There Is an Artform to Effectively Translating Design from Words to Walls

visual storytelling, grizform design architects

Although discussing the theme and coordinating project materials for a new restaurant is important, the time and effort put into planning an eatery means nothing if the interior designer does not effectively translate the client’s vision. Not only does an unclear concept confuse guests, but it hinders the restaurant’s ability to craft specialized menus and events dedicated to a singular theme. Lack of clarity can deeply impact the experience for customers and employees alike, further emphasizing interior design and branding’s crucial roles throughout the process. The end goal is to properly, and effectively, tell a story through strategic design elements.

Estadio Charleston in South Carolina is a second location for this Spanish tapas restaurant. GrizForm Design Architects was challenged to ensure the new space would not
simply be a replica of the original.

When one thinks of the word “story,” the mind immediately goes to books or some form of written content. However, at GrizForm Design Architects, a Washington D.C.-based hospitality design and architecture firm, bringing clients’ visions to life through the art of visual storytelling is key. The firm’s overall approach is collaborative. GrizForm Design Architects comes together as an office and determines the framework for the design, developing public and private storylines guided by the client’s desires. The team’s belief is that spaces work best when layered, always leaving a new storyline to be discovered—or better yet, created.

Creating a Flow

Drawing from a region’s energy is one of the many ways GrizForm Design Architects turns its brainstorming sessions into a finished, well-composed interior. The team’s attention to detail, incorporation of unique materials and subtle historical references add those little nuances that drive an entire design concept home.

One project that really stretched the team’s design wings was Estadio, a modern take on the traditional Spanish tapas restaurant brought to the Charleston, S.C., area. The concept’s second location—the flagship restaurant stands in Washington D.C.—came with two challenges: One, GrizForm Design Architects was given a pre-built space and had to work around the intricacies of the existing floor plan; two, the team had to evolve and transport the Spanish theme more than 500 miles down the coast, ensuring the new space would not simply be a replica of the original restaurant.

GrizForm Design Architects’ belief is that spaces work best when layered, always leaving a new storyline to be discovered—or better yet, created.

In GrizForm Design Architects’ experience, most floor plans are not utilized to their full potential and are commonly overlooked during the development stages. Creating “microclimates” within a shared space is beneficial to a restaurant’s internal flow, along with increasing the possible depth of the design. Fluidity also is key; guests need the option to move freely without feeling crowded. Whether it’s tailoring spaces for small groups or larger parties, each zone provides an air of comfort. Pre-segmented spaces also ease internal coordination for hosts.

Estadio: Two Locations, One Story

When plans for the first Estadio location unfolded, the project focused on balancing Spain’s inherent strength with its historic grace. The design integrates time-honored Spanish materials and textures while incorporating modern lines and elements. Like the chorizo, manchego and pistachio-crusted quince pintxos, the D.C. restaurant’s design is a balance between tradition and innovation. Murals of early 20th century bullfights offset elegant pictures of flamenco dancers while vintage Spanish soccer plays on monitors above the bar. Here, the soccer player is a representation of the bull.

Still inspired by Spanish culture, the overall concept for Estadio Charleston is rustic and masculine, yet playful and energetic. Combined, the two restaurants create a lively restaurant and bar franchise that offers a modern take on traditional Spanish cooking, complemented by a dynamic wine and beverage program. While the initial location embraces the matador story and celebrates the protagonist of that narrative, the new concept is reframed, becoming
all about the bull. Highlighting the animal made way for an original storyline, playfully juxtaposed against the sister restaurant’s concept.

To seamlessly tell this story, Estadio guests are welcomed into the intimate eatery’s bar area, featuring a large communal table and decorative iron base, brightly lit by glowing traditional-style pendants. Reclaimed wood tabletops paired with leather chairs provide a distressed texture to the space while the bar’s large clavos add artisan detailing. Above, wrought iron is bent to look like lace. Vintage Spanish posters fill the more open spaces through colorful adornment.

The design team chose a color palette of bold reds, evoking the matador’s uniform, and Talavera-like wall tiles to complement the space’s intricate metal design and warm wood tones. Burnt, dark wood used next to the bar is modeled after the gates to the bullring with intricate trim and complementing hardware mimicking the handles and hinges.

At Estadio Charleston, a color palette of bold reds evokes the matador’s uniform and Talavera-like wall tiles complement the
space’s intricate metal design and warm wood tones.

As patrons make their way through the 39-seat dining area, the emblematic Estadio decorative metal screen encloses the kitchen bulkhead, adding an industrial flair to the restaurant’s red walls that stand behind. Diners are also given a front-row seat to the action in the kitchen—much like those with a front-row seat to a bullfight—with the extension of the travertine bar, where guests can grab a seat at one of the counter’s custom steel and wood bar stools.

The chosen elements provide a feminine perspective in a traditionally masculine space. In the Charleston location, one of the goals was to portray how the modern man can be soft and bright while maintaining the strength and composure of the bull—a rugged, strong being. For example, the wall mural portrays Pamplona’s famous “Running of the Bulls’’ sequence, showcasing a bull running through the streets and forcing the men in its path to concede. Depicted in black and white, the delivery is muted, increasing the art’s overall impact and enriching the traditional “man versus beast” dialogue. Even the bull incorporated into the tiled bar backsplash is tempered. The tile pattern retains a masculine, angular look, softened with pink, red and blue hues.

Enjoying the Experience

To GrizForm Design Architects, the final design plays a big role in the excitement elicited when walking into a restaurant for the first time. That built-in mystery enhances the overall experience and creates great buzz around the establishment. Customers like a little bit of a guessing game or elongated exploration. They don’t want to walk in and immediately say, “Oh! I get it.” Time is needed to fully absorb and grasp the clues peppered throughout a space and to develop appreciation for those descriptive nuances and surprises. The strategic design decisions work twofold—promoting a light, fun mood while evoking a subconscious loyalty that keeps repeat customers flowing through the door all year long.

About the Author

Griz Dwight, AIA, LEED AP
Griz Dwight, AIA, LEED AP, is principal and owner of GrizForm Design Architects.

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