Immersive Restaurant Design Goes Over the Top in 2022

By Juliana Kerschen, Christy Eckert

Immersive design means that each element of a restaurant supports the point of view; nothing needs to explain itself, and everything works together to create a singular experience,” says Ray Chung, Director of Design for The Johnson Studio at Cooper Carry.

Immersive design. It’s not about outlandish conversation pieces and shocking colors, but a design that is carefully crafted out of a restaurant’s identity. This is one way The Johnson Studio at Cooper Carry makes a meal a true dining experience, and the success is unmistakable – more than 80% of restaurants designed by The Johnson Studio since 2013 remain open. While design is not the only factor in a restaurant’s success, it is part of the holistic restaurant concept and one that helps diners create a genuine connection with the space.

Emotionally driven customers are more likely to be repeat customers and recommend a restaurant to others. Instagram is a go-to for this type of real-world recommendation, with 90% of Instagram users following a business, according to Sprout Social.

“Clients bring Instagram up in conversations. They are looking for a design element guests can pose next to in an online photo. One that might become a viral image. This is one of the best tools for promoting their brand,” says Chung.

Here are just some of the restaurants The Johnson Studio at Cooper Carry has designed to make people stop scrolling and start making reservations.

Password and Point of View Required

The Cigar Club at The Ritz-Carlton is a great example of immersive design.

“One of the reasons it won the HD Award for Best Design in the Club and Lounge category is that you step in and immediately know you’re in a cigar club. There are no contradictory notes to the design – people want to be there, which is why the membership to the club rose after it re-opened,” says Chung.

Situated within The Ritz-Carlton in St. Louis, our team was tasked with relocating and re-imagining the experience of a cigar club, one capable of hosting more than 300 members and offering 394 humidors.

To create a design that celebrates cigars, we took inspiration from 1920s speakeasies. A code word is required for the members-only club, and mystery lurks behind the details of the space. Inside, the dark and moody color palette, hues of brown and black, textured wallpaper, and sleek club chairs provide a sophisticated atmosphere where guests can comfortably relax and enjoy conversation and cigars with other club members. Pops of gold and green exude a sense of restrained luxury, as does the display of a classic smoking jacket.

The focal point of the design is a dramatic glowing bar anchored in the center of the space. With intimate seating for six, the trained mixologists become the focus of the experience, artfully crafting cocktails for the audience. The bar itself features brass and glass back-lit bar shelves, a burl wood and brass bar die, and Asian statuary marble bar top. The redesign has been a big success, with a 10-fold increase in membership since the opening.

Design Goes Down the Rabbit Hole

Immersive design has gotten more over the top, especially in contrast to the sleek, minimal style that more recently dominated spaces. In fact, Architectural Digest lists “maximalism” as one of the top trends of 2022. While some contribute this design turnaround to the increased time spent at home during the pandemic, Chung tracks this trend back to before the pandemic, with clients and guests looking for a sense of escape in their dining experience.

No restaurant showcases maximalism more than The Garden Room. Inspired by Alice in Wonderland and glamorous venues in London, the cocktail lounge resembles an outdoor garden with plants filling the space in all directions. From flower-enveloped, jeweled chandeliers to poodles made of moss to live plant trellises and hedges, the greenhouse-style transports guests from the busy Buckhead neighborhood to a different world. A white tree sculpture was custom made to fit the style, and this serves as a focal point behind the large bar. The color palette of jade and fuchsia also reinforces the fantastical design.

Art also plays a leading role and connects the 3,070-square-foot, enclosed terrace with Atlas Restaurant, designed by The Johnson Studio at Cooper Carry in 2019 and known for its premier art collection. A prominent feature in The Garden Room is a mural made in Italy with hand-cut glass tiles reinterpreting one of Gustav Klimt’s portraits of Ria Munk. This takes center stage in the outdoor area, adding to the dramatic effect.

The Garden Room won the ICSC Global Design & Development Award Gold in the Retail Store Design -Restaurants category. With more than 77k followers, it has been named one of the most Instagrammable restaurants in the city by Atlanta Eats. This is just one reason The Garden Room is one of the most exclusive and sought-after reservations in town.

Creating an Authentic Design for a Brand

Chef Ali Mesghali launched Rumi’s Kitchen with an authentic vision of a modern Persian restaurant that The Johnson Studio brought to life. To do so, designer Juliana Kerschen first needed to learn the subtle differences of designs that were authentically Persian rather than Moroccan or other styles.

We weren’t experts on Persian culture and had a lot to learn from our client. Through the process of designing multiple restaurants for him, we have learned what it means to create an authentically Persian design,” said Kerschen.

The movement of whirling dervishes, Persian calligraphy, and rustic old-world architectural elements inspired the design. Murals carved into the walls create a focal point in the dining room, while chandeliers jut across the walnut ceilings, mimicking the dancers. Traditional gold and Persian blue incorporated throughout imbue the warmth and history of the cuisine, which is on display in the blue tile-clad expo kitchen with Tandoor ovens.

Rumi's Kitchen DC
Whirling dervishes dance on the carved mural walls.

Since designing the original Rumi’s Kitchen in Sandy Springs, a suburb of Atlanta, the design has become a core of the brand, and The Johnson Studio has continued to work with the chef to open additional restaurants. Rumi’s Kitchen in Washington, DC was named one of the most exciting new restaurants in 2020 by Eater DC. The newest addition to the Rumi’s family opened in the heart of Atlanta in 2022, with an outdoor patio, chimney fireplace, and biophilia to distinguish the restaurant from the other location.

The Johnson Studio received the best type of accolade for the design – compliments from the chef. In an article for Atlanta Magazine, Chef Ali Mesghali said, “It’s very open. It feels like you’ve gone into Old Persia. This is the most beautiful restaurant we’ve built. We’ve outdone ourselves.”

With another Rumi’s Kitchen opening in Houston at the end of 2022, The Johnson Studio will have the opportunity to outdo themselves once more.

Small Space, Big Design

Glamour. Elegance. Indulgence. No other words will do when describing The Edith, a small venue concealed in Del Frisco’s Steakhouse in the suburbs of Los Angeles. Named after famous French singer, actress, and stage performer Edith Piaf, the lounge is a dramatic ode to classic Hollywood and the bubbly glory of Champagne.

A strong design narrative is where we start and what we always come back to when we need to make complex design decisions. People want to go somewhere that’s very distinguishable and very identifiable. They are looking for something that is not only going to look great in pictures but be an immersive experience,” says Johnson Studio restaurant designer Christy Eckert.

Guests enter from inside the restaurant via a hallway of sparkling wallpaper or from a secret outside entrance. The glittering space opens up to small bar with a large custom-designed lighting feature mimicking the movement of sparkling wine. Sequined drapery dresses the walls, while the light fixture illuminates the vintage ice buckets and crystal decanters. The contemporary pop art throughout the space was carefully curated to offer a contrast from the shiny décor and mirrored surfaces. Many of it was provided by local artists.

The bar won the 2020 ASID Georgia Design Awards, Commercial Hospitality Restaurants, Silver.

The luxurious champagne bar attracts energy in the heart of the space.

The trend of immersive design is not limited to just restaurants. Hospitality venues, like hotels and cruise ships, are increasingly looking to Cooper Carry to create high-end design with a recognizable narrative.

Let The Johnson Studio at Cooper Carry help you create a distinct style for your restaurant.

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