Old Meets New In This 1950s-Inspired Restaurant
Motel Morris is bringing classic Americana to the modern day.
Published Aug 7, 2017 4:00 PM
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On a busy 7th Avenue corner in the heart of New York’s Chelsea neighborhood is a restaurant and bar drawing inspiration from classic Americana. With ‘50s floral wallpaper in the bathrooms, ‘meatloaf and mash’ on the menu, and black and white “stranger art” on the walls, Motel Morris is a blast from the past. The name deceives, as it’s no hotel, but you can check in for the night for retro-inspired cocktails, design, and food.
Jessica Corr of Tourmaline, is responsible for the Americana design, whilemotel morris
co-owner Tamara McCarthy designed the graphics. We recently sat down with the pair to talk about #bathroomgoals, the perfect shade of blues, and pendants that can complete a space. Get ready to be seriously inspired.
Americana of a different era: Tell us about the design. Were you inspired by one space in particular from your past?
The design began with the layout and how the team wanted the space to function. We believe the key to a beautiful restaurant is to first make it easy on the staff so they can deliver the best service. What looks like decorative shelving, are actually functional stations.
We ran with the team’s idea that you can centralize the dining experience around an elegant bar. We were inspired by the thought and care they put into their craft beers and wines so we wanted to honor that. Everyone agreed this should be a place where you can feel comfortable eating at the bar, which led to the extra space on the corners.
We also thought a lot about how people dine, and what their journey is, from waiting for a table to planning a large group dinner, to just showing up at the bar for a meal. The layout creates spots for waiting, which are still unique and semi-private, as well as nooks for more private moments, a wraparound bar for socializing with strangers, and a niche for large parties.
The materials and finishes are about balance—how to make the space feel accessible and comfortable with a touch of opulence for date night. Then we focus on the details: the soft glow of lighting, the way the banquettes curve, how the wood terminates—little details that you don’t think you notice make the place special.
Tamara McCarthy:For graphics, I researched art, color, and typography of the 1950s era in depth. The idea was to bring that style and make it current. The imperfections of the logo and the playfulness of orientation and color are all referenced by graphics of that time.
The bathrooms are #bathroomgoals. Tell us about your thought process when designing a space that guests only visit for a few moments.
We all agreed the bathrooms should honor the motel theme and be over the top. We thought pink was a great contrast from the deep blue. We requested vintage wallpaper, and then left it to Tamara, who has a great eye—it’s wonderful to collaborate with another designer.
The wallpaper and pink toilet and sink are key (and not easy to find!). The wallpaper is from the 1950s and together with some art-of-the-moment and other vintage touches, like a chalkware fish, a vintage telephone, hairdryer, and ‘50s music (just in the bathrooms), we want to transport people to that era for the few minutes they might be in the bathroom.
The lighting fixtures are really purposeful and special, tell us about them.
We insisted on designing custom light fittings to give the space something special and provide great intimate moments. For the bar lights, the “bankers” lamp shade gave us a wider pool of light on the bar for dining, and gave the space a contemporary hybrid look that feels familiar and nostalgic but also seems fresh.
Much of the success in lighting is what you don’t see. It was important for us to have the right balance and make sure the customer always looks great in the space.
The blue tones in the space are so dreamy. How did you choose the color?
That particular color blue is very refined, but we tried to use it in a contemporary way. We played with the finish quality across the bar and ceiling, choosing where to have high gloss, lacquer, or matte finishes. The tiles add some texture and sparkle as well.
We custom painted the pink stars on the tile which added some flare to a simple navy tile. One of our bathroom doors is disguised behind a tile wall with scattered pink stars.
How does executive chef Bill McDaniel’s food tie into the decor?
The food has a nod to simpler ‘50s and ‘60s dishes and includes a lot of classics on the the daily’s menu such as the chicken paprikash, pot pie, and meatloaf and mash. The dessert menu also includes classic, nostalgic Americana sweets, like butterscotch banana pudding pie.
Let’s talk about the bar menu.
For our cocktails, we are always trying to stay current but never forget the classics. Some of our favorites are Between the Sheets (rum, brandy and lemon) and the Hanky Panky (gin and fernet), which for obvious reasons dapple with the fun playful nature of our motel theme.