fD Interview

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fD Interview: Stephen Francis Jones

June 20, 2008
by Isabel Cowles
FindingDulcinea’s weekly feature offers interviews with intriguing people on the cutting edge of business, the arts, technology and journalism. This week, we talk with Stephen Francis Jones, a California-based architect who has worked on famous restaurants like Wolfgang Puck’s Spago, Steven Foster’s Lucky Strike and sushi sensation Kumo.

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Stephen Francis Jones fell in love with architecture when walking down the street in Boston. Originally from Florida, where most buildings were fairly contemporary, Jones was amazed by the beauty of the historical designs. After studying architecture in college and graduate school and working abroad in Barcelona, Jones had plans to open his own architecture firm. But when Wolfgang Puck fell in love with his work, Jones was swept onto a career path he never anticipated—restaurant design. Today, Jones does have his own architecture firm, which focuses on hotel, restaurant and spa design.
fD: What factors are unique to designing a restaurant?

SFJ: You have to make the back of the house, the kitchen, efficient. Then, you have to consider the front end, the dining space. It has to be artistic and intimate. I related it to designing a sports car: you have a sleek, sexy-looking body but you have to fit a nice big engine into it. And it all has to work perfectly, seamlessly.

fD: How much do you take cuisine type into account when designing a restaurant?

SFJ: Usually the chefs describe their cuisine to me and explain the atmosphere they’re looking for: sometimes they’ll say, we want a lot of energy, we want the kitchen to be an exhibition space, we want that to be a component of the dining. Or some will ask for a much quieter environment—they want the food to come out as if the kitchen wasn’t part of the space.

fD: Why do some architects focus so much on the bathroom?

SFJ: Lots of people want to make the bathroom a continuation of the diners’ experience. Using warm colors and textures can help people feel good also—you know, if it looks sexy, it makes them feel sexy.

fD: How do you get inspired about a project?

SFJ: Often a client comes right out and tells me exactly what they want. For example at Kumo they told me they wanted an all-white cloud, and a dramatically lit space with lots of white reflecting light. But sometimes I find clues from my environment. I always travel with a sketchbook to jot down details from places I’ve been to. When I sketch, I’m forced to think about proportion and space, so it helps me conceptualize a space better.

fD: Do you ever use old sketches on new projects?

SFJ: Yes. I’ve definitely started a kind of library. I keep all of these things that I can work into design eventually. And if a detail doesn’t work out, I just put it back in my mental library and use it next time. I pay special attention to designs that come out of a practical use, that have meaning behind them other than just being decorative.
fD: What aspect of doing a project excites you most?

SFJ: Watching something come to life. You think in the abstract for so long, designing and conceptualizing, but once you see the space coming together and you can actually get into it, you see the special qualities you’ve been thinking about for so many months.

fD: How has architecture as a medium evolved since you first began?

SFJ: I’ve seen a lot of importance placed on design. Think about the W Hotel: that really evolved what a hotel is. You can really build value by creating nice design. People will pay extra for it because it pushes things beyond the status quo.

fD: How has the Internet informed your process?

SFJ: It puts everything at my fingertips. If I need the detail of a product, I can just go to the computer, type in the name of the item and download the files and details and put things together. I don’t know how architects used to work before. I think they used to have to rely on what they already knew. Now the Internet allows you to rely on what you can find.
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