But How's the Food?: Spacecraft/Kristofer Keith's Many Design Languages

Spacecraft, the design group headed by Kristofer Keith, has practically become synonymous with the revitalization of Hollywood's nightlife and dining scene. The firm's signature black and white signage, with its bold use of courier font, is a visual fixture around the neighborhood. Keith is the design mind behind Essex, Delux, BoHo, Kitchen 24, Ortolan, Señor Fred, to name a few. In-progress projects include Osaka on Hollywood Blvd., the former Forty Deuce at Melrose and Gower, Red Eye (previously Melograno), and Stout, which is across the street from Spacecraft's offices at Cahuenga and Selma.

Ambitious design idea man: Kristofer Keith.
Ambitious design idea man: Kristofer Keith.
Photo credit: Spacecraft

Squid Ink: How did you get started in hospitality design?

Kristofer Keith: I was living in North Carolina, and I started designing sculptural furniture. I started working on hair salons. From there I ended up doing clothing stores, and from that I did a nightclub and it was like, I really enjoy this.

I needed to move to a bigger market. I decided in Los Angeles there was nothing in design going on; it was a void. I relocated here in 2001. Didn't know anybody, didn't have a job, a place to live. I didn't even have a car. There were a couple designers working out here but they basically had a monopoly on everything. It was very tough to break in; it took me several years to get the first nibble.

SI: So what was your plan?

KK: I took a multi-prong approach. I said I'm not going to have a signature look. A lot of these guys repeat themselves ad nauseam. My things are all going to be individual. My second approach was I'm going to do what they can't do. I can do the interior decorating, I know how to get the permits, and I'm a licensed contractor, I can turn-key everything. Third, I would brand myself. You see my signs everywhere. I wanted to become omnipresent.

SI: How much do you think about the food itself?

KK: I always ask for the menu at the beginning. I usually want to know the name because that relays something. I always ask if it's a day or night restaurant; everything has one or the other vibe.

SI: How does your overall design approach work?

KK: I understand how [restaurants] work. The annoying things that I learned at back of the house I now implement into space planning. Second part of it is ornamentation and decorating. The final aspect is emotional design. When you go into the Bowery, it feels right for the space. It has to fit together. Kitchen 24 feels like it's supposed to be a diner. I really go out of my way to understand that part of it.

SI: What are your favorite types of clients?

KK: The ones that realize if you're hiring me, I'm an expert, this is what I do, just let me do my job. I don't like being micromanaged. And those who say, "this is what I want, do it." I tell my clients, you need to be able to describe in one sentence what your place is. "We are a nightclub." "We are a New York style pub." If you can do that, it translates well.

Keith takes on Art Deco splendor at Bar Delux.
Keith takes on Art Deco splendor at Bar Delux.
Photo credit: Spacecraft

SI: What places in L.A. do you like?

I like Sean MacPherson's places. I like a lot of Kelly Wearstler's stuff; I see a lot of people trying to mimic her but they don't have that understanding. I like most of Philippe Starck's stuff. When you go into Starck's places the wall outlet will be in the middle of an X of a piece of tile; that had to be planned way back when they were installing the socket. If you have a big budget, things should be like that.

SI: How is being in Hollywood part of your focus?

That was another part of my strategy. This where the synergy, where the media is. I wanted to be where people cared, where it mattered. I got in at the right time.

SI: What are some trends you'd like to see go away?

Flocked wallpaper. I'll go to trade shows and see a new material, and then two years later it'll be all over. The weakest thing you can do as a designer is find something cool and just put it someplace. That doesn't take any thought.


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