Downtown’s movie sequel: Violet Crown Cinema mixes influences

Photo: Stephen Barling Photo: Stephen Barling

By the time you read this, downtown Charlottesville should have its movie theater back. But it’s not just a matter of reopening the old Regal theater. The new Violet Crown Cinema, which now stands in its place, will be an entirely different animal.

“I always think of these places as boutique cinemas: very bespoke, very curated,” said Veronica Koltuniak, Violet Crown’s interior designer. She hails from Austin, Texas, where the mini-chain of theaters is based (Charlottesville’s will be the third, after Austin and Santa Fe, New Mexico). The idea is to see a movie of which a cinephile would approve, nosh on gourmet food and drink and sit in super-plush stadium seats.

Naturally, such an experience must occur in a building of top-notch design. When Koltuniak first came to Charlottesville two years ago, she wasted no time seeking lofty inspiration. “The first thing I did was go to Monticello,” she says. “We want these theaters to be about the region they’re settled in.”

She soaked up a number of local influences, from Jefferson’s ideas about understated staircases, to the white marble that she spotted in busts and porch columns around Charlottesville. “I love that men wear bow ties in this town,” she says. “There’s an eccentric properness.”

From this mixed hopper emerged her complex design, which she says melds the minimalism of the theater’s midcentury-modern façade with the Southern elegance—the “dandyism”—of those bow ties.

Essentially, the building is arranged with a restaurant and bar on the ground floor, then the concession stand (and seven of the 10 cinemas) accessed from a mezzanine above. A large staircase connects the two, but—true to Jefferson’s principle—Koltuniak tried to downplay it. “I created these screens,” she says, pointing out two towering metal constructions, composed of a bricklike pattern, which use Plexiglass panels to partially hide the staircase.

She also worked to modify the bright purple color that’s part of the Violet Crown branding. In wall and detail paint, “I muddied it down,” she says, and she paired it with neutral wood tones, like the whitewashed oak flooring on the ground level. With various types of metal incorporated into the palette, along with utilitarian and classic lighting, the design sets a quiet tone.

And then it starts to shout (or, at least, whistle). “You’re going to get hit when you come in,” Koltuniak jokes. “It’s like, ‘It’s on.’” Pattern’s on, that is: vertical subway tile, M.C. Escher-like boxes on carpet and bartop, and patterned fabric on the banquettes.

“Layered design is what I try for,” says Koltuniak. “There’s a lot of detail, and it takes a couple of visits” to notice it all. It includes the arcane (photos of 1920s and ’30s actresses who happen to be named Violet) and the nostalgic (vintage movie cameras that will sit on high shelves behind the bar). A wallpaper pattern at the restroom entrances reminds Koltuniak both of a beam of light shooting from a movie projector, and, more simply, of the letter V—for Violet.

You’ll just have to see it for yourself. And luckily, at $9-13 per ticket, the view won’t set you back too much.

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