The Edison bulb has had its moment, and while we still love ’em, there’s more behind the makings of good restaurant design than a series of dangling filament bulbs. As we amp ourselves up for the wave of exciting new fall openings around the country, we also wanted to look back on our favorite recent design trends. Some aren’t necessarily new innovations (case in point: communal-style dining tables), but attention should be paid to those that do it better than others — believe us, it can make or break a meal, regardless of what’s on the plate. Here’s what we’re trending heavy for right now.
1. Neon Signage Done Right | The red-glowing neon signs announcing storied institutions like Odeon and the Beatrice Inn in NYC have given way to new classics like Momofuku Milk Bar’s instantly recognizable “milk” sign, which can be seen at every location of David Chang’s fast-growing empire (as well as on the cover of its cookbook). Over in Denver, Linger restaurant owner and chef Justin Cucci came up with a clever solution to the pre-existing sign overlooking his new space. What was once “Olinger Mortuaries” became “Linger Eatuaries” with the “O” kept darkened (pictured). Williamsburg’s newly opened Wythe Hotel (fashioned from reclaimed signage, of course) and Mark Hix’s restaurants in London.
2. Living Walls | The urban dwellers that we are, it’s hard not to feel a little transported by the presence of large-scale interior greenery at Colonie, Atera and most recently, Governor (pictured), all in New York. Though the walls don’t necessarily provide the ingredients on your plate, fastidious locavores can look to the newest fleet of eateries like Rosemary’s and Blanca that are harvesting their own veggies and herbs on rooftop gardens.
3. Windowless Innovations | Another risky design challenged posed by some urban sites: a light-restricted, or even entirely windowless space. Major props goes to the Beard Award–winning team at design firm Bentel & Bentel, which gamely renovated Eric Ripert’s seafood mecca Le Bernardin with reflective, undulating panels to imbue the space with a light, ocean-like aesthetic. Similarly, Kutsher’s Tribeca (pictured) features a design-forward series of architectural paneling that easily distracts the eye. Though it shuttered this spring, honorable mention should also be given to Romera, which was also James Beard Award–nominated for designer Glenn Coben’s ability to transform a basement space into a light-filled, crystalline hideaway.
4. Communal Tables | The communal dining trend has been on our radar since Momofuku first opened its sliver of a space in 2004. Then, it was a design solution born from necessity, but these days, the communal table has become the focal point around which the rest of a restaurant’s décor is based. Truly, these fixtures are best at spots where plates are shared and plentiful, such as Red Farm (pictured), where the long central table lends itself to the rustic setting and unfussy, but superb, dim sum fare. Other recent favorites include Il Buco Alimentari and Isa in New York and Son of a Gun in Los Angeles.