A candid conversation with American architect and designer David Rockwell
by Devanshi ShahDec 15, 2021
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Pallavi MehraPublished on : Oct 04, 2022
Isn’t there something so luxurious and relaxing about holidaying in the Mediterranean? That’s the vibe that the architecture and design studio Rockwell Group wanted to bring to their new restaurant Zaytinya - a new eatery by two-star Michelin Chef José Andrés. Authentic and innovative, the restaurant’s interiors and cuisine are an ode to the vibrancy of the Mediterranean region. Zaytinya, which means olive oil in Turkish, is a chic 140-cover bistro located at the Ritz Carlton in New York, featuring a light and neutral colour palette with bursts of a cyan blue that is reminiscent of the magnificent Mediterranean Sea. The restaurant design is contemporary and chic while still being warm and welcoming. At Zaytinya, playful curves and a kaleidoscope of textures transport visitors to a trendy bistro on the Mediterranean coast.
Primarily based in New York, with satellite offices in Madrid and Los Angeles, the Rockwell Group is an interdisciplinary architecture and design firm that focuses on innovation and thought leadership in every project. Founded by David Rockwell, and led by David and partners Shawn Sullivan and Greg Keffer, the studio is renowned for blending theatre and architecture to craft one-of-a-kind spaces across the globe. “At Rockwell Group, we do not have a signature style. Rather than adhering to a specific aesthetic, we approach each project from a fresh conceptual perspective. That being said, I think that our focus on starting from a place of narrative with each project is the fundamental link across all of our work. We begin every restaurant project by thinking about the chef’s point of view and backstory, and how these elements can frame the experience from the moment guests walk in the door to when they leave. Our goal was to bring the warmth and hospitality that Zaytinya is known for while creating a modern restaurant that seamlessly transitions from day to night,” mentions Matthew Winter, Studio Leader at Rockwell Group.
This new eatery is divided into distinct areas that the visitor discovers as they enter the space. With the interior design showcasing hues, textures and patterns inspired by the Mediterranean coast, Zaytinya is a luxurious take on a modern European, seaside bistro. Here, the first thing that draws your eye is the light and neutral colour palette of warming bronze metals and white oak woods, which create a striking contrast against the arresting blue highlights, pattern detailing and artworks. Moreover, the architectural finishes also feature a neutral base to complement the kaleidoscope of texture and pattern in the upholstered banquettes and at the bar.
While the restaurant is glamorous and sleek, it still has an earthiness and softness associated with Mediterranean architecture and interiors. This manifests in the exposed wood ceiling beams interspersed with acoustic linen-textured panels that offset the floor bands, crafting a sense of tranquillity and flow throughout the space. The expansive floor-to-ceiling windows are lined with blue ombré curtains and the adjoining wall comprises vast arched antique bronze mirrors and booth seating that enhance the warm leather detailing on the millwork credenzas.
The highlight of Zaytinya is undoubtedly its awe-inspiring bar design, occupying a large portion of the back wall of the space. “The bar has a blue lava stone top and chiselled stone bar die with a custom back bar screen composed of two-toned blue glass discs inspired by the Greek evil eye motif,” mentions Winter. This light installation helps create a positive and upbeat ambience in the eatery. The breathtaking bar back curves right up to the high ceiling with an elegant sculptural effect.
The walls of Zaytinya are evocative of Italian columns with tambour details and a custom atmospheric plaster effect. Furthermore, the primary dining room features clusters of woven textile pendants in assorted forms and heights that hang from the high ceilings, casting a golden glow. Illustrations designed by Rockwell Group’s graphics studio have been hand painted on linen shades created by The Alpha Workshops, a non-profit that offers decorative arts education and employment to adults with disabilities. “We worked with José Andrés to develop the designs during the planning process. The drawings celebrate Mediterranean culture, architecture, geography, and bountiful harvests,” remarks Winter. An additional artwork, a custom mural of an undulating Mediterranean landscape, is placed at the eatery’s entrance where guests are welcomed.
Building on Chef José Andrés’ deep knowledge of Mediterranean cooking and years of research and travel, Zaytinya’s extensive menu features shared small plates of authentic fare, creative cocktails, and unique wines. The interiors of the restaurant complement its offerings and elevate the dining experience for guests. “In Zaytinya’s menu, José Andrés has an instinct for balancing flavour and texture with a blend of Turkish, Greek, Lebanese, Italian, and coastal Spanish influences and ingredients. Rockwell Group wanted to highlight everything that is synonymous with the cuisine and envisioned the restaurant as an abstract Mediterranean landscape. For the furnishings, we took inspiration from the architecture and design of these regions but abstracted them. Soft curves and a variety of textures transport guests to a modern abstraction of the coast. We also designed a custom Gio Ponti-inspired tiled floor, surrounding the bar, that depicts an abstracted olive and leaf, highlighting Zaytinya’s namesake—olive oil,” concludes Winter.
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