When you first enter the newly reopened Manhattan restaurant Eleven Madison Park, on 24th Street and Madison Avenue, you are awestruck by the grandness of the interior, with its 24-foot-high ceiling, the magisterial steel case windows and vast, cavernous space. It looks like what it is, a three-Michelin-star temple to haute cuisine.
Since 1998, the restaurant has occupied the Art Deco lobby of the landmark 1928 Metropolitan Life North building, with 2,250 square feet in the main dining room and 650 square feet in the adjacent low-ceilinged bar. In 2011, the original owner, restaurateur Danny Meyer, sold it to Will Guidara and his partner, the celebrated chef Daniel Humm. Five years later they hired Brad Cloepfil, a restaurant regular, longtime friend, and principal of Allied Works Architecture, to reimagine the space. “It’s one of the most beautiful rooms in New York, with light streaming in from Madison Square Park on the west,” Cloepfil says. “I wanted to make it feel as if it was intended to be a restaurant, with its own character.”
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Cloepfil kept the volume, the nickel-plated bronze windows, the light fixtures and ornamental plasterwork on the ceiling, but gave the restaurant a whole new identity—one more sedate than the previous more colorful interior executed by Bentel & Bentel.
To do this, he slightly reconfigured the dining room by creating a central aisle extending from the entrance foyer to two existing stepped levels enclosed by low, bronze screens. As you walk through the dining areas, your eye is immediately drawn to the back wall, with an enormous blue painting by Rita Ackermann. “I wanted a ceremonial rising up, a formal procession, so you can see all the people in the room,” Cloepfil says, about this “stage set for food and service.” The architect wanted the space “enriched but simple,” like the cuisine. Similarly, he gave the bar a new gold-foil coved ceiling, which is less jazzy than its folded gold-leaf predecessor.
Cloepfil is a modernist: the look is clean, and the palette mostly neutral—white, tan, and dark brown. The architect was afforded the chance to also design the furniture, lighting, tableware, and textiles. Like the efforts of many early modern architects, it is a gesamtkunstwerk.
A one-time botany student, Cloepfil has created custom pieces inspired not by the Art Deco building but by nature and the park outside. The bronze screens separating the dining areas allude to the spines of gingko leaves. The brownish pattern in the hand-tufted silk and wool rug is meant to look “like the ghosts of leaves on a sidewalk.”
And for the seating, “the big idea was comfort,” the architect says. “We are inviting people to dine for three and a half hours.” The figured walnut banquettes lining the room are upholstered in dark blue mohair and made to look like individual pieces of furniture, with curved backs. Small metal wall lights between the banquettes add a cozy, old-fashioned, Parisian note. “I don’t do ornament on buildings, but I could here, and I wanted a lot of ornament, to bring the scale down,” he says.
Cloepfil is particularly proud of his porcelain service, inspired by research at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. “I always wanted to design plates,” says the architect, who collects midcentury European ceramics. The ones at Eleven Madison Park have raw porcelain rims, glazed centers, and sit on a raised base so that they appear to float on the tablecloths. They are off-white, like much of the space—and even the huge floral arrangements.
If, in the end, the décor is bland, it is because the dining experience and hospitality are the focus. “I wanted the atmosphere to be calm, warm, inviting,” Cloepfil says. He has succeeded. Nonetheless, this visitor misses the old yellow bar and the festive, colorful bouquets of flowers.
12 W 27th Street, #18
New york, NY 10001
Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Brad Cloepfil, Founder and Principal
Thea von Geldern, Yuri Suzuki, Chris Stoddard, Rachel Massey, Markus von Dellingshausen, Rebecca Wood, Luke Anderson, Xuancheng Zhu
Structural Engineers: Silman
Shawmut Design and Construction
Johnny Fog (tableware), Eric Piasecki (interiors)
Other: Interior Curtain Wall – Workspace Eleven
Acoustical ceilings: Baswaphon
Cabinetwork and custom woodwork: Ferrante Manufacturing
Paints and stains: Benjamin Moore & Crescent Bronze
Paneling: Ferrante Manufacturing
Special surfacing: Art in Construction encaustic plaster
Floor and wall tile: Tile - Direct Sourse Terrazzo - Wilkstone
Carpet: Custom carpets by Wool & Silk
Special interior finishes unique to this project: Ornamental Metals - Wainlands
Chairs: Allied Works
Tables: Allied Works
Tables: Dutch Design Limited and Valley Design (service credenzas and tables)
Other furniture: Custom furniture - Valley
Interior ambient lighting design: HLB Lighting Design
Pendent Lights Bar: Luxury Lighting Direct
Art Lights, Sconces and Banquette Lighting: Urban Electric
Dimming system or other lighting controls: Lutron