Timothy Bass founded Columbus, Ohio-based Bass Studio Architects to be just that: a studio, one that did everything, soup to nuts. And since 1992, he and his Columbus, Ohio-based firm has done just that, offering “creative problem-solving” to clients, many of them restaurateurs, and most of them, repeat customers. Bass entered his first design competition, the 2011 AIA Los Angeles Restaurant Design Awards and won, receiving an honorable mention for the design of Edamame Sushi + Grill in his hometown. Here, he discusses how wanting to be a mechanic led him to architecture, his love of Peruvian food, and how less is ultimately more when it comes to materials.
1. Talk to us about Bass Architects.
I founded Bass Studio Architects in 1992. Leaving the corporate environment, I had an idea about a looser, more fun practice, modeled more on an atelier than corporation. I wanted to attract and nurture creative people, thus, Bass "Studio." We are a small firm by design; there have been no more than six designers at any time over the last 19 years. I do have a great network of outside resources (I call ‘paratroopers’) that allow us to build critical mass when we need. The office looks like a sophomore studio I am told. Sketches, samples, graphic samples, trace paper, and models are the primary decorative motif.
While we do not specialize, we have developed extensive expertise in restaurant design. We have also completed a number of smaller urban buildings; some very enjoyable and challenging projects. We are currently working on a project that may combine the two project types in a boutique hotel. We enjoy a cross fertilization of ideas from the wide array of project types we accept. Beyond conventional architecture and interiors, we have designed furniture, murals, light fixtures, artwork, and a unique deconstructed aquarium for one installation. We have designed menus, routinely provide branding and graphics; and recently, we provided smallware, selection, and purchasing services to help outfit a restaurant in Norfolk, Virginia.
My goal starting out was to be a ‘total design studio.’ We are close now. Our feeling is that it is all design; it is all creative problem solving.
2. What's your favorite part about designing restaurants?
TB: I am frequently amazed at how different functional and character requirements can be between different restaurants even though they are often projects of similar size and essentially the same program.
In addition to having the most complex functional demands of the project types we routinely encounter, restaurants are also expected to provide a transcendent experience. Whether theatrical, sublime, or otherwise themed, the successful restaurant will provide a remove from the commonplace of our everyday lives. Beyond the first impression and movement through the space, the design must also provide interest at the scale of the table for a period of time without subordinating the culinary experience.
It is also rewarding to start with a client or chef’s vision of this experience, to work through the design process and end up with a physical environment that is an expression of their vision.
3. What trends are you are paying attention to in hospitality and restaurant projects right now?
We do take the sustainable design impetus seriously. I hope that it is not a trend. Two of us in the office are LEED AP, BD+C and we are members of the U.S. Green Building Council. We have always practiced "performance design": value-oriented material selection with an eye toward long life cycles and durability. We’ve found that a well-conceived design concept does not require expensive or exotic materials (or the latest, hottest...). In fact, in the project that garnered the honorable mention from in the 2011 AIA Los Angeles Restaurant Design awards, the predominant finish was paint!
4. What's the most important thing to remember when designing a restaurant?
Food quality, consistency, and service are the essentials for a successful restaurant. If our work does not support these then we haven’t been of service to our client. Ambiance, culture, and art are overlays on the central mission of the restaurant.
5. You had designed three restaurants for one client. Can you delve into those projects a bit (location, concept, design)? Why were these a successful collaboration?
Actually, we have designed three restaurants for two sets of clients ,and I am working on the fourth for one of them. We have also designed three restaurants for one of the largest universities in the country.
Our J.Liu Restaurant and Bar clients, Jason Liu and his wife Tina, began their first casual quick-serve with a dream and willingness to work very hard. Their hard work has brought them to the point that they sold that business and have since worked with us on two successful upscale locations of the full-service J.Liu concept. The second J.Liu (third commission with him) unit was a new 18,000-square-foot building that included a banquet facility above the restaurant and service kitchen elements in the basement. We are working on a fourth that will occupy a large part of a block in an upscale community. The project is a mixed use that has been programmatically fluctuating from two to four stories.
Our Asian Gourmet & Sushi Bar client, Charlie Choe, began with a late entry into a project he already had under construction. At the recommendation of the builder of J.Liu, Charlie invited us over to review plans and offer comments in a space he had under construction. He hired us on the spot. We turned that unit around and have since completed two more units for Charlie. The second unit, Edamame Sushi + Grill (shown right), was our first design competition submission (we just haven’t felt compelled to pursue these in the past).
Both of these clients trust us. Both of these clients challenge us. With both of these clients, we feel a confidence to pursue interesting ideas and a familiarity that allows us to learn from each other. As a professional we often have a need to educate, but with successful and intensely caring clients, we have to remember to step back and allow ourselves to be educated.
6. Talk about a recent project you completed. What was the concept, solution, location, highlights?
I always say that the toughest problems generate the most interesting solutions. The Edamame Sushi + Grill project leasehold was a horribly long and narrow space with a simple storefront entry. We discussed a mezzanine to exploit the vertical space but there was an enormous girder in the center of the space. We solved this problem by creating intimate dining "pods" at various levels to frame the open kitchen, creating an active environment within the exterior green enclosure (wrapper), not unlike edamame beans within the wrapper.
Creating two very distinct sides to the narrow space visually expands the space and mitigates the narrowness of the space; in fact, with opposing "pods" elevated above the space at the ends of the long orientation, the design reverses the orientation of the space away from the narrowness and storefront issues.
7. What has been one of your most interesting or rewarding restaurant projects?
While winning an award for a recent project was "rewarding," I have to single out our first restaurant design about 17 years ago. We designed a contemporary Peruvian café, the Latin Rooster Rotisserie, for a client living in Columbus. He gave us a modern Peruvian artist for inspiration and street scenes from his hometown in Peru and turned us loose.The restaurant came off quite well. I believe my friends grew tired of me dragging them to the place. One of the first dates with my wife included dragging her to the Latin Rooster (I loved the food too).
8. What's your dream project?
I would like to design a large hotel. I would like to do large urban design; this was the focus of my master’s thesis. Perhaps, ideally, these two could merge into a design for a large resort. It is all design.
Source: Hospitality Design magazine (sister publication to Contract) and Culintro, a culinary trade organization in New York that brings together restaurant professionals, have teamed up to bring a monthly online Q&A with some of the nation's top restaurant designers. This is an excerpt from a recent installation of that column.