It also has to do with the conceptual approach. Mendocino Farms was one of our clients of which we’ve done one then several of their restaurants. We achieved a wonderful aesthetic through their interests in hand-crafted sandwiches within a kind of gastropub feel.

That gave us the opportunity to explore materials in a new way, to use industrial components, or maybe building materials right off the shelf. For example, plumbing parts were used to make the legs of a tabletop that looks cool and also adjustable in height. Or chalkboard paint on the walls with large chalk murals.

For the location near the Grove, each chandelier was made of chicken wire with 400 wooden clothes pins attached. It created a beautiful lighting effect, affordable too, and captures the aesthetic of that restaurant.

Chandelier at Mendocino Farms, 3rd and Fairfax, Los Angeles, California (photos by Poon Design)
Gold Rush, 18″ x 24″, November 2018

Michael: We’ve discussed the three themes of the monograph—homes, schools, and restaurants—but you have many other talents. You’re a classically trained pianist, an accomplished artist, published author, and your eight-person firm has tackled many other commissions from sacred spaces, to graphics, furniture and lighting design. How have you been able to achieve so much with such modest resources?

Anthony: I like to think of the metaphor of the jazz ensemble or maybe the small orchestra. We’re all highly trained and intelligent designers. We bring different unique talents, whether it’s interior design, lighting design, or construction expertise, maybe a graphics person. Everyone at Poon Design has multiple interests outside of the architecture field too, from photography to writing to studying history. We even had a literal rocket scientist on our staff for five years, who studied architecture at UCLA.

Cover and pages of Life Learn Eat, displaying WV Mixed-Use Project, Manhattan Beach, California (photo by Gregg Segal) Book published by ORO Editions.

We assemble together all these talents and work organically. Our studio is a collaboration of everyone putting ideas together, bouncing off each other—similar to some of the ideas that jazz music represents, such as improvisation and spontaneity. I think it’s that kind of freedom and thinking that allows a smaller team to set forth some pretty big ideas.

Michael: What are your ambitions for the next decade, once we’re through the pandemic?

Anthony: We’re hoping to continue our design ambitions on a larger scale. We already work on projects from schools to restaurants, sacred structures, churches, mixed-use, and cultural projects. And it’s all for a sense of community, neighborhood, equality, and equity. We will continue what we do, but for a broader civic audience, and touch as many people as we can, as many participants of the public that want to engage good architecture and design.

Doheny Plaza, West Hollywood, California, by Poon Design (photo by Hunter Kerhart)

ARCHITECTS AND INTERIOR DESIGNERS: WHAT TO KNOW

September 4, 2020

Chaya Downtown, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design. Left: sushi counter with lights by Tom Dixon; upper right: bar with chandelier by Stuart Haygarth; lower right, dining room with mural by Ajioka (photos by Gregg Segal)

When architects and interior designers work together, there are four things to know. (This article is an excerpt from my lectures at UCLA Extension, architecture and interior design department with professor Eleanor Schrader.

This is the perception, but how large is the overlap? (diagram by Poon Design)

1. WHO IS DOING WHAT?

When creating buildings, there is a big arc from envisioning spaces and volumes, to working on details like lighting, and furniture—from the shape of the ceiling and angle of the wall, to bedding and wallcovering.

Many mistakenly believe that the overlap between the work of architects and that of interior designers is small. In reality, the overlap can be small, medium, or large—or even huge. For a successful project, this overlap must be acknowledged, and when agreed upon, we have collaboration. If not, the result is confusion, alongside battles of ego and territory.

(diagram by Poon Design)

With our design for Chaya Downtown (top photo), there was no overlap at all, since Poon Design was the architect AND interior designer. We also designed everything else—landscape, lighting, furniture, graphics, etc.—even curating art and programming music. And we got to collaborate with some famous artists.

In contrast, Poon Design teamed with the talented West Hollywood studio, Interior Illusions, for our successful design and construction of four communities totaling over 200 homes in and around Palm Springs. Poon Design created the architecture, crafted the spatial experience, designed the cabinetry, and specified materials, kitchen appliances, and lighting. Interior Illusions selected all the furniture, art, accessories, window treatments, and overall styling.

