Haute Couture: A restaurant with a Modernist pedigree is rescued from the vintage bin, reborn a high-end clothier.
Architects & Firms
Newport Beach, California
A 1960s postcard shows a Newport Beach, California, building in its early heyday. Hot-pink letters across the facade spell out 'The Stuft Shirt,' the original tenant, in a mod, Summer-of-Love font. But the soundtrack is clearly Sinatra, not rock; and this restaurant's interior decor is more stuffed-shirt than hip, with Old World drapes and seriously nouveau-riche chandeliers. A succession of restaurants would eventually replace the Stuft Shirt'each more at odds than its predecessor with the structure's underlying Modernist design.
By late 2009, when Los Angeles architect Paul Davis began transforming the 8,100-square-foot interior into a new home for A'maree's'an unusually laid-back high-fashion emporium'he found the once clean-lined spaces masquerading as a neo-Aztec-faux-Casablancan extravaganza. After the last restaurant, the discouraged owner, a wealthy real estate investor, left the place vacant for 13 years; maintaining the exterior, he resisted interested parties, awaiting tenants he trusted to value the original design.
With soaring arches, scalloped eaves, slender cruciform columns, and domed vaults, this 1961 confection by architects Ladd & Kelsey is the sort of visually lightweight, exuberant architecture easily lumped together with kitsch Modernism of the 1960s and 1970s. Despite the building's undeniable period style, however, you'd be mistaken to write it off. Davis's renovation has unmasked its essential grace and integrity of structure and materials'but with the clarity and rough-edged directness of a 20th/21st-century sensibility.
A light-touch renovation, carried out in an art-space-loft-style-guerilla mode,' was how Davis pitched his approach to A'maree's' owners, three sisters whose unconventional style of retailing hip haute couture was pivotal. His idea was to selectively peel away layers and accretions, opening up gallery-like space, accentuating the building's superb bones, views, and light. 'Guerilla' meant retaining gritty vestiges from the building's past.
Like the sisters, he envisioned creating 'the furthest thing from a mall retail store.' Cofounded in 1976 by the owners' mother, A'maree's imparts the feeling of being at the home of friends, who share with you fashion, household objects, even cookies fresh from the oven. You're in the inner sanctum; no space is off-limits. 'The opposite of big-box commercialism of a Saks or Barneys,' says Dawn Klohs, one of the sisters. 'With the Internet, so much is available to everyone. But this is about one-of-a-kind things, the relationship'and the experience.'
For the retail floor, Davis stripped the dining/bar area of applied ornament, fixtures, furnishings, and carpet, down to the cast-in-place concrete shell, and painted it pristine white. The result is dazzling, with 19-foot ceilings, harbor views through original floor-to-ceiling, arched windows (now with UV-filtering film), and the column-and-vault grid's hypnotic, mosquelike rhythm.
Heightened transparency is evident even outside the entrance, the only part of the facade Davis altered. Reclaiming (and enhancing) the original spirit, he ditched the opaque, faux-Aztec portal in favor of frameless glass doors, outshining Ladd & Kelsey's utilitarian storefront glazing. Now, on approach, a crisp sequence of interior archways appears straight through to the water. But the building's concrete floors remain exposed and scarred. Seashells plug larger ruts, and old drain holes are now glazed portholes to the bay below.
Davis deftly reinterpreted distinctions of front versus back-of-the-house, developing a striking yet well-edited juxtaposition, instead of overly refining the ex-restaurant-kitchen zone. Dispensing with the plenum, he exposed soaring vaults'a unifying rhythm that echoes the main space in a raw way'and a newly reduced 'archaeology' of structural remnants, plumbing lines and ducts. In vault openings where cooking hoods once vented, he installed skylights above dressing rooms and a home-scaled kitchen, where customers can hang out 'backstage.' Shoppers are also welcome to lounge on selling-floor sofas or at cashier-desk bar seating. The equally casual merchandising style mixes eclectic vitrines with artful clutter, including faux-worn sneakers ($500) in seemingly random piles on the floor.
Without touching columns or walls, Davis inserted fixed clothes racks, like giant 'croquet wickets.' 'We tried,' he says, 'to introduce new elements, whether vents or lighting, rhythmically, rigorously, and systematically'without impinging on the building's powerful repetition of pure form.' Modern, minimal, metal halide lamps now hang on center with the column grid. Davis salvaged a previous tenant's bronze chandeliers, cleverly muting and modernizing them with white paint and exposed, industrial-hip fridge bulbs. The once gaudy 'candelabras' suggest a metaphor for the whole transformation'retaining memory's imprint while distilling latent Modernism to its essence. Most of the ingredients were already present, but now, nimbly extracted, they transcend the original architects' ambitions and vision.
Location: Newport Beach, California
Completion Date: November 2010
Gross square footage: 8,100 sq. ft.
Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Original Architects: Ladd & Kelsey
MEP Engineer: RPM Engineers, Inc.
CAD system, project management, or other software used:
Paint (Sales Floor and Kitchen): Benjamin Moore in “Atrium White”
Special interior finishes unique to this project:
Dressing Lounge Curtains:
Other furniture (use additional sheet if necessary):