written by:
October 30, 2014
The duo behind renowned New York City studio Roman and Williams give Dwell a first look at the interior they designed for Upland, a new restaurant from Chef Justin Smillie and acclaimed restaurateur Stephen Starr.
Roman and Williams New York City restaurant design for Upland with leather, wood, and copper interior

Roman and Williams designed the interiors of Upland in New York City, a restaurant from Chef Justin Smillie (formerly of Il Buco Alimentari) and his partner, acclaimed restaurateur Stephen Starr. Named after the Southern California town where Chef Smillie was born, Upland opened on October 28, 2014, and offers California-inspired cuisine in Manhattan's burgeoning Nomad district, on Park Avenue and East 26th Street.

Photo by 
1 / 8
Roman and Williams New York City restaurant design for Upland with leather, wood, and copper interior

The millwork throughout Upland is white oak with copper accents; wall paint is the oil-based Hollandlac line from Fine Paints of Europe.

Photo by 
2 / 8
Roman and Williams New York City restaurant sketch for Upland with leather, wood, and copper interior

An original Roman and Williams drawing showing the design for the new restaurant Upland in New York City.

3 / 8
Roman and Williams New York City restaurant design for Upland with leather, wood, and copper interior

The floors throughout Upland are #1 Common white oak. The antique mirror on the back wall was sourced from Mirror Fair and customized by Roman and Williams with a white oak frame.

Photo by 
4 / 8
Roman and Williams New York City restaurant design for Upland with leather, wood, and copper interior

Leather booths line one wall along Upland's interior; windows look out onto Park Avenue South. The rich material mix continues elsewhere; the bathrooms are outfitted in tile from Design and Direct Source and the stairs sport rubber flooring from Pirelli.

Photo by 
5 / 8
Roman and Williams New York City restaurant design for Upland with leather, wood, and copper interior

Upland's bar is topped with Calacatta Gold marble; the custom bar stools are in painted oak.

Photo by 
6 / 8
Roman and Williams New York City restaurant design for Upland with painted glass pendant lamp

All the lighting in the restaurant was custom designed by Roman and Williams. Herves Descottes from L’Observatoire served as lighting designer on the project (who also worked on the firm's interior lighting for The Dutch and Lafayette).

Photo by 
7 / 8
Roman and Williams New York City restaurant design with glass and copper wall sconces

Custom wall sconces in cast glass and copper were designed by Roman and Williams.

Visit Upland at 345 Park Avenue South at 26th Street.

Photo by 
8 / 8
Roman and Williams New York City restaurant design for Upland with leather, wood, and copper interior

Roman and Williams designed the interiors of Upland in New York City, a restaurant from Chef Justin Smillie (formerly of Il Buco Alimentari) and his partner, acclaimed restaurateur Stephen Starr. Named after the Southern California town where Chef Smillie was born, Upland opened on October 28, 2014, and offers California-inspired cuisine in Manhattan's burgeoning Nomad district, on Park Avenue and East 26th Street.

Photo by Susan Getzendanner.

We interviewed Roman and Williams principals Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch about emotions and food, how the Badlands differ from SoCal surfer culture, and how to create a relaxed vibe through materials.

How do you approach each individual restaurant/hospitality project? Where do you start? What was the design brief from Justin Smillie and Stephen Starr?
We have a really emotional relationship with our clients, particularly when it comes to a restaurant project. We rarely get briefs, but instead start with the food. The inspiration for the food, and the words that describe the food and its essence, really are the inspiring force behind our design. Hospitality projects have a narrative as well, but it’s not quite as direct as with a restaurant. With a restaurant, it’s about feeding people, an essential act that we all engage in, and we start with that narrative and those inspirations. The food drives the details of design. 

How did you translate a feeling of California to a New York restaurant without resorting to cliché? What is the 2014 version of “California”?
Our connection to California on this project was Smileys connection to Upland – it’s where he grew up. It’s part of the “Inland Empire”; the Badlands is its nickname. It has nothing to do with surfing, Randy Newman’s I Love LA, or Hollywood. It’s an amazing, agriculturally significant cradle of earth at the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains where citrus, olives, grapes and other things have been the focus for 100 years. The California we are focused on now is high quality ingredients, its history of immigrants and their food culture, and the farming backgrounds of its oldest families. There’s much less focus on the beaches.

What sort of interior touches (furniture, lighting, materials) can translate to a residential environment? How much residential/contract crossover do you find in your design work?
Creating a soulful space is about using things you love, and when you truly connect with an object, it works in every environment. Methods that we love to use in restaurants or hotels can work equally well in a residential environment, and vice versa. There is a lot of crossover between the two. Restaurants fulfill an essential human need, eating. We love cooking and are very inspired by food, so that essential quality paired with a love of the medium of food draws out a lot of our creativity. It’s also really fun create custom items for our spaces, and mix them in with vintage finds, a practice that works well in both residential and commercial work. In everything we design, we want the end result to be a livable, comfortable environment. We believe that the key to designing a great public space is to make it feel a bit like home. Both are really about designing a place where people feel comfortable and want to spend time.

