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By Christy Rolf, Associate for The Johnson Studio
Plus guest authors:
Ray Chung from The Johnson Studio
22 July 2022
5 min read
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“Immersive design means that each element of a restaurant supports the point of view; nothing needs to explain itself, and everything works together to create a singular experience,” says Ray Chung, Director of Design for The Johnson Studio at Cooper Carry.

Immersive design is not just about outlandish conversation pieces and shocking colors, but a design that is carefully crafted out of the restaurant’s identity. This is just one way The Johnson Studio at Cooper Carry makes a meal a true dining experience, and the success is unmistakable – more than 80% of restaurants designed by The Johnson Studio since 2013 remain open. While design is not the only factor in a restaurant’s success, it is part of the holistic restaurant concept that helps diners create a genuine connection with the space. 

Here are just some of the restaurants The Johnson Studio at Cooper Carry has designed to create a memorable experience for guests. 

Password and Point of View Required

The Cigar Club at The Ritz-Carlton is a true example of immersive design. 

“One of the reasons it won the HD Award for Best Design in the Club and Lounge category is that you step in and immediately know you’re in a cigar club. There are no contradictory notes to the design – people want to be there, which is why the membership to the club rose after it re-opened,” says Chung. 

Situated within The Ritz-Carlton in St. Louis, our team was tasked with relocating and re-imagining the experience of a cigar club, one capable of hosting more than 300 members and offering 394 humidors. 

To create a design that celebrates cigars, we took inspiration from 1920s speakeasies. A code word is required for the members-only club, and mystery lurks behind the details of the space. Inside, the dark and moody color palette, hues of brown and black, textured wallpaper, and sleek club chairs provide a sophisticated atmosphere where guests can comfortably relax and enjoy conversation and cigars with other club members. Pops of gold and green exudes a sense of restrained luxury, as does the display of a classic smoking jacket. 

The focal point of the design is a dramatic glowing bar anchored in the center of the space. With intimate seating for six, the trained mixologists become the focus of the experience, artfully crafting cocktails for the audience. The bar itself features brass and glass back-lit bar shelves, burl wood and brass bar die, and an Asian statuary marble bar top. The design was a success, with a 10-fold increase in membership since the opening.

Design Goes Down the Rabbit Hole

Immersive design has gotten more over the top, especially in contrast to the sleek, minimal style that once dominated spaces. In fact, Architectural Digest lists “maximalism” as one of the top trends of 2022. While some contribute this design turnaround to the increased time spent at home during the pandemic, Chung tracks this trend back to before the pandemic, with clients and guests looking for a sense of escape in their dining experience. 

No restaurant showcases maximalism more than The Garden Room. Inspired by Alice in Wonderland and glamorous venues in London, the cocktail lounge resembles an outdoor garden with plants filling the space in all directions. From flower-enveloped, jeweled chandeliers to poodles made of moss to live plant trellises and hedges, the greenhouse- style transports guests from the busy Buckhead neighborhood to a different world. A white tree sculpture was custom made to fit the style, and this serves as a focal point behind the large bar. The color palette of jade and fuchsia reinforces the fantastical design. 

Art also plays a leading role and connects the 3,070-square-foot, enclosed terrace with Atlas Restaurant, designed by The Johnson Studio at Cooper Carry in 2019 and known for its premier art collection. A prominent feature in The Garden Room is a mural made in Italy with hand-cut glass tiles reinterpreting one of Gustav Klimt’s portraits of Ria Munk. This takes center stage in the outdoor area, adding to the dramatic effect. 

The Garden Room won the ICSC Global Design & Development Award Gold in the Retail Store Design -Restaurants category. With more than 77k followers, The Garden Room has been called one of the most Instagrammable restaurants in the city by Atlanta Eats. This is just one reason The Garden Room is one of the most exclusive and sought-after reservations in town. 

Small Space, Big Design 

Glamour. Elegance. Indulgence. No other words would do when describing The Edith, a small venue concealed in Del Frisco’s Steakhouse in the suburbs of Los Angeles. Named after famous French singer, actress, and stage performer Edith Piaf, the lounge is a dramatic ode to classic Hollywood and the bubbly glory of Champagne. 

Johnson Studio restaurant designer Christy Rolf says, “A strong design narrative is where we start and what we always come back to when we need to make complex design decisions. People want to go somewhere that’s very distinguishable and very identifiable. They are looking for something that is not only going to look great in pictures but is an immersive experience.”

Guests enter from inside the restaurant via a hallway of sparkling wallpaper or from a secret outside entrance. The glittering space opens up to a small bar with a large custom-designed lighting feature mimicking the movement of sparkling wine. Sequined drapery dresses the walls, while the light fixture illuminates the vintage ice buckets and crystal decanters. The contemporary pop art throughout the space was carefully curated to offer a contrast from the shiny décor and mirrored surfaces. Many of it was provided by local artists. 

The bar won the 2020 ASID Georgia Design Awards, Commercial Hospitality Restaurants, Silver. 

The trend of immersive design is not limited to just restaurants. Hospitality venues, like hotels and cruise ships, are increasingly looking to Cooper Carry to create high-end design with a recognizable narrative. 

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