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Yabu Pushelberg on Restaurant Design Trends and Their Dream Project

Left: db Bistro Moderne, Miami. Right: Blue Fin, NYC.
Left: db Bistro Moderne, Miami. Right: Blue Fin, NYC.

Welcome to Dining & Designing, a new column in which Eater National joins with the forces of Curbed National to profile and explore the design of restaurants. Your fearless leader through this untamed wilderness will be Julie Earle-Levine, an Australian, NYC-based writer who has contributed to The Financial Times of London, New York Magazine, and the New York Times, among others. She has both a passion for real estate and a passion for eating. This will be fun.

[Photos: Yabu Pushelberg]

The design firm Yabu Pushelberg is everywhere these days, splitting its time between NYC and Toronto. Helmed by principals George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg—personal and professional partners—the studio has collected one James Beard Award nomination (for NYC's Blue Fin) and multiple awards from Interior Design magazine. With the new db Bistro Moderne in Miami having just been favorably reviewed and two other big projects about to launch around that region (the Ian Schrager/Marriott boutique project Miami Edition, as well as the St. Regis Bal Habour), the duo has plenty to look forward to. Here now, we catch up with them to chat about their own home, their dream project, and what we'll never, ever see in one of their restaurants.

Do you cook? Ever?

Glenn Pushelberg: We used to cook all the time. Thai cooking classes, Indian food. We did all kind of cuisines and then we got busy. We still have Christmas dinner, making everything including the chocolates. It is wonderful to cook. We love entertaining. Last weekend we christened the Perry Street kitchen. But usually we have it catered.

What's your favorite restaurant, and does design play a part in your choice? Can you deal with bad design but great food?

George Yabu: Our favorite restaurant is ABC Kitchen in NYC. The food is so clean and organic; the service, so honest. The environment doesn’t challenge you in the wrong ways; it's a very sweet restaurant. Growing up here in Toronto and spending half our time in New York, we find the best restaurants are the down and dirty ones, the ethnic ones. We still search for that in New York. We also love Fatty Crab.

What will your restaurant spaces never have—weird art, bathrooms close to the kitchen, crowded dining?

George: Bad lighting, uncomfortable chairs, acoustics you can’t talk in. There is a real art to designing restaurants. One of the things I like about DB in Miami is we were able to divide a huge space into a bar and, across the way, a dining room, yet we still created intimacy. There is a variety of moods, and the acoustics work.

Does the design of DB, or elements of it, mirror details of any of your other properties? If so, how?

Glenn: It was inspired by a little restaurant we did in Toronto over a decade ago called Brasserie Aix. It has rounded corners and is persimmon in color, which everyone loved, including Daniel Boulud when he visited. Plus, we were inspired by traditional French cafes in their proportion and coloration, a French feel and slightly tropical one to reflect the climate of Miami, and a Southern French Cote d 'Azure sensibility.

If you had to describe db Bistro Moderne to someone who's never seen photos, what would you say?

George: An unbuttoned elegance with a dash of tropical verve.

Can you point to a couple of specific details about the place that you feel are most interesting? Perhaps something having to do with the material palette, layout, certain nook or cranny?

George: Orange paneled walls made of plaster—the lines and texture have been etched off the plaster to create a handmade paneled wall.

Are there any trends in restaurant design right now that are off the mark?

Glenn: I get a little bit dismayed that restaurants seem a little bit too themed. Everyone is rushing to these restaurants in the Bowery and the Lower East Side [in NYC]. Can’t we be a little more creative? Vintage/industrial-designed hotels found in the Lower East Side and Williamsburg are a little too hipster—they're not real.

What's up with the trend of DJs in restaurants? Is that too much, or you can roll with it? Have you designed such spaces that require a place for DJ? How about in Miami?

Glenn: It depends on the concept of the place. But mostly, leave the DJ in nightclub, where he belongs.

What's your dream project?

George: We want to design an art gallery or art institution, including the landscaping. It can be anywhere in the world. I don’t think the place matters so much. It could be a very modest building—just very well executed. The Museo Picasso, in Malaga, Spain, designed by Richard Gluckman, was such a subtle yet perfectly scaled project. It can be small like this. There is a real need for more poetic spaces.

Head over to Curbed National for the rest of the interview. >>>

—Julie Earle-Levine

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