If you live in New York City, you’ve probably been to one of Jeff White’s creations, even if you don’t know it. White is the founder of multidisciplinary design firm EAU, and has worked on a slew of commercial projects in addition to residential ones.
“I got my Bachelor’s and Master’s in architecture, so I kind of knew early on that I was passionate about it. It was a tough industry to break into, and it made me rethink the traditional boundaries of what I considered architecture,” says White of starting out. “But by working on everything from large scale renovations to interior projects to experiential fashion week shows, I was exposed to different types of design.”
White took this expertise and turned it into a business. He has spearheaded the design on several of the city’s most notable restaurants and shops, including Allora Kitchen, The Lately, and Dinnertable. He’s the creative mind responsible behind Chillhouse, our favorite cafe-turned-spa. His most recent endeavor is Brigitte, a recently-opened French-inspired eatery tucked into Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
“The design was about updating the space—there were a lot of structural issues—but also about keeping it simple, focusing on the layout of the space,” says White. “It’s equally capable of being an intimate restaurant and one that can be rented for events. The goal was to make it more comfortable and versatile.”
With white oak tables, marble counters, and custom lighting, Brigitte’s design definitely walks the line between simple and elegant. And in fact, when it comes to design White tends to err on the side of classic, eschewing trends in favor of timeless motifs. “I’m not a flashy designer! It’s important to mediate between classic, strong design moves and color trends and patterns,” he says.
That said, it stands to reason that someone who has worked so extensively with restaurant interiors would have some insight on the biggest trends in hospitality—and White definitely does. We spoke to the designer to get his take on the biggest trends from the past year. Plus, what to expect from restaurants in 2018.
On the biggest trends of 2017:
The most recurring thing we heard from clients this year was about greenery—I know it was Pantone’s color of the year! But especially for the New York scene, the main color palette was pink. Lots of dusty peach color tones and shades of pink.
Danish and Scandinavian design has been spot on in terms of high design too, and I don’t think that’s going away.
On the trend he wants to see stay next year:
Vintage pieces. Things you can’t replicate. Having one ‘signature piece’. It’s nice to have a story behind vintage pieces and sometimes it’s tough because they can get costly, but with Danish mid-century pieces you can even find them on eBay and refurbish them.
On the trend he hopes doesn’t come back next year:
Unstained wood! A lot of people associate unstained woods and ash in particular as being part of that Scandinavian-chic trend, but it’s definitely an opportunity lost. There are so many different ways to stain wood to add a subtle individual flair. It’s kind of that Apple Store aesthetic of untreated wood and brushed aluminium and I’d be happy to see both of those go.
On the materials we’ll be seeing more of in restaurants next year:
A trend I 100 percent see picking up steam this year [is] more sustainable or natural man-made tile products. For example, zellige, glazed terracotta, and terrazzo tiles. Some porcelain marble tiles have finally achieved a quality and appearance to compete with real marble, and companies like Florim USA have recycled products in large slab formats. These are all products that are more sustainable and durable than traditional options… and are only going to get better this year with a bunch of new products coming out from various vendors.
On his biggest design prediction for 2018:
It’s definitely going to be a lot more bold in terms of design gestures and color palettes, which I think is great. We saw this even last year with the pinks and greens, but those were much more subtle cues. I see 2018 as being more bold—for example, Benjamin Moore picked ‘Caliente’ as its color of the year.
On how to translate that trend to residential projects:
For me, it’s about implementing those pops without disturbing the clean lines and classic elegance that we try to push through in design.
So pick the classics and accessorize with those pops. This can mean with a slipcover or a throw or striking chairs—you can find incredible vintage armchairs and reupholster them with something bold. This obviously isn’t new and has been happening for a long time, but I see it becoming a little more prevalent.
On more general trends in the restaurant industry:
Multifunctionality; it’s important for a restaurant to feel equally as accommodating for a first date as for a birthday party. So for us, that’s slowing it down and creating different types of seating.
Also, fast casual looking more like restaurants, and restaurants looking a little more like fast casual.
On culinary trends we’ll see more of in restaurants:
One of the bigger trends I’ve seen with my projects is clients capping prices on menu items and creating smaller shared plates, like Spanish tapas. It doesn’t mean you can’t have these rich items on the menu, but by doing it tapas-style it really makes for a social space.
Stay up to date with EAU’s projects by following them on Instagram at @thisiseau.
All images by Eduardo Cerruti and Stephanie Draime.
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