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Shawn Hausman on Music and Elements of Surprise

Buddakan in Atlantic City.
Buddakan in Atlantic City.

Welcome to Dining & Designing, a 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.

Shawn Hausman has created playful, vibrant hotels including The Standard Hotel and Spa in Miami, both Standard Hotels in Los Angeles, and the famed West Hollywood destination Chateau Marmont, not to mention a whole stable of restaurants for the likes of Stephen Starr. Hausman's eponymous interior design firm is a small operation, with just under 10 people and a dog all sharing space in their downtown LA office. Still, Hausman has earned awards for Starr’s new Philly restaurant The Dandelion and has plenty of cool projects on the go, including the second Little Dom’s in L.A. and a French-inspired restaurant in D.C. We talked to Hausman about his Bohemian childhood, working with Andre Balazs, and hotels in space.

What and who are your major design influences?
I find music very important. I always listen to music when I’m working. Usually it’s vinyl, so mainly jazz, classical, lots of film scores, an assortment of '60s and '70s music. Books—my library is an essential resource for photos and of course, cinema and travel. Jessica, my partner (and life partner) is a consistent influence. She is my sounding board. She keeps me focused and productive. [And] Salvador Dali for his irreverence and his devotion to gala.

What do you consider special about your own designs?
I try to make each place unique and take on its own personality. To me it is about creating an environment. It’s not necessarily about which chair to use; rather, the whole human experience, all the senses, from where you enter and travel through the space [to] how you interact with it. The conceptual design is the essential beginning.

What inspired the decor of The Dandelion in Philadelphia?
Travel. We did extensive research visiting historic pubs and restaurants throughout England seeking inspiration.

Does the design of it reflect or mirror details of any of your other properties?
Its eclectic nature—a layered depth—is consistent with many of the more "historic" projects. I try to have an element of surprise, things to discover in a place. John Huston, when making Prizzi’s Honour, in reference to the question of the film’s period, is quoted as saying: “It’s floating through time.”

You say you don’t go out a lot. So you are a hermit?
Maybe. I tend to cook when I’m home. When traveling it’s different. I have a son, August—he just turned 21—and I try to spend as much time with him as he will allow!

Name some trends you are liking.
It seems that people are trying to pay more attention to lighting. I think the food trucks in L.A. are a real opportunity for new chefs to do some really creative things.

Tell me about some projects you are currently working on.
We are working on a sister (or brother) to Little Dom’s, located in Studio City, L.A. We’re about to start a working-class, French-inspired restaurant with Stephen Starr in Washington, D.C. It will be much less of a specific theme than Parc, which we did with him in Philadelphia.

Stephen is a great client. He’s very passionate about what he does—he loves the process of creating new places, and is very supportive of design. If he believes it is important to the design, he will make it happen.

What will your restaurant spaces never have?
I would say, never say never. Sometimes a design calls for something you would never have expected.

How do you decide which restaurants/hotels you will do?
It is a combination of things. Certainly loyalty to a client is a factor. We don’t take on a lot of projects at once—we are a small firm and I like to keep it that way. The project has to be the right fit.

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

—Julie Earle-Levine

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