The Triangle - The Independent Student Newspaper at Drexel University

Restaurant course offers real experience

Students in this term’s restaurant design course of the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design were given the unique opportunity to take the skill sets they have learned and apply them to design a restaurant and bar for a celebrity chef of their choice.

Chris Sheffield of SLDesign in Kensington is teaching his first class on restaurant design with his business partner and co-professor, Kate Rohrer.

The course focuses on the design criteria for a restaurant and bar, providing in-depth studies relating to layout, efficiency and regulations.

“Within 10 weeks of the course, students will have designed a full-service restaurant and bar that meets code requirements as well as the challenges of the concept,” Karen Pelzer, associate director of the master’s program for interior architecture and design, said.

Students are challenged to take field observations in local restaurants to notice the space around them. They create sketches, take pictures and converse about their observations to give them a better sense of a functioning space. By figuring out what benefits or hurts a space, they aim to create a positive, healthy environment.

In years past, students only visited high-end restaurants to see how a bar functions and circulation flows, but this year Sheffield took the students to visit both a high-end and casual restaurant. Sheffield chose local restaurants Distrito, a modern Mexican restaurant and bar, and POD, a pan-Asian restaurant. Both are located in University City.

“The idea of going to both [types of restaurant helps] you really see what works and doesn’t work,” Pelzer said.

“We’re looking to see how things work and how things don’t work. Also, we’re obviously trying to get an idea of the aesthetics and how they’re applied and go with the concept or theme of the restaurant,” Emily Lopez, a junior majoring in interior design, said.

Lopez chose celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay and local restaurateur Jose Garces and used their personalities as her concept by pairing fire with earth.

“With Ramsay being such a flamboyant character, people know his attitude, so I thought that was a nice spinoff. You just place him against Garces and see how they play off of each other,” Lopez said.

Amanda James, another junior majoring in interior design, picked celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck to go along with her concept of a pan-Asian restaurant with an organic and sensual environment.

All students are required to come up with their own concept for a restaurant and bar. The concept must be clearly displayed throughout the space, not literally but through the use of materials, colors, circulation flow and furniture selection.

As students are encouraged to experiment with various materials, they are not assigned a budget for their space. However, students use Material ConneXion, an online database that has over 4,000 materials logged into it, for their projects.

Previous students have designed spaces from very bar-heavy spaces to traditional ornate spaces because anything is acceptable in the course as long as it can be related back to the original concept.

“There are definitely designs that are more outside the box than others, but students are also required to be code-compliant, so they can’t be too crazy. They just need to be able to defend their design with their concept,” Pelzer said.

The designs need to follow actual codes and regulations as well as codes related to the American’s with Disabilities Act.

Experience in restaurants can give some students the power to change what they couldn’t as employees.

“The things that bothered you as a staff member and you wish were designed differently, you can actually make designs to function better,” James said.

James worked on a similar project previously when she was asked to go on the Food Network’s ‘Restaurant: Impossible.’ The task was to completely renovate La Stanza on South Street in two days with a $10,000 budget.

“We are trying to create a space that is innovative and creative, but at the same time we are developing an understanding of how it functions,” James said.

The students are being trained to think around the idea of concept and how to design it while the space still is functional.

Currently, Sheffield’s company is taking the Victoria’s Secret store from Suburban Square and transforming it into a space suitable for restaurateur Rob Wasserman and celebrity chef Michael Schulson. This is the shell that students are using for their space, as opposed to previous years when the dimensions were fabricated.

“It’s a true testament to you as a designer when you meet with a client and are able to deliver something unique and special to them,” Pelzer said.

Last week The Philadelphia Inquirer contacted Sheffield about his firm but instead ran an article about this hospitality course Jan. 19 after he mentioned he was the professor.

Interior design majors in the undergraduate program are required to take Interior Design 442, a hospitality design course, as part of their fifth studio course.