George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg of New York-based Yabu Pushelberg went far above the oceans and focused on stargazing with their reincarnation of Chicago’s infamous Pump Room inside hotelier Ian Schrager’s new Public hotel. To take the iconic 1938 club room — a favorite among the Hollywood set in the 1930s and 1940s — safely into the 21st century, the designers hired Milan-based Dimore Studio to create 500 glowing cast-resin orbs lit from within to cast an intergalactic glow over the entire room. The effect is otherworldly without ever leaving the ground.
“A good gimmick will get people to dine there once, but it’s not going to bring them back,” says Siobhan Barry, a partner at iCrave whose inventive Koi seafood restaurant has been a Bryant Park staple in New York since 2005. At Koi a massive glass-fiber-reinforced gypsum fishnet bouncing off the ceiling “is designed to catch diners throughout the room yet create a certain intimacy at every table,” says Barry.
Bad-boy designer Philippe Starke’s influential Blue Door Fish restaurant has been renamed (to Bianca) and transformed … well, sort of … in the hands of designer Sam Robin, who opened up the space while retaining the room’s iconic billowy white draperies. After all, the wind-swept curtain effect has long been a feature of the Delano experience, and they are also good for the room’s acoustics, says Robin. Instead, the designer focused on creating a less pompous, more organic experience — an extension of the restaurant’s new farm-fresh Tuscan cuisine — “without making it all too Birkenstock,” she says. To accomplish the task, she added amoeba-shaped mirrors instead of art “to put the people on display,” cerused oak woods (a white overlay that gives a grayish, beachy tone), and eight larger-than-life linen-covered chandeliers to soften the room. “I was trying to bring down the ceiling a bit because it’s quite high and also because I think people look better lit under lampshades,” she says.
Just the opposite problem faced Gulla Jonsdottir of West Hollywood-based G+ Design when she took on the task of conceiving the new Lilium bar inside the basement of the W Union Square hotel in New York. The 1,600-square-foot subterranean space — formerly the Underbar with its coffered ceilings and closed cabanas — was confined and had low ceilings, “so what do you do? You make it bloom,” says Jonsdottir, who covered the ceiling in a massive water jet-cut steel forest of lilies, her favorite flower. “It’s hard-meets-soft and design-meets-creation from god with a bit of rock ’n’ roll thrown in for good measure,” says Jonsdottir, whose work spans the gamut from Richard Meier’s Getty Center in Los Angeles to the highly thematic Tokyo Disney Seas as a member of Walt Disney’s Imagineering team. With Lilium, “I liked this idea of people walking down the stairs and thinking ‘what the heck.’ By mixing an installation with architecture the room became more than a nightclub, it became something of artistic space,” adds Jonsdottir, noting how the whole dining/entertaining experience today “is kind of a journey of the senses.”