Linea Residence L, Palm Springs, California, architecture and interiors by Andrew Adler/AVG, Interior Illusions, and Poon Design. (photos by Mark Ballogg)

2. IT TAKES A TEAM

A successful design takes more than just the talents of the architect and interior designer. Most don’t realize the extent of experts necessary to create a restaurant or school, hotel or museum. Even for a house, the team could include a soils geologist, civil engineer, structural engineer, AV/technology consultant, electrical engineer, energy compliance expert, and security advisor—just to name a few.

 

(diagrams by Poon Design)Every design decision has a ripple effect. No one should design in a vacuum. For example, the shape of a roof impacts structural and mechanical engineering, and the selection of a chandelier tests the allowable energy usage or the weight that the roof truss can support. Or, does the chosen porcelain tile for the floor meet the non-slip coefficient?

Architects, designers, consultants, and clients at work (photos by Poon Design and AVG)

3. WHAT IS THE BIG IDEA?

What is the design concept? All participants of the entire team must have consensus on the project’s creative agenda—as in the artistic philosophy, the story. Think critically and avoid clichés, because they only show limited thinking. Cliches such as: warm and welcoming, eclectic, timeless, transitional, or the overused, “modern YET traditional.”

Grapes, by Ai Weiwei (photo by Cathy Carver, Hirshhorn Museum)

For this home, we wanted to design a contemporary house, but zoning required a Tuscan style. We called our approach, Mission Modern. Meaning, it would be a blend of the California Mission / Spanish Revival styles with Modernist architecture. More importantly, it was our “mission” to make the design “modern.”

Modern Villa at Monte Sereno, Palm Springs, California, architecture and interiors by Andrew Adler/AVG, Interior Illusions, and Poon Design. (photos by Lance Gerber and AVG)

The owners of Din Tai Fung sought an Asian restaurant, but not an Asian theme-park. They had no interest in red silk curtains, lanterns and golden dragons. We offered ideas we entitled, Contemporary Chinese. As just one example of many, traditional Chinese wood screens and patterns were reinterpreted in new materials, executed with modern technology like water jet- or laser-cutting.

Din Tai Fung, South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa, California (photos by Gregg Segal)

4. DO THE WORK?

Whether architect, interior designer, or engineer, please avoid the ubiquitous hand waving. This ridiculous gesture signals the so-called genius idea from a pretentious design diva, who has little concern for the development, implementation, or even success of said genius idea. If a pompous designer envisions a wall of mirrors, his idea shouldn’t stop there. What kind of mirrors—clear, tinted, colored? What size—large panels, vertical tiles, mosaics? How are the mirrors attached? What kind of adhesive or fasteners?

Shop drawings for the sushi counter at Chaya Downtown, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design

Know how things work, not just how things look.

Drawing by Anders Nilsen for The New York Times

And know the parameters. Some architects like Italian Carlo Scarpa, or as Poon Design does with most of our projects, design every last detail, every last screw, as both architect and interior designer. Other architects stop their creative thinking at the face of the drywall and look to the interior designer to fit out the rest of the space. This approach bothers me. If an architect has created the most exciting ideas for the overall composition of the house, why can’t he continue his thinking as the design moves inside?

Left: project with only drywall completed (photo from homerepairninja.com); right: Olivetti Showroom, Venice, Italy, by Carlo Scarpa (photo from archlovers.com / Yellowtrace)

A JOURNEY THROUGH THE FIVE SENSES

March 20, 2020

The five senses represented in cast plaster (photo from npr.org and Shutterstock)

Whether a house, school or church, the most successful works of architecture go beyond merely what it looks like. With a restaurant for example, the design must surpass the exercise of picking things, such as the stone for the bar counter, tile pattern on the floor, or fabric of the banquette. As a comprehensive cohesive experience, architectural design is more than the materials you see and touch. Architecture is a journey through all the five senses.

Chaya Downtown, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design (photo by Gregg Segal)

SIGHT
Selecting colors and textures, finishes and furniture consumes most of a designer’s effort. What a visitor sees comprises the initial architectural character and yes, even the style of the project. Avocado green paint signals a Mid-Century Modern approach, whereas red clay roof tiles echo a Spanish Colonial Revival project.

