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From subtle spruce-ups to full renovations, a dose of newness can revitalize a restaurant.

click to enlarge elements, re-imagined.
  • elements, re-imagined.

Renovations are sort of like haircuts. Sometimes you get one because you're craving change; your current look is tired or you're trying to reinvent yourself. Sometimes you get a haircut just because you need one---your bangs have grown out, you've got split ends. Andrew and Tanya King's decision to do some work to Da Maurizio last year fit into the latter category: the resto had the look, it'd just outgrown the space.

  After adding 800 square feet to the restaurant's kitchen, the Kings decided to convert a one-time storage room into a space that could act as both a private dining room and extra seating. "It was a challenge because it's a new space in a restaurant that's 25 years old, in a building that's 350 years old," says Tanya. "How do you create a new space that blends in with the old space, but also takes advantage with the fact that it was new?" By working with Jenett Bowdridge (of Duffus Romans Kundzins Rounsefell Architects Limited) they found the perfect balance between old and new---an electric fireplace modernized the room while the transition from the rest of the resto was made seamless thanks to new carpet and paying close attention to finishes and wood. "A perfectly achieved project is when you go to a restaurant with an expectation about what you're going into," says Bowdridge. "And when you walk into the space, the expectation is matched." 

 With 15 years' experience designing restaurants---and a resume that includes re-imagining Gio, The Bicycle Thief from Bish and Ryan Duffy's from Eastside Mario's---Dawn MacLachlan of MAC Interior Design knows the power of a good match. She prefers to start planning with a menu in hand. "Originally, somebody from away designed elements on hollis to look east coasty, just short of ropes and fishing nets," says MacLachlan of its 2011 facelift, which concentrated on details like lighting, upholstery, graphics and furniture. "They had a really good chef and a really good menu, but there was a disconnect." 

 She says any hungry patron should know exactly how to act upon entering a restaurant. "Food, to a lot of people, is comfort. So there has to be that comfort level," she says. "It's a balance of three senses: taste of food, look of the space and the level of service." MacLachlan points to the massive overhaul that turned the much-loved Bish into instant hot-spot The Bicycle Thief last year. The original Bertossi Group resto wasn't flawed---Bish had a product that worked, but a vision that outgrew it. "Ten years after opening Bish, they shut it down and opened The Bicycle Thief, with a total contrast of interior," says MacLachlan, who worked on the transformation that completely reinvented the location with a warm and welcoming, authentic vintage look. "It's the same owners, same quality of food and service, but I can't believe how differently people act in that space." 

 While MacLachlan says the wow-factor of a restaurant overhaul grabs the attention of the fickle restaurant-going population, little changes to a space's functionality, or a realignment of its image, can freshen up even an already established resto's identity. Even if, like many a haircut, nobody really notices what exactly has changed. "People don't usually notice subtleties," she says. "They just know how a room feels." —AS


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