advertisement
advertisement

Design, Bitches: Meet The Architects Shaping L.A.’s Sprawling Food Scene

Movies, art, food, fashion: The impish architects behind Design, Bitches use the whole of L.A. culture as their palette.

This past May, octopus bacon–a little surf, a little turf–landed Superba Snack Bar in a spot on Jonathan Gold’s hotly anticipated 101 Best Restaurants in Los Angeles list. The food isn’t the only thing playing fast and loose with diners’ expectations. The interiors capture Venice’s mongrel vibe–Dogtown meets Silicon Beach. There are bike racks, of course, and artist and skateboarder Geoff McFetridge designed the wallpaper. But the zany details, created by Los Angeles-based Design, Bitches, keep going: A tile wall near the open kitchen mimics the inside of a swimming pool, ticking off the depths, and surfer-esque poncho fabric covers the banquettes.

advertisement

“Early in the process we were talking a lot about skateboarding in empty swimming pools and you can see that coming through in the finished project,” says Paul Hibler, foodie visionary and founder of American Gonzo Food Corporation, and owner of several of L.A.’s hottest restaurants including Pitfire Artisan Pizza, Superba Snack Bar, and Superba Food & Bread. Everything about the restaurant’s design mashes up cultural references in a way that only makes sense in Los Angeles’ sprawling food scene.

Coolhaus (Pasadena)Laure Joliet

It’s not a year to mess with Design, Bitches. Architects Catherine Johnson and Rebecca Rudolph are keeping pace with L.A.’s appetite for unusual, unstuffy food experiences. They’re on a roll with the opening of two new restaurants Superba Food & Bread in Venice and the Hollywood outpost of The Oinkster, a burger joint with a cult-like following; an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara; and the imminent opening of The Springs in downtown Los Angeles’ Arts District, a self-proclaimed urban oasis serving up yoga, organic juice, and a raw vegan restaurant, plus wine bar.

It’s a far cry from 2010 when Johnson and Rudolph founded their firm on a bit of a lark, entering an architecture competition together with an in-your-face name. The name could mean many things, but for the partners, whose chatty and overlapping conversation is inflected with art-house references and hip-hop phrases, it answers the question: What is architecture? It’s design, bitches.

The pair has a holistic take on restaurant design, considering the architectural context, the interests of the owners, the goals of the chef, and the specifics of the menu, as they create the narrative of the experience. But that could be said of many architects. What sets Design, Bitches apart is the way they use the whole of L.A. culture as their palette–movies, everyday materials, art, food, fashion. Their approach reflects the casual mixing-and-matching of cultures that has helped transform L.A. from a “culinary backwater,” to quote the Daily Beast‘s Andrew Romano, into one of the most exciting restaurant scenes in the U.S.

advertisement

“We are observers,” Rudolph says. “We’re constantly gathering inspiration from everywhere into our memory banks. We really like mashing up ideas in ways that are relevant to the project at hand and might feel familiar yet somehow a bit odd or unexpected. . . . Our designs are not about preciousness or minimalism. Our goal is to create social spaces that bring people together to share food.”

Superba Food & BreadLaure Joliet

To date, the two architects and their small support staff have designed around a half dozen restaurants and food-related venues, including a second for Hibler, Superba Food & Bread. They transformed a 115-year-old auto body shop into a 4,377-square-foot all-day eatery, serving up pretzel croissants in the morning and butcher’s steak with bone marrow bordelaise at night. Industrial wood trusses combine with Japanese cabinetry and wall-sized supergraphics. Huge garage doors roll up during business hours so the airy dining room stretches effortlessly onto the patio. Southern California design has a long tradition of ignoring the distinctions between indoors and out.

“The DB’s bring a quirky, intelligent, off center sensibility to the table,” Hibler explains. “They challenge the conventional norms of restaurant design. When you work with a typical restaurant designer they have their usual bag of tricks and solutions. I am looking for a slightly disruptive result.”

OinksterLaure Joliet

The growth of Design, Bitches’ practice parallels the changing food scene in L.A. Some food trucks begun in the free-wheeling craze a few years ago are putting down roots and adding storefronts. A couple years ago Johnson and Rudolph created brick and mortar outlets for Coolhaus Ice Cream–best known for their micro-trucks that serve up signature ice cream sandwiches with architectural names like the “Frank Berry.” They used the brand’s signature bubble graphics (rendered in neon, metallic balloons, and as wall murals) and a playful sensibility to transition Coolhaus into two 400-square foot retail spaces in Culver City and Pasadena.

For Rudolph, the migration from four wheels to four walls poses as many opportunities as challenges–excited audiences and expectant chefs, but also micro budgets. “We work with the clients to distill the essence of the brand and keep that vibe and culture wherever they go and grow,” she says. “You don’t want to lose community that gets created around the truck and the excitement of following it, but we also want to make comfortable places for people to gather. Their excitement helps feed our creative fever.”

advertisement

Asked about the latest crazes in Los Angeles’ ever-mutating restaurant scene, Johnson touts the bounty of tastes–gourmet burgers to raw entrees, pastry kitchens to wellness centers. “It’s busting at the seams with variety!” she says enthusiastically. “Trends continue to vary from fresh and healthy to rich and decadent at all price point levels. Mixed programs like The Springs allow us to experiment with our layering in new and different ways, scales, and overlaps. Variety and growth across the board make it great to live in L.A.”

About the author

Mimi Zeiger is a Los Angeles–based journalist and critic, covering architecture, art, urbanism, and design.

More