But keep in mind other aspects that an occupant sees, such as the lighting for a retail store. No, not just the stylish light fixtures, but what about Kelvins to lumens, fluorescent vs. LED vs. tungsten, or the magical way the spotlight delivers a halo effect to the retail objects?

What one sees goes even further, such as environmental graphics and signage, or maybe uniform design for the staff at a museum. Point is: We see a lot.

Feather River Academy, Yuba City, California, by Anthony Poon w/ A4E (photo by Gregory Blore)

TOUCH
After the eye sees, the hand will take in more information. The visitor will touch the brick, for example. The texture might be smooth or rough. Even the grout has a sandy surface that provides a physical sensation.

When sitting in a lounge chair, arms smooth over the walnut trim, the body relaxes against leather cushions, and fingertips notice zigzag stitching.

The body also feels temperature, such as the warmth of a carpeted living room contrasted to the cool tile of the kitchen. For a pop-up nightclub, Poon Design worked with the theme of Heaven-and-Hell. One club room was aggressively air conditioned at a brisk, cool and alert temperature—Heaven. The other room was intentionally made warm and humid, even hot and bothered—Hell.

Chapel of St. Ignatius, Seattle, Washington (photo by Paul Warchol)

SMELL
At the Chapel of St. Ignatius in Seattle, beeswax coats the interior walls. Not only providing a lustrous plaster surface for the eye to see and the hand to touch, the walls provided a sweet and relaxing scent to smell.

I recall another Seattle project—a bagel shop that purposefully exhausted the oven’s appetizing aroma into the street. The enticing smell of freshly baked goods attracted customers. Architecture confronted one’s nose.

Think also of landscape design and its diversity of scents, such as the sweetness of a lemon tree alongside the vanilla honey smell of Heliotrope. Don’t forget to smell the roses.

The 14th Shamarpa Reliquary Building, Natural Bridge, by Poon Design (photo by Mark Ballogg)

SOUND
Approaching our scared 14th Shamarpa Reliquary Building, we transition the visitor from the dirt path to an intimate gravel walk. The sound of feet shuffling on loose gravel slows the visitor to a meditative pace.

Just as one would kick the tires of a car (for whatever reason?), owners are known to knock on the walls of their corporate headquarters or performing arts center. There is a big difference between knocking on a stucco building that has applied the plaster over wood framing (which is commonplace in California) vs. applying plaster over solid stone walls (more likely in Europe). The latter sounds like it should—walls that will hold up your roof.

For some of our restaurants, we select the music that accompanies the design, complementing the spirit and energy of the space as it evolves through the day. Brisk music welcomes the early birds, even keel classical selections buzz for the professional lunchtime crowd, eclectic techno lounge greets the sophisticated diners, and jazz ballads wind down the afterhours crowd.

Vosges Haut-Chocolat, Beverly Hills, California, by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)

TASTE
Most people are not going to be tasting a work of architecture. I don’t imagine someone visiting an office and licking the conference room walls. But in addition to the design of a kitchen, there are opportunities for an architect to create a tasty design to address this fifth sense.

For our design of the 44,000-square-foot chocolate factory for Vosges Haut-Chocolat in Chicago, we didn’t just design an ambitious corporate headquarters, we incorporated tasting stations that present the company’s recipes/ingredients.

Din Tai Fung, The Americana at Brand, Glendale, California, by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)

Through provoking all five senses, the sensual experience of architecture promotes emotional content that enliven the human experience. How our senses engage the built environment suggests the architectural philosophy of Phenomenology, which studies what the body confronts, and what the body interprets.

NUMBER 101 AND THE MAKING OF A VIDEO

May 31, 2019

Within the studio of Poon Design Inc.: raw, industrial, collaborative and exploratory.

For myself, I applaud. Today I am publishing my 101st essay on this platform! In traditional terms, this effort would constitute a 500-page book, not even counting photos. For this blog (web-log: for those who don’t know), I have avoided writing silly tweets, mere blurbs and convenient commentary. Instead, I have sought to author articles of substantial thought—researched, illustrated and well composed. To accompany this 101st article, a video was created on Poon Design Inc., by videographer, Grant Bozigian.

