East by Midwest *
At Japonais restaurant in Chicago, Jeffrey Beers reaffirms his ability to combine the sleek and the sultry
Aric Chen -- Interior Design, 4/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
It's not just the menu that offers tough choices at Japonais. (The seven-spice Kobe prime rib or the chestnut-encrusted chicken stuffed with shiitake rice?) Thanks to designer Jeffrey Beers, the interior of the Chicago restaurant provides several tempting options, too. Make a left at the glass waterfall wall near the entrance, for example, and soak in the red glow of the glass-canopied sushi bar in the formal dining room. Turn around to follow the ceiling's undulating oak fins to a more casual space, where guests dine around a four-sided velvet-covered banquette island that erupts in branches and moss-covered Styrofoam balls. Or descend the stairs to the nightclub, and amble beneath the vinyl membrane of the vaulted ceiling to arrive at a poured-concrete patio that stretches along the North Branch of the Chicago River.
"Guests today look for venues that offer multiple features," Beers says. "The idea is for them to come one night and return another, not having the same experience."
He should know. Since founding Jeffrey Beers International in 1986, he's become one of the more sought-after designers of restaurants and nightclubs, and it's easy to see why. Lively, seamlessly integrated assemblages of visual episodes, many of his interiors reveal a near-operatic flair for showmanship. "The whole purpose of hospitality projects is to entertain," he says. However, if light displays and spinning bottles represent one end of the Beers spectrum, richly textured elegance permeates the other. "I love color and materials—I think it comes partly from my training as a glassblower," adds the designer, who began his professional life as an apprentice to Dale Chihuly.
Japonais represents the latest career development for Beers: He's also a business partner for the restaurant, a 10,000-square-foot operation in a 1908 building that once housed part of Montgomery Ward's catalog operations. From the moment guests enter the moody formal dining room, they encounter what can only be described as a sumptuously orchestrated cacophony. Observe, for example, how the red textured glass awnings cantilevered over the resin-covered sushi bar complement the ceiling's copper trellises and laser-cut oak fins, both recalling Japanese architecture.
In the larger, more casual dining room, the ceiling fins' rippling profile contrasts with the rectilinear discipline of a ceramic-tile floor, the copper sheets cladding the fireplace surround, and an oak-framed screen with mirror panels. A 16-seat communal dining table stretches along a wall of generous windows curtained in a silk and metallic fabric—beneath three oversize hanging lamps with acrylic-covered shades. Meanwhile, the branch and moss-ball installation bursts from the center of the banquette island. "Some people think it looks like a tree. Others say it's sculpture," says Beers. "I love it because everyone can have a different interpretation."
Compared to the spectacle in the two dining rooms, a more intimate atmosphere can be found below, where the ceiling's vinyl membrane stretches like an umbrella over the nightclub. Orange-glazed bricks, backlit mirrors, and steel beaded curtains enhance the reflectivity; teak slats backing the bar instill texture. Custom tête-à-tête seating encourages interaction and "pushes the social dynamic," Beers explains. "You can keep to your own friends or, just as easily, engage strangers." Seating also includes gauze-canopied daybeds with river views—for a quiet breather from the Japonais experience. "It touches every sensual button and appeals to every adult age group," Beers says of the space. "And that's the culmination of just about everything I've learned in the past 15 years."
In the casual dining room, zebrawood tables surround a velvet-upholstered banquette. Copper clads the fireplace wall behind.
The restaurant's designer, Jeffrey Beers, is also a co-owner.
Beneath the ceiling's laser-cut oak fins, the casual dining room is divided by an oak-framed partition with mirror panels. At the rear, oversize acrylic-covered lamp shades hang above a 16-seat communal table. The floor tile is ceramic.
Copper-tube trellises enliven the ceiling in the formal dining room. Velvet upholsters the custom seating.
A teak bar and bar back and leather-covered stools lend texture to the nightclub.
A concrete column stands in the center of the club. It opens to a patio overlooking the Chicago River.
Just inside, a canopied daybed and faux-wicker love seats compose a seating group illuminated by an acrylic-shaded hanging lamp.
The club ceiling's vinyl membrane reflects custom tête-à-tête seating upholstered in velvet, cotton, and faux raffia.
Ceramic pendant fixtures light the stairwell leading from the restaurant to the club.
Glass canopies extend above the resin-topped sushi bar in the formal dining room. Beers designed the chairs, which are covered in faux leather. The floor is espresso-stained oak.