Tag Archives: STUART HAYGARTH

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)

BE ORIGINAL, BE REMEMBERED

August 14, 2015

Chandelier and dining room at Chaya Downtown, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design (photo by Gregg Segal)

Design enables life to be vibrant. Design resonates.

Be creative. Be original. Be remembered.

At Poon Design Inc., we believe architecture communicates more than aesthetics. Architecture communicates ideas. Architecture expresses everything from our culture and the community we live in, to the specific needs and solutions for each of our clients. We call this content.

Design tells a story. Whether it is the design of letterhead or a blog, a restaurant or a hospital, the design says who the client is. And who the client aspires to be.

Mural and sushi counter at Chaya Downtown, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design (photo by Gregg Segal)
Mural and sushi counter at Chaya Downtown, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design (photo by Gregg Segal)

At our restaurant design for Chaya in downtown Los Angeles, the style of their cuisine, Asian Fusion, inspired our architecture. We fused the modern world with traditional Japanese culture. At one end of the restaurant, an art installation/chandelier comprises 1,500 plastic toys, created in collaboration with British sculpture Stuart Haygarth. At the other end, Japanese artist Ajioka hand painted a 35-foot wide, classical Asian landscape mural on planks of Hinoki Cypress.

For the bar, Poon Design transformed a Venetian mirror into an ambitious element that frames the area and the experience. Rather than the traditional Venetian technique of layered mirrored surfaces, we laser back-etched mirrored panels with our own modern interpretation of the historic European patterns. Carrara marble, brass sheets from Spain and blackened metal details complete the composition.

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

Our aggressive spirit to embrace and further a client’s identity extended far beyond architecture and interior design. Sure, we custom designed the furniture, the lighting and the landscape. But we also designed Chaya’s graphic products, from business cards to ad posters, from website to matchbook covers, from event packages to menus.

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

We went further. We curated the art and interior styling, and even provided commentary on the waiter uniforms.

Still no stopping. As is a personal passion of mine, Poon Design assisted in the programming of the restaurant’s music, ensuring that the acoustic atmosphere coalesced with the architecture. Both the physical environment and the aural environment evolved together as the day progressed: from brunch, lunch, happy hour, dinner, to late night drinks.

Our Chaya project was honored with an international design award from The American Institute of Architects for Best Restaurant.

Private dining room and garden patio at Chaya Downtown, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design (photo by Gregg Segal)
Private dining room and garden patio at Chaya Downtown, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design (photo by Gregg Segal)

Poon Design’s design process is a journey, one that involves vision, creativity and artistry. When we design, we take the client on a trek that leads to delightful discoveries of higher purpose. We also balance our lofty aims with the grunt work of logistics—agency approvals, budgets, schedules, and maintenance.

We believe good design is the architecture of place-making. It is the art of making certain that when a visitor arrives at your project, he or she comprehends the ambitions behind it.

In the end, it boils down to essence. Good design is the challenge of capturing the essence of a project, revealing it in distinctive physical form. Good design means breaking new ground to build something groundbreaking. Good design means forsaking the tried-and-true for something exceptional, something that is potent.

© Poon Design Inc.