Our design for a seminal 120,000-square-foot Asian lifestyle center for Orange County. First floor: Asian seafood market. Second floor: Korean spa. Third floor: Japanese karaoke bar. Fourth floor: Chinese garden restaurant.

I invite you to watch our video here .

As we started this project, I studied videos about architecture companies. Some too long, some too short, some weirdly paced, and some with no substance at all. Most of the corporate marketing videos had a talking head in a suit, usually an old white guy talking tediously about being “on budget and on schedule.” Is this content worthy of a video?

One video from a prestigious design company used a single gimmick: staff members talking about a certain material they like, such as stone or metal. Interesting as an idea, yes—but over and over again? I endlessly watched one anonymous staffer after another approaching the camera with a big piece of glass or tile. It’s a one-trick pony.

I was unfortunate to run across a video that didn’t show any images of the architecture, which I assume is what most audiences want to see. Instead, this architect presented the company’s logo in various animated forms. It was absurd, and I wondered: Who cares?

Studies of skylight shades, first hand sketched, then made into a small desktop model, followed by a half-size mock up, finally milled out of plywood and installed at the restaurant, Din Tai Fung at South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa, and Din Tai Fung at The American at Brand, Glendale, California.

I found the poor videos shocking, because a video is very architectural—in that it is spatial, experiential, and a journey through time. Shouldn’t an architect be able to conceive of a creative video, just as she would design a creative building?

Me at a Steinway concert grand in Palos Verdes, California.

With the making of our video, I sought to tell a story, as well as show images of the work of Poon Design. The video is in three parts: a little about me, who we are as a studio and what we do, and finally, our interest in the creative process and storytelling. I hope you enjoy it. Our videographer also composed the music, except of course for the beginning which I thank J.S. Bach for his Praeludium from Partita No. 1 in B flat major, BMV 825.

The Goodyear blimp hovers over our WV Mixed-Use Project in Manhattan Beach, California, while a jet does a flyby at our C.A.P. Mixed-Use project in Mid-City Los Angeles, California.

Look for some wonderful details. Avoiding the cliché, often-ridiculed-Ken-Burns-panning of photographs, we animated some still images with a subtle motion between the foreground and background. The first project starts with a fortunate footage catching the Goodyear blimp in the sky. Complementing this, an airplane soars through a computer rendering later in the video. My company video ends with the same project from the start, but now at dusk, as the design goes to sleep.

Our creative process.

We show not just the pretty pictures of our designs, but also the creative mess behind it: our disorganized but sincere desks, dusty cardboard models, color pencils in entropy, sketches of good and bad ideas, the typical rolls and rolls of drawings, and an artist’s palette of acrylic paints.

One of my passions: making mixed-media art.

 

MY EARS ARE RINGING

February 19, 2016

Blue Cow Kitchen & Bar, Los Angeles, California, by Mass, renovated by Poon Design (photo by Alen Lin)

Okay, I won’t name names, but the guilty comprise many restaurants in Los Angeles and other cities. At these establishments, yes, I enjoy the food, the service and the architecture. But why can’t I hear my friends who sit across from me? Why is the noise level actually painful—my ears ringing from the haranguing clamor, and my throat sore from yelling mere table conversation?

I came across the post, How to Choose A Restaurant When You have Heraing Loss, from leading hearing health advocate Shari Eberts, on her blog, Living With Hearing Loss. In her post, she describes the challenges that those with hearing loss can have when dining out and provides suggestions for how to best navigate a restaurant environment.

While I complain about poorly designed acoustic environments, I can only imagine the overwhelming negative impact on restaurant customers with any degree of hearing loss.

Acoustical panels made from compressed recycled wood fibers painted red by Tectum, with cork wall panels, Saffron, Beverly Hills, California, by Poon Design
Acoustical panels made from compressed recycled wood fibers painted red by Tectum, with cork wall panels, Saffron, Beverly Hills, California, by Poon Design

The irresponsibility is embarrassing. Most restaurateurs, architects and interior designers/decorators seem to be okay focusing only on the visual and ignoring the aural. Meaning, focusing only on what you see and ignoring how you hear. Listen, it is as if a lazy chef separated your taste buds from yours eyes, suggesting that your entrée doesn’t have to taste good, as long as it is looks good.

