Spend some time around Silver Lake and chances are you recognize Barbara Bestor's office, even if her name is unfamiliar. The SCI-Arc trained architect's practice is based out of a former hair salon on Fountain Avenue, the exterior of which serves as an ongoing changing mural project. Bestor is known for her residential, commercial, retail and now eating spaces (Intelligentsia Silver Lake, Lou, Pitfire Pizza re-dos and new locations), as well as her book, Bohemian Modern: Living in Silver Lake.
Squid Ink: How did you get into restaurant and bar design?
Barbara Bestor: The first real one that we did in L.A. was Lou. My friend had an idea that we would open a restaurant; I wanted to design one and he wanted to run one, so I was looking at spaces. I went to [a friend of a friend] to get feedback about how he went about finding a location, and it was this guy Lou Amdur. It became “how do you do some stuff that's not that expensive but high design.”
S.I.: What lessons from retail design have you been able to apply to restaurant design?
B.B.:A lot, actually. The issue is how to make a space that's like a domestic space but for many different kinds of people. [At Intelligentsia] the big issue was being able to put something there in Sunset Junction, which is a very sensitive place, where it doesn't feel like some agent of gentrification or something that's too new new that would be vilified or wrong. So I was trying to do something that would look like it might have already been there before. Unlike Lou, which is in a mini-mall, this one allowed me to deal with the street, which is even more public.
S.I.: How do you differentiate being an architect and designer?
B.B.: I think there's been a somewhat artificial separation. It's part of that high capitalist, deep specialization trend. Traditionally a lot of that turf was the same turf. The Moderns were doing soup to nuts.
S.I.: What are some places in L.A. that are particularly well designed and you enjoy?
B.B.: I really like the Schweitzer BIM courtyard at Campanile. Musso & Frank. I like Axe in Venice. I love Speranza in Silver Lake. I like Wurstkuche; it looks like a SCI-Arc project, but you usually don't see restaurants that are that architect-y. People respond to it.
S.I.: What would you like to see more and less of in L.A. restaurant design?
B.B.: I think the places that feel personal and intimate and not blinged out are a good thing. And single-minded obsessiveness in food is going to translate in design.
S.I.: So have you thought about food trucks as a design thing?
B.B.: I like the red [Let's Be] Frank one. I like that one in Marfa, Texas. What's nice about those trucks is it's some person – or not more than two or three people – has a truck. They make it their own. They have their own food, their own weirdo thingie, their Twitter site, and that personal-ness is a big part of it. It's like slow fast food.
S.I. Do you want to pursue more restaurant projects?
B.B.: Restaurant design is the gift that keeps on giving because you really are part of the public discourse much more than if you're doing a single-family house, but there's a heck of a lot more freedom than doing institutional buildings. You really are thinking about all the factors. Not so much what people are eating but how they are eating and what could work. There's a lot of great information – both aesthetic and sociological – that goes into it, so it's a creatively rich area.