Scott Kester and Architecture TM create a ship-shape plan for San Francisco supper club Frisson
Zahid Sardar -- Interior Design, 2/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
With its expansive rotunda and circular dining room, San Francisco restaurant Frisson could have graced an early-20th-century ocean liner. Designer Scott Kester, a David Rockwell protégé, vowed to set the supper club apart from trendy models such as Lotus in New York and Rumi in Miami—projects he codesigned with Rockwell alum Nancy Mah. His first solo restaurant, a collaboration with Architecture TM, borrows the elegant circulation that once made dining on the high seas such a romantic pleasure. "Transatlantic ocean liners from the 1920's and 1930's have corridors opening onto a vast ballroom, this huge, glamorous space where everything happens," Kester says. "There's a feeling of luxury associated with that, and Frisson simulates that kind of fantasy."
After introducing Frisson's owner, Andrew McCormack, to his beloved collection of books on classic passenger ships, Kester won a home for his concept. McCormack liked how a large room could be made intimate, encouraging the kind of bonhomie he envisioned for his patrons. "People often go for cocktails, then to another place for dinner, and someplace else for music," Kester points out. "This space provides all of that."
The bigger challenge was shoehorning an 8,800-square-foot concept into the narrow basement and first floor of a four-story 1909 office building. Kester's plan clusters tables and booths in the center of the 1,400-square-foot main-floor dining room, with the mahogany backs of some booths forming a semicircle. Along the room's perimeter are private dining rooms with garden access, a bar and adjacent lounge complete with DJ booth, a showcase kitchen, additional semiprivate booths, and a raised tier with more seating. The basement contains bathrooms, a service bar, and a media room (available for private events of 50 or more), all placed toward the edges of the floor plate and centered around a prep kitchen and storage space. "It's outside circulation rather than centralized," says Kester. "And it's about sight lines. People here will leave the lounge to visit someone's table because they're able to see each other."
The main floor comes into view at the end of a 15-foot-long corridor, lined in leatherlike brown vinyl, that extends from an upholstered vestibule off the street. In the dining room, Eero Saarinen chairs complement a system of elliptical and horseshoe-shaped modular banquettes upholstered in tweedy burnt orange wool. Kester's custom tables are topped in mahogany. '
For the centerpiece rotunda, Kester worked closely with Architecture TM principal Tim Murphy. "We created that space from scratch," Murphy recalls. Widely spaced, multiple steel trusses replaced an existing central column, which had served to support the building's upper three stories. The 25-foot-wide, 13-foot-high dome that forms the rotunda is composed of seven precast pieces of glass-fiber-reinforced gypsum panel, plastered together on-site ("like a pie," says Kester) and suspended from the ceiling. The gypsum is perforated with circular cutouts that allow color-changing neon light to filter into the room through resin inserts. Behind the inserts Murphy placed his own system of polyester sleeves, gobos, and dichroic glass.
As with the dome, the three tall partitions of overlapping translucent resin panels that partially screen booths from the kitchen and lounge were conceived by Kester and executed by Murphy. "Thirteen individual pieces make up each partition. And each partition was hand-cut to fit," Murphy says. The floor of ebonized white oak and tabletops and millwork in stained walnut contrast the lightness of the partitions and orange wool seating.
Darker hues also enrich the edges of the 94-seat dining space. The 10-seat chef's table, in a private dining room, features brown tweed and leather seating under a pendant lamp covered in coconut. Adjacent to the lounge is a bar of espresso-brown plastic laminate that simulates wood grain; it's backed by Catherine Wagner's Flux Density, a 24-foot-long backlit photographic mural of champagne bubbles, which stands out against the cappuccino-colored vinyl and wool of Kester's custom hexagonal ottomans.
Occasions for social interaction abound. The bathrooms are unisex, divided only by a central black-granite vanity topped with Corian (private water closets line the walls). The bar is lined with stools that seat two. "Socializing is about visibility," Kester says. Here, no one ever has to dine alone.