Luxury 2.0 |

Every expo I attend, every designer I meet, or proprietor I engage with is tossing around the terms “experiential design” or “sense of place” or “luxury.” No one is denying evolution within the hospitality and retail industries, with patrons tossing their white linen napkins for casual chic paired with sophisticated food. And with this millennial movement is a redefining of luxury as a lifestyle brand. I recently had the honor of interviewing design-build genius and host of the show Million Dollar Contractor, Stephen Fanuka, and he articulated luxury as exactly what makes you feel special. It does not have to cost a fortune, but if it makes you feel like a million bucks, then it is luxurious.

I believe hospitality is finally getting back to basics- comfort, companionship, and the everyday connoisseur. I attended Kapalua’s Food and Wine Festival this past June and was decked out in a sequin cocktail dress, five inch stilettos and a full face of makeup, and not once did I say “damn, I feel comfy.” It was more prodding my date asking when I could strip down, have a glass of wine on the beach and devour finger foods. So finally, designers are now understanding that pizzazz, elegance and luxury does not have to be wrapped in decadence. 

Good design can do as much for a restaurant, bar or café as a good menu and beverage program. These establishments have a bottom line, which is to sell a product. And the no. 1 goal of a designer is to create a platform that conveys the brand and facilitates an experience that encourages patrons to purchase  * I can feel designers cringing *

Wine is a fine balance between art, science and economics, as is properly executed design. Creating jaw-dropping interior design is anything but effortless. I have never heard Chef Derek Simcik call his creations effortless. I have never heard winemaker Gavin Chanin describe producing Pinot Noir as uncomplicated. As such, logic would follow that designing a structure to showcase food and wine is equally as laborious. Being creative on demand is one of the most challenging obstacles to conquer, as creativity is not an accident, but a practice.

As an admitted vinophile, when I walk into a restaurant I look for…wine. Wine displays are eye candy for patrons. They are the visual destination upon entry and set a precedent for the dining experience to come. Wine displays as focal points have become a signature design element, elevated to that of interior architecture. 

In what ways can we continue to pique consumer interest? In what ways can we continue, as artists in our own right, to keep ourselves curious? What is an artist’s design philosophy? How can we create continuity between the design and food aesthetics? How can we embellish a restaurant without disrupting staff workflow and take away from the food itself? How do we create an atmosphere of luxury within a changing hospitality environment?

The classic design mantra “form follows function” is misinterpreted in its one dimensionality. Instead, I follow the narrative that function should elevate form. Some of the best restaurant design is intended to go unnoticed. A well-designed restaurant should subtly contribute, not distract, you from the conversation or food. Restaurants and wineries are designed around a process making them interesting buildings just in themselves. Interiors are often catalysts for architectural and design trends outside of hospitality because they offer a microcosm of an experience. Just as wine presents varying flavors and textures on the palate, with the interplay of fruit, acid, tannin and alcohol, so does design. The best design challenges participants by exciting and challenging their senses with the calculated dance between form and function.

I recently had a conversation with a brilliant restaurateur who was astonished by the lack of innovation in California’s restaurant design and insufficiencies within the wine programs. We do not need Edison light bulbs and reclaimed wood to make a restaurant successful or ‘green.’ The most successful people, regardless of industry, know how to anticipate changes in the tide. Heavy industrial design is making its graceful exit after being recreated for nearly a decade. We need to discard the curated, one- of-a-kind lifestyle brand that can be purchased in bulk [online] for individuality and experimentation. Frank Gehry stated, “Every day is a new thing. I approach each project with a new insecurity, much like the first project I ever did…if I knew where I was going, I would not do it…I approach it with the same trepidation.” Chef Derek is a trendsetter for culinary endeavors. Gavin has been dubbed as a trailblazer. Clay Aurell from AB design studio has been an architectural pioneer for entitlements and design narratives. What this chef, winemaker and architect have in common is not the importance of their food, wine or structures, but the way in which they think about their products. 

Restaurants should evoke a sense of place through the sensuality of materiality. The new wave of luxury can be defined as the middle ground between something that speaks to history and something that resonates with the present day. The archetype of luxury has been high-quality merchandise with an assigned supercilious price tag of modern craftsmanship. As timeless as this framework may be, the industry is in the midst of a seismic shift as a younger generation with new technology and the inclination to spend on first-rate experiences are redefining modern luxury. The trouble with timelessness, for the passive designer, is that every generation brings its own trends, tastes, way of living and peculiarities. The stakes for luxury brands are high as you are anticipating that consumers establish a connection before they hit their peak spending power.

Luxury 2.0 is not tethered to opulence with haute chicken priced as steak paired accordingly with costly tasting menus. It is attention to detail, originality (toss your Pinterest accounts), exclusivity, and above all quality. Luxury is La Romanee Grand Cru Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair. Luxury is Julie Heaton Designs. Luxury is coconut macadamia pancakes from my mother’s kitchen. Luxury is inimitable ingenuity.

Reference | Julie Heaton Designs |


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