On the one hand, share only your polished, complete work; on the other, share only your polished, styled process. Where is the rambling, uninhibited road that leads to the finished line? A job’s exposition, the set up to the final reveal, is just as compelling to me as pulling the sheet off and staring at the fully executed vision we’ve been working towards all along.
Travis and I load up the six 10-foot-long tables we’d been working on in the previous weeks into the covered trailer. Then come the smaller tables, all the benches, the booths and banquettes, table bases, steel planters, the welders, saws, grinders, upholstery tools, fabric, one taxidermy bison head, the live plants, the saw horses, finally our bags, the dogs, then us. We’re sweaty at this point but have two iced-down waters in the cab with us as we slowly make our way down the rocky path from the shop to the driveway and eventually take the left turn onto the main road. We’ve got 26 hours to go.
The building started as a firehouse—you can still make out the areas of the space where the fire engines had parked and the stories-high ladder that they’d use. When I first saw it, the space had already undergone a transformation from fire station to restaurant. The walls were painted a mustard yellow with deep pops of red, Irish pub ephemera covered the walls, and the room felt heavy in spite of the natural light flooding into its high ceilings. The heaviest point was the dark mahogany bar, so deep and rich in color it felt like a black hole; everything else around it fought to not get sucked in too. But to Travis and me the bar sparked the inspiration for the entire space.
Past the overbearing tones of the space in that first site visit, we saw the transformative power of a good color palette and fresh paint and upholstery, light wood tones to play in the balance of bright, natural light and the rich, beautiful mahogany bar. Historic towns like San Antonio and New Orleans, Ernest Hemmingway’s “To Have and Have Not,” maybe; a walk into a crisp, part-tropical, part-familiar, comfortable space that you want to spend hours in.
Travis and I put a design plan together to execute everything from new lighting design to the botanical styling throughout. Part of the design included our own furniture pieces: TA Tables in solid pecan all the colors of honey with swirls of dark spalting that read like an ancient map; bent steel throughout the designs tying into the arches throughout the space and executed by way of table bases and our Estrella Benches; KKDW Stools in the lounge; KKDW Planters in raw steel; and a handful of custom details unique to the space like planters on top of the entrance vestibule and a live-edge cottonwood slab coffee table in the lounge. We paired the furniture and the new colors of the space with fresh fabric on bar stools and dining chairs, mimicking the live plants we brought in to bring Austin and old San Antonio to Downingtown, PA. New green tile encourages the dark bar to pop against the white and cream walls. And the bathrooms got a subtle facelift with wallpaper, paint, and new counters, sinks, and faucets.
I can hear the dogs breathing heavily in their sleep behind the drivers’ seat as the bright lights of oncoming truckers shine through the darkness and we unceremoniously cross from Maryland into Pennsylvania.
As the sun rises the next morning, we’re on site, putting finishing touches on the furniture we brought. The patio momentarily becomes a steel fabrication shop as Travis and I weld together planters and grind benches. The steady line of traffic in front of the building hollers out to us asking when the restaurant will be open.
Manhattan, Seattle, Far West Texas, Austin, San Antonio—I’m running through the list of cities in my head. Designing a space, building the objects and furniture and creating a feeling. Caravanning through America to do it injects adventure into the work we do every day. Like a cattle drive for design. It’s a feeling that solidifies the entire process, in a way. I’ve been having trouble explaining what we do as a company lately—but it’s exactly this. It’s an idea—a robust, round, rotund conception that takes into account all aspects of a space from design to emotion. We design it. Sometimes we include things we build; sometimes we don’t; but each time there's an element of unique inspiration that is born and cultivated within that particular space to feel right and to feel good. I can't wait to share the finished product soon.
In the meantime, Estrella Tacos y Mas is now open in Downingtown, PA, for you to see and eat and drink for yourself. I highly recommend.