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Online Exclusive - Oakleaf, Pittsboro, North Carolina

Jul 18, 2012


For upscale seasonal restaurant Oakleaf, which opened this past May in Pittsboro, North Carolina, the head chef, Brendan Cox—who owns the restaurant with his wife, Leslie—says the design grew naturally from the location. “We always knew we would do a French and Italian influenced menu and we wanted a space with ‘elegant rusticity’ that has a sense of place inherent in its location,” Cox explains.

It doesn’t get much more elegantly rustic than the restaurant’s location in Chatham Mills, a former textile mill constructed in the mid 1920s. The authentic industrial qualities of the historic space won them over: giant metal-framed windows allowing plenty of natural light and exposed heavy timber-framed heart pine trusses that rise 25 feet above the floor.

For the design, the owners worked with G. Taylor Hobbs of Hobbs Architects, “a local architect with real ties to the community,” says Cox. Although there was no formal design brief, the overall mood was “relaxed sophistication,” according to Hobbs. “Brendan's food is simple and clean, and presented in an elegant, yet unfussy, manner. We wanted the space to be a reflection of their dining aesthetic,” he explains.

In order to uphold the integrity of the space, the designers worked to keep everything exposed except for the private areas, and let the existing structure determine the floorplan. “We used modern, minimalist design as a foil to the historic space, which highlights both and makes each stronger,” says Hobbs. A reclaimed zinc paneled wall separates public and private spaces, a modern and artful complement to the heavy timber, and colors are kept muted and neutral throughout.

A challenge of the unique space, according to Hobbs, was working around the existing columns. “Incorporating a modern commercial kitchen was challenging,” he explains. “The layout for the kitchen changed multiple times to incorporate the support beams and we had to work the HVAC system around the pine trusses.”

Still, the benefits of the charming building far outweigh any design challenges. Cox’s favorite elements of the restaurant include reclaimed floors from a tobacco barn and “windows in my kitchen that are the envy of all my chef friends.”






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