OCEAN AVENUE — Stephen Francis Jones, founder and CEO of SF Jones Architects, designed the recently opened Del Frisco’s Grille at Ocean and Colorado avenues, as well as the Redwood Grille at the Santa Monica Place mall.
An architect with over 18 years of experience, Jones has worked on high-rise buildings in Boston to mixed-use housing projects in Barcelona as well as numerous restaurant projects.
To commemorate his latest works in Santa Monica Jones spoke to the Daily Press on his local projects and the relationship between design aesthetics and culinary delights.
DP: With such an expansive range of experience, what about architectural design got you hooked on the profession?
Jones: I got hooked at a young age. I’ve always been very inquisitive about how things work and how to figure things out. Architecture seemed to be the perfect venue for a combination of art and science in terms of creating something and then figuring out the technical part of how everything goes together.
DP: What is the difference in designing a restaurant as opposed to some other retail space?
Jones: In retail space it’s very formula driven. There’s a certain amount of distance you need to have from the exits of your mall and there’s a grid that usually lays out tenant spaces. In restaurants it’s a lot more organic, much more free-flowing in terms of creating an environment that is not just derived from formulas but derived from creating a spirit, a mood, a sense of place.
I often compare it to designing a Ferrari, or a sports car, where you have a very sexy body that has to look wonderful, but then you also have this big engine which is the kitchen and it has to be fine-tuned and run at top speed at all times.
DP: What makes designing in Santa Monica unique from any other city that you’ve worked in?
Jones: A big thing about Santa Monica is obviously the ocean and the views and the energy. Del Frisco’s Grille is literally across the street from the Santa Monica Pier. For the design that I came up with on that, I made sure that the bar was as close as I could get it to Ocean Avenue so that you would be able to feel as if the whole energy of the Santa Monica Pier, the iconic sign and the ocean in the background were as much a part of the space as it could be.
Redwood Grille is in the Santa Monica Place mall at the end of the Third Street Promenade with the same kind of energy that happens at Del Frisco Grille but different. Santa Monica is a very unique environment and tourist destination that allows for an active and vibrant environment.
DP: Can you walk me through some major design elements of Del Frisco’s and Redwood Grille that customers should look for when they go in?
Jones: For Del Fresco’s I would say the bar engages the exterior and engages the street. We have a windscreen around the patio so there is a sense of enclosure but you’re at eye-level with people walking by so you’re in the mix.
The bar scene is very important to [the restaurant owners] and so we tried to introduce a lot of color. We introduced the color in the furnishings and the artwork and also with the wines. We have glass wine cases that have red backdrops to them; you see the pops of red between the bottles. The color was very important. I thought the red, the gold, the yellow were colors of the sunset and evoked fun contrasted against a dark wood color that allowed them to be more prominent.
In Redwood Grille the client wanted a little more sophisticated, tailored look. The name of the restaurant evoked to me a feeling of being in a redwood forest. When you look at the trunks of the trees and the scale of the trees, they’re so big. Really what you’re seeing is different trees being lit differently so you see a lot of vertical lines that have dark and light spots. It’s almost like reading a barcode.
I tried to emulate the figure ground that you would see looking at a redwood forest without being too literal. I also have this huge 22-foot-long redwood tree that was sliced down the middle that’s referencing the name and creating a really spectacular table that opposites a floor to glass ceiling exhibition kitchen which is basically the energy, and what I call the ribcage of the restaurant, where you can see what’s going on to produce the food.
DP: What is the significance of a restaurant’s design to the culinary experience?
Jones: In my mind for a restaurant to be successful you have to be making A’s in all three of these elements: atmosphere, the food, and the service. You take one of those three elements out, the other two have to work harder to overcome the missing piece.
There have been some restaurants in Boston and New York that I’ve been to where the atmosphere is not really what’s played up but the food is so fantastically great and the service too that it kind of makes up for it.
Design can only go so far. In my mind, people go to restaurants because they want to be entertained. It’s not just a place to go to eat; it’s also for a different experience. When you get all those three elements together, the food tastes better, your company is better, and you’re in a good mood.