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A Portrait in Design

Restaurant Architect Adam Tihany Captures Personality in His Work, Redefining the Spaces in Which We Live
Mervyn Rothstein
From the Print Edition:
John Travolta, Jan/Feb 99

(continued from page 1)

Vongerichten says that Tihany "immediately understood my philosophy, who I am, my style. He has a restaurant of his own, and he knows what a restaurant needs. He didn't come in and say, 'This is what I'm going to do for you.' "

For Remi, the designer's own restaurant, which he opened more than a decade ago in Manhattan with co-owner Francesco Antonucci, Tihany created a strikingly long and narrow space of cherrywood, maple and mahogany, with a brightly colored 120-foot-long Venetian mural and wooden flying-buttress arches that curve gracefully, offering diners the illusion of floating under a bridge in a gondola on the Grand Canal. Remi, which in Italian means "oars," resembles more than anything a boat. It now has an offspring in Santa Monica, California.

"The secret of designing a restaurant is not to get people in there the first time but to get them to come back," Tihany says. He and Antonucci have certainly achieved that--Remi is grossing more than $8 million a year.

Owning a restaurant, Tihany says, has made him a better, more knowledgeable designer. "Most designers focus on the dining area, the appearance of the front of the restaurant," he says. "But in truth the relationship between the front and the back of the restaurant is the key to a restaurant's success. Function matters. Are the service stations in the right position? Are they big enough?"

Tihany's office is set up to begin gauging his clients' needs as soon as they enter. "To me, a comfortable chair in a restaurant is of paramount importance," he says. "So we sprinkle some prototypes here and there, and when we do presentations the clients sit in them and I watch to see whether they are comfortable. Afterward, I ask them how the chair was. And if they remember, the chair is wrong. If they say, 'What chair?,' that means they were totally comfortable."

The chairs, he says, illustrate the one factor he believes unites everything he does. "It's a feeling of comfort, of ease, of relaxation," he says. "When people are in a restaurant I design, I want them to smile."

The designs for the new Time Hotel and the renovated King David Hotel are as different from each other as are Le Cirque and Jean Georges, and yet they both have as their goal that comfort, that ease.

"The design of the Time Hotel has a very specific philosophical theme," says Tihany, a design that reflects the trend in boutique hotels like the all-white Delano, in Miami Beach, and the Vermeer-themed Paramount, in Manhattan, hotels that give their guests unique and thought-provoking esthetic experiences. "I found some interesting books on color theory, and out of those I created the concept for the hotel. The rooms are very neutral, except for one splash of color, usually in the bedspreads and the headboards--red or blue or green or yellow or orange. In the room is a booklet with excerpts from the books' essays that connect you to the color via literature and philosophy. There is a fruit dish with fruit that has the same color of the room, so you can taste the color. In the bathroom, the amenities--the soap and the scent--are also related to the color, so you can bathe in it and smell it." He envisions guests returning to the hotel and saying "they want to experience yellow, or live orange, or feel the tranquillity of blue. When they make a reservation they can request a specific color."

The King David, on the other hand, was a renovation of a once-majestic and formal hotel that had lost its luster. "The mission was to restore it to its old days of glory. People when they come to the King David expect to stay at a hotel that hosted the great statesmen of the world, presidents and prime ministers; they expect a certain magisterial feeling," Tihany says. "My mission was to recreate this perception, but at the same time ground the hotel in Jerusalem. Not only the physical location but the design itself pays homage to the city--the architecture, the colors, the history."

The King David project also has a special meaning to Tihany. "It's the project of a lifetime," he says. "It's like restoring the Wailing Wall. I grew up there, so to come back as an accomplished professional and work on something of such importance is a wonderful feeling."

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