Recent interests in tuning up the restaurant experience to address the adverse effects of sound, vibration and reverberation are admirable. Though it is questionable to view the topic as a “new design trend.” Would we call safety a new design trend in automotive design?

To create a comprehensive design, don’t just select stylish furniture, nice art and an agreeable palette of paint colors. The notes below are only a start, but should guide everyone from chefs to managers to designers in achieving quality aural architecture.

ONE

Parallel surfaces can bounce the clatter of noise everywhere, even increasing it at times. A few degrees of shift or angle to any surface dissipate the echo. This can be done ambitiously with walls or easily with the placement of a wine display case or host stand.

Angled porcelain tile dividers at 8 Fish, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design
Angled porcelain tile dividers at 8 Fish, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design

TWO

Adding soft surfaces like upholstered furniture and wall coverings are givens. Think about attaching sound absorbing fabric to the underside of dining tables. As sound bounces from the floor up towards customers’ ears, the fabric reduces the impact. Absorbing material and industry acoustic panels can be hidden in dozens of places. You don’t have to install an acoustic tile ceiling, which makes your restaurant look like a corporate office.

Acoustic insulation laid out of sight, on top of the lid over the bar (left side) at Memphis Café, Manhattan Beach, California, by Poon Design (photo by Within A Dream)
Acoustic insulation laid out of sight, on top of the lid over the bar (left side) at Memphis Café, Manhattan Beach, California, by Poon Design (photo by Within A Dream)

THREE

I like “transparent ceilings.” Besides delivering the impression of a taller space, this approach produces one of the best acoustic solutions. As noise travels up, it is trapped by acoustic insulation.  Another ceiling idea: varying heights prevent lingering echo, which also offers a diversity of scale.

left: Hickory slat ceiling at Sushi Noguchi, Yorba Linda, California; right: A lowered ceiling at Deluca’s Italian Deli, The Americana at Brand, Glendale, both by Poon Design
left: Hickory slat ceiling at Sushi Noguchi, Yorba Linda, California; right: A lowered ceiling at Deluca’s Italian Deli, The Americana at Brand, Glendale, both by Poon Design

FOUR

Ms. Eberts is correct about “Sound Absorbing Décor.” Almost anything can be engineered to diffuse sound travel, such as large painted canvases, ceiling sculpture, metal screens, wood lattices, or even light fixtures. Or, surprise a visitor with artificial grass used on a vertical surface, or a tree on the inside.

top left: Water jet cut, weathered steel screens in an interpretive Chinese pattern at Joss Cuisine, Beverly Hills, California; top right: Moveable white oak screens at Din Tai Fung, The Americana at Brand, Glendale (photo by Gregg Segal); bottom left: Mendocino Farms, Marina del Rey (winner of 2011 International Design Award for Best Restaurant from The American Institute of Architects) and West Hollywood, California, all by Poon Design
top left: Water jet cut, weathered steel screens in an interpretive Chinese pattern at Joss Cuisine, Beverly Hills, California; top right: Moveable white oak screens at Din Tai Fung, The Americana at Brand, Glendale (photo by Gregg Segal); bottom left: Mendocino Farms, Marina del Rey (winner of 2011 International Design Award for Best Restaurant from The American Institute of Architects) and West Hollywood, California, all by Poon Design

FIVE

Restaurants are embracing modern design, but that doesn’t have to mean hard cold surfaces. Balance a concrete floor with walnut planks and brass mesh. Sleek surfaces are easy to keep clean, but juxtapose that polished stone countertop with a leather elbow rest.

Dividers at Chaya Downtown, Los Angeles, CA, by Poon Design, winner of 2009 International Design Award for Best Restaurant from The American Institute of Architects (photo by Gregg Segal)
Dividers at Chaya Downtown, Los Angeles, CA, by Poon Design, winner of 2009 International Design Award for Best Restaurant from The American Institute of Architects (photo by Gregg Segal)

Keep the high ceilings, but bring the intimate scale and noise level down with funky chandeliers.

