A ‘father-and-sons’ team set out here to make a restaurant shaped around central and southern American foods. Together we wrote a brief. Its software was simple. We sought a diversity of spatial experiences of one simple square shell. We sought an open kitchen and a defensive bar. We sought a continuity of interior and exterior space, and seating for around a hundred. Overlaid across everything was a desire for the simultaneous delights of richness and decay. And the smallest budget per square meter that we have ever worked with.
This was a generic commercial tenancy shell. We set out here to make space that was dynamic to arrive and participate in, but still, stable and warm to dine in. The bar and kitchen are diagonally opposed across the room, that each might infer its own space before it. The glazing is set back within the form of the building, shaping an outdoor room that is sheltered on all but one side. The bar is pushed hard to that same frontage, that it might fold itself open and serve directly to the exterior; a beacon of light and action to those promenading outside. Out here, the restaurant announces itself. Inside, colour, light and detail beckon: a large room made from small things.
We sought a saturated and immersive environment. There was no money for large collections of catalogued product. Instead, we made everything ourselves. Walls and ceilings are hand-painted in grids rather than tiled. Even the floors are stencilled. Salvaged timbers line the walls and form bars. Sack cloth covers the ceiling, and upturned baskets form clouds of lampshades. Walls are rubber-stamped over and over in blue paint to relieve the austerity of raw hessian. We designed the staff costumes, branding, menus and graphics, then built the website. We hoped that in this broad approach to architecture we might find the immersive cohesion necessary for a restaurant with such rich ambitions. We hoped too that in this profusion of improvised detail, we would make space that felt dense, warm and charming.
We fought here for every scrap of material and atmosphere in a cheap, low-budget restaurant in a generic site. In place of slick finishes or art, 200 frames were stapled, tea-stained, lined filled with dead flowers and then glazed, on the floor of our studio. All the fabrics used in the restaurant were bought from canvas supply stores, and hand-dyed; we hoped specially mixed colours would make up for the humble textiles that carried them. Miss Clawdy embodies an ideology of humble invention rather than exquisite specification or technological radicalism. The extensions into physical making, web building, costume design and graphics is the furthest and broadest we had yet pushed architectural practice. We think the creative future lies is in transgressing all of these boundaries, and in using one’s own hands to refuse the constraint of poverty.
Photography by Jeremy Toth