An upscale, casual restaurant brand from Canada, Earls Kitchen Bar, is an 8,800-square-foot eatery, housed in a new mixed-use development in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago. Offering a sophisticated setting for diners to gather for a locally inspired menu, the space, conceptualized by Earls In-House Design Studio, has an open layout and rich color palette that warms up the cozy-chic interior, complete with button-tufted leather booths, a sophisticated paneled wood ceiling, and custom, structural chandeliers. Commissioned artwork paying homage to the city’s musical history provides the space with much-needed Chi-Town flair.
During the design process, the goal was to create a variety of “activity zones” throughout the restaurant without subdividing the space using walls. The project team utilized varying ceiling planes, materials, lighting, and millwork to establish these distinctive zones. The clever variations of textures, furniture, and color palettes visually guide guests into each section, providing an open layout with character.
Spread throughout the space, the artwork played an integral role at Earls Kitchen Bar, not just in demarcating the aforementioned “zones,” but by representing the restaurant’s new home. The locally sourced art pays homage to the spirit, energy and culture of the city. The space features custom installations from Chicago street artist FRESH and renowned Vancouver artist Ricky Alvarez, who created B-FLAT, a wall installation consisting of 60 cross-sectioned brass trumpets representing a three-second sound bite from Louis Armstrong’s version of “Hello, Dolly.” Alvarez arranged the trumpets to look like sound waves on the oxidized, green-copper panels, also representing the Chicago River. Another show-stopping piece is Erik den Breejen’s mosaic portrait of Muddy Waters, the father of modern Chicago Blues. In the mosaic, Muddy Waters’ face is filled with painted tiles that contain his lyrics.
MBH Architects worked closely with the Earls Kitchen Bar design team to ensure a continuity of the Earls aesthetic. This included the integration of genuine stone, tile, steel, and wood for a sophisticated, industrial look. Custom light fixtures are also a cornerstone of the Earls brand, and so MBH Architects coordinated closely with the lighting designer, electrician, and structural contractor to make sure the linear and bell-shaped chandeliers were properly supported in the space.
Another component of Earls Restaurants is location-specific menus and artwork. When it came time to add the latter touches, the design team reached out to local artists for input. Up-and-coming street artist FRESH, whose art can be seen adorning buildings throughout Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods, created a spray-paint on canvas painting of a couple on a park bench, bringing the vibe of the city streets into the space. The other featured artworks, created by Ricky Alvarez and Erik den Breejen, drew inspiration from Chicago’s musical roots, paying tribute to the Windy City’s heavy influence on American sound.
Creative collaboration was integral to the final refined edge aesthetic of Earls, pleasing the artists, owners, and guests alike.
Designed with sustainability in mind, the Earls Kitchen Bar brand focuses on energy efficient building design and custom LED lighting. MBH Architects worked towards LEED silver standards, conserving energy with state-of-the-art mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems. Reclaimed and repurposed materials also ensure the carbon footprint was kept to a minimum.
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CODA: Collaboration of Design + Art
The global online community that celebrates design projects featuring commissioned artworks.
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Art matters. Attention to the details of our environment leads to love of place, which brings us to take responsibility for the spaces where we live and work. And by extension, the people with whom we live and work. And by extension, to our local communities, our cities, our nations, and our world.
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