The Cuban Connection
A Chicago restaurant and lounge by FAdesign is a long way from the Buena Vista Social Club
Cindy Coleman -- Interior Design, 11/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
When Barbara Gonzales and Jean-Jacques Chevron set out to open a sophisticated Latin-flavored establishment on Chicago's premier restaurant row, West Randolph Street, the duo of veteran restaurateurs called on FAdesign principal Gerardo Fitz-Gibbon. He was a natural choice. A fourth-generation Cuban—he gets his surname from grandparents who emigrated from Ireland—he holds strong opinions about contemporary Latin chic. A relative newcomer to the local scene, having spent two years at Lieber Cooper Associates before founding his own firm in 1999, he had nevertheless worked on a broad range of hospitality projects.
Once retained by Gonzales and Chevron, Fitz-Gibbon helped determine not only the restaurant's environment but also signature graphic elements and the name, Marysol. Its double meaning derives both from a woman's name (Marisol) and the Spanish words for sea and sun (mar y sol) . "The design strategy was to communicate 'global Cuba,'" says the architect, who chose to portray Latin culture in a forward-thinking, progressive way.
Taking the lead from the restaurateurs' culinary concept of exploring the connection between Cuba and Spain, Fitz-Gibbon's design departs from the media's 1950s retro depiction of Havana to meld expressions of Cuban and Spanish architecture and art. Within two turn-of-the-last-century buildings, Marysol's 4,500-square-foot space becomes a series of compositions presented in dynamic blocks of color and texture. A bar and tapas lounge occupy one of the buildings; next door are the dining room and show kitchen. Four portals connect the two sides.
Vibrating with green tones meant to evoke the sea, the bar-lounge is dominated by an undulating aluminum-clad bar topped with oak. Stools of polished chrome and leather-board provide seating at the bar. Along the opposite wall, atop multicolored carpet tiles, low modular banquettes can be rearranged to accommodate patron groups of different sizes. The slablike darker base cushions and lighter top cushions connect at various angles—like dominoes, Fitz-Gibbon says. Returning to the aqueous theme, custom pendant fixtures in a bright seaweed green were designed with fire-retardant stretch nylon pulled into a trumpet shape by a heavy metal ring at the base.
In contrast, the dining room's incandescent yellow-orange glow symbolizes the sun, especially as it's experienced in Cuba. The hanging art-glass installation that partially shields Marysol's open kitchen refers, for example, to the small colored window panes that Cubans traditionally use to diffuse tropical rays. Long rows of tables in three sizes give the room an easy, casual air that sets the stage for continuous reconfigurations in this half of the interior as well. For the dining-room's long walls, Fitz-Gibbon used an acoustical material composed of aspen-wood fibers to design graphic elements symbolizing an eclipse. "I love this material for its versatility and wonderful texture," he says. LED lights positioned behind the panels are programmed to change color and intensity.
To unify the two parts of Marysol, Fitz-Gibbon commissioned local artist Jeff Zimmermann to paint similar abstract murals in the appropriate palette. Zimmermann also contributed the acrylic panel paintings in the lounge area. His rendition of the movement and chromatic ranges of sun and sea, the piece is called Solymar.