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Meet the Minds Behind Restaurant Design—Stephanie Goto

Sep 23, 2013


In 2004, New York-based Stephanie Goto opened her eponymously named architecture and design firm, leading to work on a range of stylish, glamorous restaurants there, including Morimoto with architect Tadao Ando, the revamp of Monkey Bar, and Corton. Here, she delves into her newest projects, pays homage to legends Oscar Niemeyer and Daniel Boulud, and points out the food world’s theatrical side.

                         

Did you always know you wanted to be a designer?

I knew I had a passion and drive to be creative.

                         
                                                                                        Piora
                                                                            Photo by Luca Pioltelli

What are some of your first memories of design?

In Japan there is a culture of attention for design and packaging, for everything from food to clothing. I was drawn towards the inherent sensibility and care that speak about a product, and inspired by this approach.

What about hospitality?
The grand and dramatic restaurant spaces of New York stand out the most. The Four Seasons Restaurant, the Quilted Giraffe, Gramercy Tavern, Gotham Bar and Grill, the old Aquavit, and Le Cirque 2000—all different expressions representative of the time, each with a distinct experience.

                                                  
                                                                                          Piora                                                                            
                                                                                  Photo by Luca Pioltelli


Growing up in New York, did that have any influence on your career path?

I was working as an intern at the Museum of Modern Art during the major retrospectives of Tadao Ando and Louis Kahn. I remember the full-scale models that were part of the exhibition. It was a wonderful place to dream every day.

Where did you go to college, and what was one of your greatest lessons learned?

Cornell University School of Architecture opened my eyes, showed me how to see, and taught me how to bring an idea to life through a critical process.

                                                   
                                                                                            The LCL
                                                                                   Photo by Eric Laignel


Where did you work before starting your own firm? Any lessons learned there?

Rafael Viñoly and David Rockwell were my mentors—both visionaries who engrained in me the art and magic of how to sell a project.

Why and how did you start your namesake firm?

I always thought that one day I would have my own firm. In the middle of a snowstorm one February, with no cars on the road, I walked to my lawyer’s office in the Empire State Building to file the papers to formalize my company. I wanted the birth date to be 02-24-2004. I was determined and still remain determined. It will be ten years next year.

                                                        
                                                                                             The LCL
                                                                                      Photo by Eric Laignel

What was your first reality check after opening it?
Balancing the business with the creative. Building my practice has been my MBA.

How big have you grown?

We are a boutique firm with a big vision. The size is that of one studio in a larger office. I love the intimacy and opportunity to have time to collaborate with each team member and each client.

You recently designed the LCL at the Westin Grand Central. Can you tell us a bit about its design aesthetic and highlights?

Being in the context of a hotel, it was important to understand the different functions required of the space together with the vision of the brand. We made a conscious effort to listen to all of the owners’ needs. At the Westin it was particularly critical for us to infuse their natural and holistic approach together with a space that could transform from day to evening. For the design, we were especially inspired by the linear lines of a forest of trees and the light that changes from day to twilight. We designed a ‘forest wall’ that defines the perimeter of the space. The forest is composed of repeated vertical wood fins with transparent, translucent, and reflective surfaces in between. The lighting plays a critical role in adding a layer of depth and mystery. To set the stage for the best coffee in the morning and the perfect cocktail in the evening the design had to be flexible, like a dress that works from day to night.

                         
                                                                                   The LCL
                                                                            
  Photo by Eric Laignel

How was it to design Daniel Boulud's home? What are some of the standouts of your design?

The collaboration with Daniel Boulud is the standout. When you have the opportunity to work closely with a visionary client the design is personal and it shines. Among the many custom elements, we designed a bespoke hexagonal dining table; it will soon be available in a limited edition.

You just completed Piora, in New York’s West Village. We don't want to say too much since it’s in our October issue, but can you tell us a few hints about the project and the space?

Piora is a downtown restaurant with uptown elegance. The design is holistic, from the logo, custom mural, and the furniture we designed to narrate the story. To understand its complete vision you must plan a visit and have the full experience.

What else are you working on?
We are using design to redefine a new Main Street in a small town in upstate New York. We are thinking about everything from the theatre, coffee shop, to housing. We are also designing a house, where the kitchen is the house, or as we call it a ‘chef’s playground.’

What is most challenging about the job? Most exciting?

The most exciting is collaborating with the best minds in each field and providing creative solutions that enhance the user experience from restaurants, to homes, to theaters—both temporary and permanent. The most exciting and challenging is executing the solutions within budget, keeping in mind at all times the integrity of the design and the client’s needs.

                            
                                                                                       The LCL
                                                                            
  Photo by Eric Laignel

What is the most important thing to remember when designing a restaurant?

A restaurant is a stage. The cuisine and the service are like theatre. The design must allow for the performance to come to life, both visually and functionally.

Is there an architect or designer you admire? Why?
Absolutely: my friend, the architect Kengo Kuma. His incredible, thoughtful ability to make simple elements look elegant, effortless, and timeless is inspiring. On top of his genius, he is prolific. I keep inquiring how he does it!

How do you first attack a project?

Understanding each client individually and starting a dialogue.

What’s the process?

Telling a story and creating an experience using design and details as our ingredients.

What would be your dream project and why?
One that combines food, culture, arts, and performance in a cohesive journey. Do you know of any? We have been warming up some time now. I am ready.

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would they be?

Oscar Niemeyer. I always wanted to ask him out on a date.

Where would you eat, and what would you be having?
If his answer is yes (which I am confident), it would be a private dinner party curated by Ferran Adrìa, in Brasilia, on the stunning roof terrace of the Itamaraty Palace (the Ministry of External Relations building) by Niemeyer, at sunset. There would, of course, be Dom Perignon Champagne and many cigars for Oscar and our guests.

Which chef has recently caught your eye?
The magical Mani in São Paulo, Brazil. Helena Rizzo and Daniel Redondo have an incredible vision to combine indigenous ingredients with modern whimsy. It is the best meal I have experienced this year (so far).

Any new favorite place in New York?
It is a new old favorite: the bar at the Four Seasons. The Richard Lippold sculpture above is just amazing. I suggest ordering a classic vodka martini up with olives, and look up.

If you weren't a designer, what would you be?

A Formula One racecar driver.





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