The James Beard Awards, annually bestowed upon the best chefs in North America by the James Beard Foundation, also honor the best restaurant designs. On Monday, two winning interiors were selected from the six nominees announced in March—one each in categories of 75 guests and under and 76 guests or more—with the shared strain of food as the primary focal point.
75 guests and under:
In the 75 guests or under category, Grace Restaurant, in Chicago’s West Loop, took the top honors. Grace, owned by Chef Curtis Duffy, also boasts two Michelin stars for its cuisine. In a restaurant where tasting menus run more than $200 a head, local firm Lawton Stanley Architects was tasked with creating an environment that would support Duffy’s vision while still allowing his creations to serve as the main attraction.
As partner Christopher Lawton, AIA, sees it, so many formal dining establishments “have interior architectural elements that are over-scaled [to produce a] grandiose feel.” At Grace, the dining experience was to feel much more down to earth: “What we wanted to do was take the notion of an architectural element within the space and bring it down to the level of the diners,” Lawton says. To that end, milled brown ash decanter stands hang from the ceiling between tables to update the tradition of bottle presentation during service. Undyed wool and leather upholstery are paired with oil-rubbed bronze and steel in a material palette that echoes the menu’s approach to highlighting natural flavors. The open kitchen, which is tucked into a corner of the dining room, contrasts with the warm tones of the dining room with its white walls, glazing, and stainless finishes. Although photographs of the space show it with ample lighting, “when they actually do service, you have a dimly lit setting with lights in the ceiling that are specifically there to give downlighting to the food,” Lawton says. The design of the space makes the food the centerpiece of the experience so that diners can enjoy each carefully prepared bite—from black cod with osetra caviar, lychee, and chive, to whiskey bergamot huckleberry chocolate.
For more images of Grace Restaurant, visit ARCHITECT's Project Gallery.
76 guests or more:
In the 76 guests or more category, San Francisco-based Jensen Architects took the award for Shed, an upscale Healdsburg, Calif., eatery and general store. This Sonoma County space serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but also boasts a community gathering room, groceries, and even a fermentation bar within a pre-fabricated steel, wood, and glass structure. Owners Cindy Daniel and Doug Lipton—sustainable farmers in the nearby valley—expressed a desire to showcase and curate “an experience that shows off the Sonoma Valley,” says Lincoln Lighthill, one of the project leads from the Jensen Architects team. “What [the owners] are trying to do is so wrapped up in slow foods and the modern movement,” Lighthill says. “The architecture is trying to reinforce that.” In the spirit of the slow food movement, which focuses on regionally produced and grown foods specific to the local ecosystem, the architecture of Shed also aims to be sustainable: All of the wood for the interiors is urban salvage collected by a local arborist, and a rain garden filters all of the building's runoff.
The team from Jensen Architects created a minimal space that “allows the colors, textures, and smells of food to be the focus,” Lighthill says. To that end, the simple enclosure, modeled after a typical metal-clad agricultural shed, brings in light and air through a glazed front façade with operable garage doors. Large steel spans open up floor plates totaling more than 10,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space beneath Shed’s gabled roof, including walk-in refrigerators for cheese tastings. The Shed stands out from the more traditional buildings in the area: “We were trying to do something bold in that context,” Lighthill says, while still creating a venue for “a celebration of food in all aspects.”
For more images of Shed, visit ARCHITECT's Project Gallery.