Keep It Real

Simple, versatile and airier restaurant designs stand out

If a single unifying thread could sum up restaurant design for 2019, it would be authenticity. Consider what’s in: Green, both the color and the movement, is big. Nontraditional restaurant seating – mixed and more communal – continues to grow in popularity. Less will be more, or even less will be even more, as long as you avoid the overused “minimalist” tag. Retro remains in. The ’80s are growing in influence, but mid-century modern is still king. Warm woods and vibrant colors will be everywhere, inviting diners to linger in versatile spaces that can assume different identities as day edges into night. “There is definitely a trend toward more authenticity and lighter, brighter, airier spaces,” says Caroline Grant, co-founder of New York-based Dekar Design, “nothing overly designed or gimmicky.” Many of the hottest trends in 2019 will continue to blur the lines between restaurant and residential design – a perk for restaurant owners, as they are comparatively affordable. Plants cost less than marble or artwork, and cherry-picked vintage or refashioned pieces can convey personality and comfort with minimal investment.


large restaurant dinning room

After six years of seating guests in a dining room meant to resurrect the spirit of a 1920s Parisian salon at Found in Evanston, Illinois, Amy Morton opted for a makeover last spring. “I wanted it to be me,” she says. “The spaces that speak to me are the ones that grew out of someone.” Found’s makeover, says Morton, is “Jackie O meets The Beatles in India.” Palm-print wallpaper greets diners, vibrant textiles cover the walls, and seven bright lotus flowers are painted on the ceilings above the bar. And when the summer breeze arrives, Morton can open the large windows facing downtown Evanston and invite the outside in. Morton has a story for each design element, anecdotes that servers can share with diners to forge a more personal connection. “I wanted to take it down a notch in formality,” Morton says, “so people know it’s okay to just come in for a drink or some oysters, or to eat at the bar.”


At Rosemary’s, a seasonal Italian restaurant that opened in the West Village of New York City in 2012, Dekar Design imported the ambiance of an Italian piazza via rich woods, rustic tables, benches and chairs, plus strings of outdoor lights. For its new sister restaurant, Rosemary’s Pizza, which opened last summer, Grant and Dekar co-founder Dolores Suarez took an even more casual approach, creating a residential feel in an old brownstone that boasts a wood-burning oven and a long banquette with colorful throw pillows, The open, airy space oozes comfort and simplicity, without pretension anywhere.


interior of Prato Italian

Ray Chung, director of design at The Johnson Studio at Cooper Carry, says his firm has been incorporating more greenery into its restaurant designs, whether it’s a wall lined with planters at Prato Italian Gastropub in Winter Park, Florida, or a project underway in the Catskills that incorporates two large trees into the dining room. Bringing in visual reminders of the farm-to-table movement not only reflects diners’ increased interest in health and sustainability, says Chug, but also produces simpler, warmer spaces. “People are trying to get back to what I call a sort of exuberance, not classic luxury but something that has more life to it,” says Chung. “Restaurants have always been a kind of escape, and people are looking for a full escape now, partly because of the political climate.”


Keep tabs on the evolution of office space designs, as mobile professionals may be embracing the idea of turning restaurants into temporary workspaces.

large empty dinning room at night

Consider Spacious, a company in New York and San Francisco, that turns dinner-only restaurants into shared work space during the day by supplying a host, coffee, powerful Wi-Fi and meeting space, all for a monthly fee. These deals offer additional revenue streams when they’re dark. But the hope is that workers will stick around for happy hour drinks or a meal as the space transitions back into a restaurant. “A lot more owners are interested in having multi-faceted experiences in one space, so can I make this a café by day and a bar by night or create a grab-and-go area in the front of the restaurant that in the evening becomes a display,” says Jeremy Levitt, co-founder of Parts and Labor Design. Levitt says his firm considered how such mixed-use projects might impact the public space at The Evelyn Hotel in Manhattan, which offers a bakery, fine dining and a large lounge. And he expects many concepts to follow suit. “Restaurants are becoming more approachable, and there’s less in the way of serious fine dining,” Levitt says. “It’s a more casual approach to really great food.”