Published on May 5, 2019

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Photo by Chase Daniel

For James Beard Award–winning restaurateur and chef Ford Fry, his newest concept, La Lucha, in Houston, Texas, brings back fond childhood memories: Noshing on the over-the-top fried chicken and Gulf seafood platters at the now-shuttered San Jacinto Inn. While the restaurant closed in the mid-1980s, San Jacinto Inn is, in a way, revived at this newly opened Houston hangout.

Fry’s eclectic yet homey La Lucha, Spanish for “the fight,” pays homage to the storied past of this beloved institution. Beyond serving up Southern classics, the restaurant provides a similar neighborhood experience the San Jacinto Inn once did inside a building seemingly untouched by time. Designed in collaboration with the Austin-based Michael Hsu Office of Architecture, Fry envisioned a space that was not only stylish but approachable.

“We wanted to create something that had the familiarity of someone’s living room,” says Michael Hsu partner Maija Kreishman. Ahead, the designers share their top five tips for creating a comfortable environment that’s ripe for casual entertaining.

Set the Tone

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For the lounge, Kreishman, lead designer Lysa Janssen and interior designer Chelsea Fanning selected an eclectic mix of furniture from a variety of time periods. Paired with the reclaimed wooden floors, plaster-washed brick walls, wood-burning fireplaces, and vintage artwork, a noticeable “sit down and stay a while” vibe begins to emerge.

Arguably, the main focal point of La Lucha is its bar. Further emphasizing the comfortability factor, it’s pieced together from vintage wooden cabinetry and a grandfather clock. “It’s something that really felt like it could be in someone’s home but with the grandeur of a bigger bar,” Kreishman says.

Curate the Right Mix

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To outfit the main dining room, the team of designers looked to a multitude of sources. “We went with [Fry] to Round Top to find inspiration and track down some pieces through vendors we had met there,” Janssen recalls. “A lot of it was finding things locally and coming up with all these eclectic moments.” To make the space feel timeless, it was also key for the team to mix both traditional and modern elements.

Add Nostalgic Notes

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While Fry was a child of the 1970s, the idea of bringing pieces from the era into La Lucha, like the British pub chairs, was more for effect. “The 1970s influence isn’t very overt, but there’s something about the air of that period that everyone can relate to even if they weren’t alive then,” Kreishman says.

In addition to using lots of wood and inherently comfortable building materials, the team decided on a color palette of rich reds, blues, and oranges, which can also be found in the funky artwork and vintage Turkish rugs. The team chose lush velour and rich leathers that had been worn over time that work toward creating a comfortable neighborhood gathering place. “By starting to see some of that wear, it feels like you can mess it up a bit,” Kreishman says. “We also have these nostalgic cane chairs that make it feel like you can just linger there.”

Introduce Playful Details

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Like with many a space, the beauty is in the details. In one corner, there’s a record player where patrons can play their own music. In the kitchen, the team designed a small cutout window in the oyster-shucking room to not only provide entertainment but to further keep La Lucha connected with its coastal roots.

For the walls, the team chose quirky art. “Some of the pieces were vintage, but we found pieces that had an edge to them,” Janssen says. “We wanted to create some visual interest and be more playful.” There are traditional portraits and nautical prints but also truly unexpected pieces. “My favorite is a piece called Cotton Balls,” Kreishman says. “It’s wooden and it actually lights up in the evening.”

Pay Homage to History

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While the interior design is definitely noteworthy, it would be a shame not to talk about La Lucha’s outdoor areas. “The building was designed so that it’s really centered around the courtyard,” Kreishman says. “There’s a live oak tree and vintage furnishings out there. The side yard lawn also has these faux cranes, which are a nod back to the Gulf. We just really wanted it to be a spot where you could have fun.”

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