If the fictional Vinny Chase were to open a restaurant in the fantasy Entourage version of L.A., chances are he'd go to Tag Front to give it the right look. The firm's founders, brothers Mehdi and Mandi Rafaty, cover a lot of design ground, from residential construction to retail stores to selecting nightclub wall treatments to furniture fabrication. West Hollywood-based Tag Front's interiors, such as Boa, Blue Velvet, Katana, the former Nacional/Paladar, and Takami/Elevate, have helped define a certain L.A. restaurant and club genre. Capitol City, the team's latest project to debut, is a posh sports bar and lounge located in the former Goa space at 1615 N. Cahuenga that opens on Saturday.
Squid Ink: How did you get started in hospitality design?
Mehdi: We started designing small places, and one of the reasons we got noticed by top restaurants was we started designing menus. That lead to being introduced to IDG and they found out we're architects and interior designers as well.
SI: How do tastes in L.A. and how people like to go out influence your work and design?
Mandi: The common thing is “see and be seen.” You might have a little privacy, but you'll always be seen by others. And as much as you can, bring the outdoors in the indoors, and blur the lines between the two.
SI: What makes L.A. an exciting place to work?
Mandi: People who get into these projects in L.A. — compared to Orange County where we started — are probably on the younger side, and a little bit more sophisticated. They like the modern, simple stuff that we tend to do.
SI: Are there design elements you've learned to avoid because of certain behaviors?
Mandi: Nice wall-mount fixtures in bathrooms in clubs is a no-no.
Mehdi: We hide them in the walls. Clubs are totally different. People tend to be different in different environments. We learned over the years that certain things you don't do in certain venues.
SI: How do you distinguish between being architects and designers, and use those labels?
Mandi: We're architects. We went to architecture school — SCI-Arc — which allows us to look at things in a different perspective.
Mehdi: We always consider what we do as the one thing. We want to have a hand in what the finishes are, and everything that goes into the project. But I think in L.A. back when we first started, people had their architects and their interior designers. And we brought in the talent to do the interior, and also the knowledge to do the architecture.
Mandi: I think there was only one client that said “you don't look like the kind of people that are going to pick fabrics for me.” [With] a lot of the things we do, the designs are more about the details and connections and how things go together.
SI: By now are you experts at how restaurants work?
Mehdi: We've been doing this for a while so we're good at coming up with solutions.
SI: So you could open your own place!
Mehdi: We tell our clients, you do what you do, we do what we do. It's exciting to think, “What if we owned our own bar?” But we've tried that.
SI: Did that experience help you empathize with your hospitality clients?
Mehdi: It was fun but it took away from what we really like to do. We do what we're good at.