Top: Each chandelier is made of wire fencing and 1,500 wood clothespins at Mendocino Farms, Los Angeles, California; bottom: Laser cut Walnut plywood lamp shades, Din Tai Fung, South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa, California (photo by Gregg Segal) both projects by Poon Design
Top: Each chandelier is made of wire fencing and 1,500 wood clothespins at Mendocino Farms, Los Angeles, California; bottom: Laser cut Walnut plywood lamp shades, Din Tai Fung, South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa, California (photo by Gregg Segal) both projects by Poon Design

CONCLUSION

Include acoustic ideas as part of every design discussion, not as an afterthought or something trivial. Think of your restaurant as an instrument. It needs to be tuned.

DIN TAI FUNG: I’LL TAKE TWO

January 15, 2016

Exhibition dumpling kitchen and chefs, Costa Mesa, California (photo by Gregg Segal)

For Michelin-rated restaurant, Din Tai Fung, Poon Design Inc. designed two locations, fit for what the The New York Times has called, “one of the Top Ten Restaurants in the World.” Our architecture showcases the essence of Chinese craft with thoroughly modern and seductively detailed spaces.

Though the Taiwanese clients possessed an appreciation for Asian design, this husband-wife team did not seek the predictably themed Chinese restaurant. Meaning, no golden dragons, no cartoonish calligraphy and no red silk curtains.

Lounge dining and plywood skylights, Costa Mesa, California (photo by Gregg Segal)
Lounge dining and plywood skylights, Costa Mesa, California (photo by Gregg Segal)

The cuisine at Din Tai Fung inspired Poon Design. Over 50,000 dumplings are painstakingly made each day per location. By hand.

Our architectural response is this: craftsmanship of elemental materials such as wood and stone, interpreted through contemporary fabrication.

Exhibition dumpling kitchen and circular motif, Glendale, California (photo by Gregg Segal)
Exhibition dumpling kitchen and circular motif, Glendale, California (photo by Gregg Segal)

At both California projects, South Coast Plaza in Coast Mesa and The Americana at Brand in Glendale, our centerpiece is the exhibition kitchen, which puts the artistry of the chefs on theatrical display. A circular design motif takes a cue from the bamboo steamers used to prepare the dumplings. A wood ceiling of halo-lit circles extends from the exhibition kitchen, folding down as a display wall of ceremonial vessels—from which the restaurants take their name: din (vessels). The circular theme repeats in milled white oak sheets laminated between layers of glass comprising the kitchen windows.

Central dining room with Turrell-inspired dome, Costa Mesa, California (photo by Gregg Segal)
Central dining room with Turrell-inspired dome, Costa Mesa, California (photo by Gregg Segal)

The dramatic restaurant walls of stone slabs and wood planks contrast the highly detailed CNC-cut wood screens and water jet-cut, powder-coated aluminum panels. Dense patterns at the bottom of these screens provide privacy, while open patterns at the top allow in natural light.

Patio and exterior of central dining room, Costa Mesa, California (photo by Gregg Segal)
Patio and exterior of central dining room, Costa Mesa, California (photo by Gregg Segal)

At 8,300 square feet and 200 seats, the Costa Mesa location features a lounge area of honed sandstone and Walnut plywood skylights, a dining room with a Turrell-inspired elliptical dome, walnut furniture custom designed by Poon Design, and a patio under a muscular steel canopy. Emanating from the exhibition kitchen, the shaped plaster ceiling echoes our restored 1960’s sculptural entry pavilion.

At 7,000-square-foot and 170 seats, the Glendale location additionally features heavily grained Oak planks, brass inlay Chinese characters, Juno limestone, black porcelain flooring, and custom oak and leather furniture.

top: Reception and plywood lamp shades, Glendale, California (photo by Gregg Segal); bottom: Dining room with movable screens, Glendale, California (photo by Gregg Segal)
top: Reception and plywood lamp shades, Glendale, California; bottom: Dining room with movable screens, Glendale, California (photos by Gregg Segal)

Poon Design explores artistry and craft, with our architecture also combining old and new. We acknowledge the legacy of the past, while embracing an exciting future.

© Poon Design Inc.