World renowned architect, Christopher Mercier tells us how to keep your restaurant classic, yet fresh and what you need to know to succeed in the industry
(fer) Studio in Inglewood, California is more than just a design and architecture company. Founded in 2012, by Christopher Mercier, (fer) is responsible for creating a number of prolific designs for residential, commercial and hospitality spaces. Every one of their creations not only reflects an ethos of sustainability with urbanism, however their interactive design approach that builds on communication and participation, produces spaces that reflect the community and people.
Their extensive experience with restaurant design and adaptive reuse, including Father’s Office in Culver City and Officine Brera in Downton, illustrate a unique understanding of repurposed spaces and creating restaurants that are inventive, yet familiar.
Here Christopher tells us some of the things he’s learned from his 20+ years as an architect and designer building some of the most iconic international spaces including, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain:
We see a trend of new restaurants opening in historic buildings or in former restaurants that have some history. How do you think you can create an a old space while being inventive and modern?
It’s about finding the contrast between the old and the new and creating elements that merge the two. An example I can give is Officine Brera that we designed in an old brick warehouse, that once housed the Los Angeles Gas Company. We wanted to keep the aesthetic of the brick while creating a functional and modern space, so we built a steel and acrylic ceiling in the kitchen. It keeps the kitchen safe and adds a modern flair. The steel also blends with the steel in the original windows, serving as a bridge between the old and the new.
What are some of the challenges in worker in older buildings?
If you are getting a building on historic register, there are more challenges to face. The facade and interior pieces need to be preserved will be something you’ll have to work around in your design and in the functionality of the space. My advice to restaurant owners is that anyone starting off in their first restaurant location should find a location that was previously a restaurant, because there are issues that you need to address, such as hook line and the hood, which those spaces will have already dealt with.
I’ve noticed you use some repurposing methods for your designs, especially for the book igloo you made for the Inglewood public library. What is your approach on repurposing?
I see repurposing as an opportunity . With the Inglewood Public Library Book Igloo Project, the librarian came to our studio and she mentioned she was going to get rid of books and the conversation came: what can we do with all these books? Repurposing came out of an opportunity. We saw a a situation, where something doesn’t seem right and we wanted to take that situation and turn it around.
Can you give me an example of something like that happening in a restaurant design process?
Well, the ceiling design for the Officine Brera project was developed out of a very serious challenge we faced. The ceiling was 50 feet tall with the kitchen in the middle and that caused for some permitting issues. In order to keep it a restaurant space and not have to turn it into a food hall, we had to think of a way to keep it an open kitchen in the middle of the space. That’s how the idea of the steel frame and acrylic ceiling came about. We were able to keep the kitchen “open” while meeting safety and health codes.
What do you think makes a good chef or restaurant owner?
I think that there is a link to a good architect and a good chef, restaurants and design are a problem solving industry. When we go into any project we look for the challenge and we like to solve the puzzle.
If you work as a chef you need to be able to think on your feet and like to solve puzzles because as things develop you have to respond to the situation and have a creative attitude. Just like design is a process and information is brought to light as you go, so is running a restaurant- challenges come unexpectedly and you just have to deal with things as they come.