What’s the key to creating the right vibe in a restaurant in terms of environmental design (everything from lighting and sound absorption to the layout of the restrooms)?
Lighting and color has a huge impact on a space – we like to keep our restaurant lighting low and warm, and the colors a bit surprising. We use a lot of points of light which have been dialed down, to keep the lighting low but plentiful. That’s what makes something feel sparkling, beautiful, and special. The deep greens and fresh whites in this space, combined with the copper touches, create a very lively yet relaxed environment. Colors are always inspired by nature, in this case, the hillsides of California. The greens are the lush, rolling farmlands; the coppers are inspired by how that verdant hillside can change during a drought or cold season. These elements really define the intent of the space and enhance the California vibe of the food. 

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

45 dva 2270 persp1 cmyk 0
The prospect of retirement doesn’t just signal the end of a career; it offers the chance to recalibrate and re-prioritize in life.
July 25, 2016
18
You don’t have to choose between sustainable energy and curb appeal.
July 19, 2016
jakemagnus queensland 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
July 06, 2016
content delzresidence 013 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 29, 2016
abc malacari marwick stair 01 0
A simple set of stairs is a remodel’s backbone.
June 28, 2016
Design Award of Excellence winner Mellon Square.
Docomomo US announces the winners of this year's Modernism in America Awards. Each project showcases exemplary modern restoration techniques, practices, and ideas.
June 27, 2016
monogram dwell sf 039 1
After last year’s collaboration, we were excited to team up with Monogram again for the 2016 Monogram Modern Home Tour.
June 27, 2016
switch over chicago smart renovation penthouse deck smar green ball lamps quinze milan lounge furniture garapa hardwood
A strategic rewire enhances a spec house’s gut renovation.
June 26, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent coralie gourguechon treviso italy cphotos by coralie gourguechon co produced by isdat planche anatomique de haut parleur1
Coralie Gourguechon's paper objects will make you see technology in a whole new way.
June 26, 2016
green machine smart home aspen colorado facade yard bocci deck patio savant
Smart technology helps a house in Aspen, Colorado, stay on its sustainable course.
June 25, 2016
Compact Aglol 11 television plastic brionvega.
The aesthetic appeal of personal electronics has long fueled consumer interest. A new industrial design book celebrates devices that broke the mold.
June 25, 2016
modern backyard deck ipe wood
An angled deck transforms a backyard in Menlo Park, California, into a welcoming gathering spot.
June 24, 2016
dscf5485 1
Today, we kicked off this year’s annual Dwell on Design at the LA Convention Center, which will continue through Sunday, June 26th. Though we’ve been hosting this extensive event for years, this time around is particularly special.
June 24, 2016
under the radar renovation napa
Two designers restore a low-slung midcentury gem in Napa, California, by an unsung Bay Area modernist.
June 24, 2016
Exterior of Huneeus/Sugar Bowl Home.
San Francisco–based designer Maca Huneeus created her family’s weekend retreat near Lake Tahoe with a relaxed, sophisticated sensibility.
June 24, 2016
light and shadow bathroom walnut storage units corian counter vola faucet
A Toronto couple remodel their home with a special emphasis on a spacious kitchen and a material-rich bathroom.
June 24, 2016
Affordable home in Kansas City living room
In Kansas City, an architecture studio designs an adaptable house for a musician on a budget.
June 23, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment oak vertical slats office
By straightening angles, installing windows, and adding vertical accents, architect Aaron Ritenour brought light and order to an irregularly shaped apartment in the heart of Athens, Greece.
June 23, 2016
kitchen confidential tiles custom cabinetry oak veneer timber house
A modest kitchen addition to a couple’s cottage outside of Brisbane proves that one 376-square-foot room can revive an entire home.
June 23, 2016
feldman architecture 0
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 22, 2016
Blackened timber Dutch home
A modern dwelling replaces a fallen farmhouse.
June 22, 2016
hillcrest house interior kitchen 3
Seeking an escape from bustling city life, a Manhattan couple embarks on a renovation in the verdant Hudson Valley.
June 22, 2016
angular
Atelier Moderno renovated an old industrial building to create a luminous, modern home.
June 21, 2016
San Francisco floating home exterior
Anchored in a small San Francisco canal, this floating home takes its cues from a classic city habitat.
June 21, 2016
modern renovation addition solar powered scotland facade steel balcony
From the bones of a neglected farmstead in rural Scotland emerges a low-impact, solar-powered home that’s all about working with what was already there.
June 21, 2016
up in the air small space new zealand facade corrugated metal cladding
An architect with a taste for unconventional living spaces creates a small house at lofty heights with a starring view.
June 21, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent marjan van aubel london cwai ming ng current window
Marjan Van Aubel makes technology a little more natural.
June 21, 2016
urban pastoral brooklyn family home facade steel cypress double
Building on the site of a former one-car garage, an architect creates his family’s home in an evolving neighborhood of Brooklyn.
June 20, 2016
Modern Brooklyn backyard studio with plexiglass skylight, green roof, and cedar cladding facade
In a Brooklyn backyard, an off-duty architect builds a structure that tests his attention to the little things.
June 20, 2016
the outer limits paris prefab home living area vertigo lamp constance guisset gijs bakker strip tablemetal panels
In the suburbs of Paris, an architect with an eco-friendly practice doesn’t let tradition stand in the way of innovation.
June 20, 2016