K&F: Architects weigh in on five new eat (and drink!) spots’ design

Vitae Spirits. Photo: Andrea Hubbell Vitae Spirits. Photo: Andrea Hubbell

Getcher nose out of the menu (for a second)! In our area, it’s not just a restaurant’s food that stands out. Thanks to a few local architects and designers, the atmosphere at these five new spots is adding some serious flavor, too.

Vitae Spirits

The most difficult task with this space, says Alloy Workshop’s Dan Zimmerman, was creating an intimate environment for guests within such a large room. The goal was “refined, yet warm and comfortable”—no easy feat in Vitae’s tall, narrow, long space. But a lowered wood ceiling homes in on the bar area, and above it hangs a dense row of pendant lights whose copper interior echoes the copper still nearby, “tying the tasting side to the production side of the space,” Zimmerman says.

One advantage of the room, says Zimmerman, was the building’s street-facing windows. They allow natural light in “to highlight [Vitae’s] beautiful still and bring daylight to patrons visiting during the early evening or brunch hours.”

Brasserie Saison

Fitting both a brewery and a restaurant into a downtown storefront wasn’t without its challenges. The big question? How to include both in a way that made sense spatially and aesthetically. Local architecture firm Formwork decided the solution would be to arrange the brewery on two levels. That way, “We could really highlight the most exciting part of the brewing for patrons and allow the fermenting to happen below,” says architect Cecilia Nichols.

“The fact that the brewery is in the same space as the restaurant allows both to adjust their art to the other.”

The end result is v. European. Up front, white oak pucks and linen-wrapped electrical cord mix with white oak trim and subtle textiles for a Scandinavian vibe. The pale palette also serves to bounce light around the room.

“We are very pleased with how a simple set of materials…can change both the section of a space and the sense of decorative richness,” Nichols says.

The Fitzroy

With only six months to transform downtown mainstay Blue Light Grill into The Fitzroy, JAID Style’s Jeannette Andamasaris had a challenge ahead of her. The tight deadline precluded any changes to the floor plan, so the designer stuck to surface treatments. Nothing too trendy, she says, but also nothing that would mimic something from the past detail-for-detail.

“The main goal was to mirror the vision they had for the food,” she says, “which was to take comfort food and elevate it.” The end result includes cozy tufted seating, painted millwork, subway tile behind the bar and, her favorite detail, a plaid floor.

“It’s a great example of taking a common and inexpensive material and making it special just by the rethinking the pattern,” she says.

One other big change Andamasaris made to the space—and one that helps further differentiate it from its predecessor—was opening up the front façade, which helped bring in some, er, new light.

Cho’s Nachos

It can be difficult, when designing a restaurant, to create a cohesive space—tying together bar, booth, family areas, individual seating, seating for groups. But, in the end, that turned out to be architect Dan Zimmerman’s favorite detail about the finished product.

“The range of varied dining spaces within the whole space allowed for all types of folks to share in a common experience,” he says. His design- build firm, Alloy Workshop, was tasked with giving the former McGrady’s spot a new look and feel without visually disjointing each dining area. To do that, they mostly stuck to the original configuration, focusing on what had previously worked, while still modifying and improving upon what worked in its previous iteration.

Says Zimmerman, “It was important to provide an open and welcoming environment that could appeal to a wide range of visitors.”

Junction. Photo: Stephen Barling
Junction. Photo: Stephen Barling


Despite boarded-up front windows and decades of deferred maintenance, the Belmont building already had plenty of charm. A second-story porch over the front entrance and a first-story wraparound porch suggested a vibe somewhere between New Orleans and the Old West. As owner Adam Frazier came to the decision that he would indeed make this an eatery, he and architect Greg Jackson began to envision the details that would make the renovation sing.

Throughout the building, the goal was to let the original elements shine where possible, while making sure that any new materials would contribute to a rustic aesthetic. Reclaimed wood is everywhere—some of it from right in the building, like the former floor joists that became the face of the downstairs bar. The bartop is reclaimed wormy chestnut, the back bar is roof sheathing from an 1840s cabin, and some tables are made from an ash tree taken down right on the property.

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