Allied Works Renovates the World’s Best Restaurant, Eleven Madison Park
Architect Brad Cloepfil, working with co-owners Will Guidara and Daniel Humm, drew from both nature and the restaurant's past to revamp the world-renowned culinary destination.
Brad Cloepfil is accustomed to designing really big buildings. From the beguiling curves of the recently opened National Music Centre of Canada to the soon-to-be-completed U.S. Embassy in Mozambique, the projects of his firm Allied Works are known for their grandness. But for him, projects of that scale are easy—it was a 2,900 square foot revamp of Manhattan’s revered Eleven Madison Park restaurant that prompted “the most intense stress” of his life.
For starters, the success of such a project lies in the tiniest of details. “Our work in buildings is about structure…we don’t rely on a lot of fancy finishes,” Cloepfil explains. “But with a restaurant, everything’s equal and has the same impact—every chair, plate, table base, everything.”
And then, of course, there was the pressure of knowing that the three Michelin star restaurant is currently ranked the best in the world. “I was really nervous because the room meant so much to people and it had such a great history,” Cloepfil (himself a longtime patron) says of the existing 90s-era interior. “But I knew it could be better—and it could serve the food better.”
It was equally important that the renovation aptly represent the vision of its owners, Will Guidara and Daniel Humm, who, after taking over the esteemed culinary locale from Danny Meyer in 2008, would finally have the chance to make it their own. “As an architect who designs museums, I see this as presenting the chef’s art,” Cloepfil says. “We spent a tremendous amount of time talking about the character and the quality of the room—how I wanted it to feel and how they wanted visitors to feel.”
But how do you decide what to retain and what to get rid of in such a beloved space, a space Cloepfil himself acknowledges is “one of the most beautiful rooms in New York?” The architect opted to maintain the spirit of the original restaurant while adding elements drawn from art and nature. The original design, by Bentel & Bentel, was overwhelmingly yellow thanks to its wood paneling—Cloepfil removed all of it and instead envisaged an earthier, more neutral palette with only light touches of wood. In addition to installing large mirrors to reflect the natural light from Madison Park across the road, the design also retains the original pendant lights and revolving door, both of which predate the restaurant.
For the furniture, Cloepfil envisioned a tactile, almost domestic feel, adding lamps and curved padded banquettes that felt more like sofas. Riffing on the restaurant’s recognizable leaf emblem, he incorporated a similar motif into the room’s ornamentation, basing it on the leaf veining patterns from trees in the nearby park. The design for the rugs also takes its inspiration from the imprint of wet leaves on the sidewalk.
“I learned a lot,” Cloepfil says of the interiors-focused project. “I’ve always been a fan of decorative arts and just haven’t had the opportunity. I love the discipline of a different design challenge and working at a different scale. Every single detail matters.”
The aspect of the project closest to his heart—as a ceramics obsessive—is the 18-piece tableware design developed with Portland-based Mudshark Studios. “Chef Humm’s ethic is about things being very elemental and clear, and strong, and direct,” Cloepfil explains. “The plates are like designing galleries and I wanted them to also have really elegant proportion.” The minimal bone-white dishes subtly play with light, shadow, and texture by featuring glazed and unglazed portions as well as raised edges .
As part of his creative process, Cloepfil is known for fashioning sculpture-like models for each project that, often incorporating unexpected objects like musical instruments, resemble artworks more so than the buildings they represent. So was there one for Eleven Madison Park? “No,” he smiles. “The space itself is it.”
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