text by SHANI SILVER
photography by MICHAEL WILTBANK
We’re all for taking a DIY approach to your space, but it’s pretty rare we hear of a hospitality group designing all of their own spaces from top to bottom, purely from inspiration they’ve gathered from Pinterest, magazines, and other creative sources. In the world of restaurant design, we see a lot of ‘gram worthy spaces, but Perla Cafe stands out. Restaurateurs Gabe and Gina Stulman recently opened Perla in New York City’s West Village, offering casual Italian fare in surroundings that are equally delicious. And yes–they really did design this space themselves! Learn more about their process and tour their delightful new space below!
WHAT INSPIRED THE DESIGN IN YOUR SPACE?
We wanted a contemporary design that would have both masculine and feminine elements. We envisioned straight lines and hard edges (which to me feel masculine), juxtaposed with a softer femininity in all the curved and rounded surfaces. You see this in the straight lines of the wood tables, and then the rounded corners and edges of the marble and the banquettes.
We also wanted the space to feel bright and airy, making the most of the amazing French windows that border the room by bringing in lighter textures like the marble bar and table tops, the tan banquettes and bar stools. The previous location of Perla was beautiful, but it could feel heavy and dark. In this location we wanted to make sure the energy and warmth of the great corner we are on was brought into the restaurant.
Gina and I both love the contrast of contemporary art and rustic pieces. We wanted urban elements that capture things I personally love, which is something all our restaurants incorporate. So we have hip-hop photography and sports images from the Sports Illustrated archives. And then rusticity with the ram’s head (which I loved as soon as I saw it because it’s more unique than a deer head).
WE KNOW YOU DO YOUR INTERIOR DESIGN YOURSELVES, WHERE DO YOU DRAW INSPIRATION?
Gina and I draw inspiration from everything around us – our travels, magazines, websites, cookbooks, film and art. We try to travel when we can, and like to take photos and mementos of things that inspire us when we are visiting other cities. I’m also a magazine addict and am constantly tearing out photos from the magazines I love (including Esquire and Bon Appetit).
When we were planning the design of the space, Gina and I pulled references and sourced pieces until we had something that we thought felt cohesive and captured the look we wanted.
During the time we’ve been designing restaurants our aesthetic has definitely evolved. Our personal taste has been very much in keeping with the restaurants we’ve designed at each point in time. So when we opened Joseph Leonard and Jeffrey’s Grocery, we loved a rustic, lived-in feel. Over time, I think we’ve come to like more mid-century modern but with quirky pieces thrown in. The look of our apartment has changed the same way.
HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT PLANNING OUT YOUR RESTAURANT DESIGN? WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT POINTS TO REMEMBER?
When designing a restaurant it’s crucial to keep in mind how important it is to make it comfortable for guests to sit for a couple of hours. We really want to create spaces that make people feel at home and like they can settle in. At the same time, it’s important to design spaces that function well. Especially because our restaurants are small, we have to think about maximizing the space and having a layout that works well for our guests and team to move around in.
WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN DESIGNING THIS SPACE?
The biggest challenge in designing any restaurant space is fitting the maximum number of seats without compromising comfort. Finding that balance is the hardest part.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE MEMORY OF THIS DESIGN PROCESS?
My favorite memory of the design process was a weekend where Gina and I booked a room at the Wythe Hotel and hunkered down, and did nothing but design for two days straight. By the time we checked out, we had a really clear idea of what we wanted the space to look and feel like.
WHAT IS THE BEST REACTION YOU’VE HEARD TO THIS SPACE?
I can’t say that there is one ‘best’ reaction, but every time someone has an honest and enthusiastic reaction when they walk in for the first time and say how beautiful the space is, it feels really good. We’ve been lucky that people step inside and are into it.
WHAT IS ONE MUST-TRY DISH FOR PERLA FIRST-TIMERS?
It’s hard to pick one. I’d say the Octopus with preserved lemon, Tokyo turnips and tarragon caper aioli, the Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe (which is a classic but our version is addictive), and the Polenta all’amatriciana with poached eggs from the brunch menu.
WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WISH EVERYONE KNEW ABOUT PERLA?
Half the room is for reservations and half the room is first come first seated, held for people who just walk in. We want people in the neighborhood to feel like they can just come by, even if they didn’t make a reservation. We’ll always do our best to make room for you and if we really can’t we’ll give you a call when seats open up. Also, weekday lunch started this week. When we moved to the new location, we changed the name from Perla to Perla Cafe because it’s important to us to have the accessibility of a casual neighborhood place that was also open in the light of day. Serving brunch and now lunch is a big part of that.
VISIT PERLA CAFE
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