Who was it who said, “God is in the details”? The Pavlovian response is Mies van der Rohe, who was purported to have said it during a 1959 interview with the New York Herald Tribune. However, a quick Google search finds this attribution was most likely predated by such celebrated forerunners as Gustave Flaubert (“Le bon Dieu est dans le detail”), and the German art historian Aby Warburg (“Der liebe Gott steckt im Detail”). Yet, while Mies may not have coined the phrase, his reference to the the aphorism regarding restraint in design does imply architectural integrity.

Architects have since been spinning this notion to suit their own purpose, as well as that of their clients—especially in terms of interior layouts, which arguably provide a considerable degree of creative freedom. To that end, elevating the mundane through an artful interior is a specialty of architect Ryuji Nakamura. In the case of Jin’s Garden Square, a Nagoya, Japan, shop selling eyewear and accessories, he worked metaphorically, creating structural “plants” to display the goods. These truncated, inverted pyramids, faced in walnut veneer and white melamine resin, are piled and configured with the randomness of the aloe plant that inspired them—each with a slightly variegated shape and positioning. They are at once substantial yet delicate, providing a strong, homogeneous backdrop. This, explains Nakamura, is due in part to the surprise and repetition of form and material. “I didn’t want to make a place composed of the [usual] displays, but to create the atmosphere of a ‘botanical garden’ in a shop.”

Working within a structural context, the Berlin-based Barkow Leibinger Architects referred to the faceted-glass curtain wall they created for the 2008 AIA Award–winning Trutec building in Seoul—offices and showrooms for European enterprises—when designing the triangular stair connecting both levels of the two-story lobby. According to Martina Bauer, the project architect, “The building was designed with a dimensional, geometric facade, and we wanted the interior to echo that so people would have a sense of the building’s geometry from within, as well.” The stair also had to be fragile, she notes, “So everything would be light and transparent.” The solution—a suspended stair of 15-mm-thick welded steel supported by slender rods, 8 mm in diameter, with one seemingly free corner—appears to waft like a huge Calder mobile.

For the upscale Japanese restaurant Sakenohana in London, Kengo Kuma created a structural “forest” of natural cypress timbers and beams using traditional Japanese framing, in juxtaposition to the modern stone building and cityscape it resides in. Such thematic details are important in the work of Kuma, says project architect Ryukichi Tatsuki: “We do not want to just clad walls in a material or textile, but to bring architecture into the building.” And vice versa. As Tatsuki explains, the architects also wanted to reveal the evocative interior to outside viewers, which made effective lighting especially important. “We wanted the framework visible from the street at night, so it would look like it was floating in space.”

An element of whimsy was also taken into account by the Milwaukee firm Johnsen Schmaling Architects when converting that city’s historic Blatz Brewery into a mixed-use condo. The lobby lounge features 9-foot-6-inch-wide-by-9-foot-high pivoting doors that are left open for large gatherings or closed to create intimate areas. Consisting of a welded aluminum frame, each is filled with horizontally stacked empty brown glass beer bottles—some of the defunct brewery’s own—held in place by precision-milled neoprene. The resulting panels, gently illuminated on all sides, provide a textured translucence casting an amber glow.

In the case of Circa, a contemporary restaurant that opens to a mall in a converted Memphis warehouse, Providence-based 3SIX0 developed layers of patterned CNC-routed screens that give privacy and create intimacy for diners. Made of cherry-veneered plywood and aluminum, the screens are arranged in two rows: a simple, narrow dividing wall and a wider second row serving as a wine rack. For continuity, and ambient light, the rear wall was laser cut with the same squiggly motif and backlit. “For the passerby, the layers of ‘squiggles’ create a compound changing pattern, called a moiré, which is an optical illusion,” says Kyna Leski, principal. “When one walks by, along the inside of the arcade, the pattern of the screens looks literally like flowing water. It was a nice confirmation, because one of the most hauntingly powerful presences in Memphis is the Mississippi.”

With a similar end, but vastly different means, Hong Kong–based CL3 Architects created an ethereal wall for a sushi bar inside The Racing Club of Hong Kong. “The detail is actually quite simple,” says principal William Lim. “We laser cut the shapes onto aluminum panels finished with a white fluorocarbon coating, and backed them with a milky Plexiglas, which is installed 8 inches in front of the back wall. Then we put fluorescent lighting in between the Plexiglas and the back wall to achieve the glowing effect.”

Olivomare, another London eatery, showcases the handiwork of Sardinian architect Pierluigi Piu, who with joiner Jonathan Perrot of the London-based shop Elevation crafted a rippled wall (left) for one of the dining rooms. Meant to evoke the wind-formed patterns on the beaches of his youth, the curvilinear wall was plotted by CAD/CNC engineers and made from 50-mm-thick MDF, finished with a white velvet-textured paint, and lit by a continuous linear fixture recessed in a perimetrical gap at the ceiling.

Such details exemplify the Miesian intent. “My aim was to design a contemporary interior that would talk of the sea with a fresh, updated language,” says Piu. “Cool and ironic, sophisticated and simple.”