Chef Sang Yoon—lauded for several Los Angeles–area restaurants—and business partner James Bygrave wanted to open a new southeast Asian restaurant that didn’t, frankly, dumb down the menu for southern California palettes used to westernized Asian cuisine. With this sophistication in mind, Yoon and Bygrave called upon Ana Henton and her Los Angeles–based firm, MASS Architecture & Design, to create an equally elegant backdrop for modern southeast Asian cuisine. Named Lukshon, the Culver City restaurant is earning accolades for both the food and design, becoming one of only three restaurants to win a jury-selected 2011 AIA|LA Restaurant Design Award.
Lukshon is located in the Helms Bakery District, a massive Art Deco–era baking facility whose tile medallions dating back to 1932—the year Los Angeles hosted the Olympics—proclaim it as the “Official Olympic Bakery.” The ovens now gone, Helms Bakery today boasts home furnishings and accessories shops, design studios, and restaurants. Yoon, Bygrave, and Henton collaborated closely on Lukshon’s concept and execution, creating a cool, crisp interior seating 60, full of refined and inventive details.
“Our first idea was to create a casual restaurant serving Asian street food and noodle dishes,” says Bygrave. “The building owner was keen on that idea and offered us this space, next door to our gastropub, Father’s Office.” Yoon, though, decided that Los Angeles had quite enough basic Asian eateries, and he began to add more complex and daring dishes. That encouraged Henton to create a more refined design, without sacrificing the relaxed, welcoming atmosphere the clients sought.
The first design challenge was to create four different dining environments within a lofty 1,200-square-foot space inside the existing historic building. While the façade of the building could not be altered due to landmark status, there was a wide opening to a former loading dock that the architects could fill with glass elements—two pivoting panes for ventilation and two angled doors within a steel frame. That provided a visual link between outside and indoors, and also bathed the interior with natural light. The open kitchen is on axis with the entry and is treated like a stage, entirely open to the rear wall, and as full of animation and enticing aromas as the Asian street vendors who inspired much of the menu.
Upon entry, a brushed stainless-and-teak bar to the right flaunts its wine selections in a temperature-controlled glass vitrine just behind it. Henton and Bygrave collaborated on the storage design, stacking the bottles on cruciform aluminum supports that are mounted on backlit strips. Adjacent to the bar, two communal tables have cast-glass tops mounted on slender matte-gold legs that give the illusion of them floating in the space. A low-height teak divider separates this open area and kitchen counter from a teak-paneled room that offers more tranquil dining. Here, single tables are lined up against the divider, and booths seat up to six.
“I like the idea of each area having its own vibe,” says Henton. “In the bar area, there’s a lively bustle, but the dining room is quieter. I calculated the width of the tables to bring guests closer together, while leaving enough of a surface for multiple shared dishes.”
Pale terrazzo covers the existing concrete floor and reflects light while sections of the raw concrete walls alternate with teak paneling. Glimpses of the bow-truss roof vault are evident between the cross weave of the drop ceiling: longitudinal panels of white enameled honeycomb aluminum for lightness and resilience, and lateral panels of wood suspended above. This open structure absorbs sound, compensating for the hard surfaces and absence of carpeting or drapes.
“What does it mean to design a contemporary Asian restaurant in Los Angeles and avoid kitsch references?” Bygrave asked. “We decided it should have a cool, minimal aesthetic that would incorporate traces of the old building and be enriched by subtle details.”
The rectilinear geometry of the dining areas evokes Japan, and the few decorative details have a Chinese flavor. The “L” logo of Lukshon is quadrupled and set into the terrazzo to appear like a traditional chop, the Chinese version of a rubber stamp for documents that is usually in red ink. Sprays of flowers, derived from a Chinese silk wallpaper that Bygrave’s godmother brought back from her foreign service, were abstracted by an illustrator and laser-etched into six of the teak wall panels above the booths.
A steel canopy that incorporates heating and lighting covers the outdoor terrace, which seats 35, and its folded profile and delicate supports have the character of a classic Chinese pavilion. Even the restrooms, with their ribbed glass vanities and delicately ornamented hand-basins, put a fresh spin on the aesthetic heritage of southeast Asia. c
Key Design Highlights
- Details enrich a refined interior, with glimpses of the historic structure it inhabits.
- Each dining area has its own distinctive character but is part of the larger whole.
- Stainless steel and glossy white surfaces reflect light, while teak and leather add warmth.
- An outdoor dining area features a steel canopy with a delicate, folded profile.
Designer MASS Architecture & Design
Client Sang Yoon and James Bygrave
Where Culver City, California
What 2,800 total square feet on one floor
Cost/sf Withheld at client’s request