“Full Circle Design™” | Winter 2004 Rambling

…or “Design Intervention,™” if you prefer. These names fit our approach to designing spaces for our guests. We wouldn’t recommend our process, even to our friends – sometimes it feels more like a curse than a blessing, but we have so much fun that we can’t imagine changing. The notion of writing about this came up because many people have quizzed us about “our process,” so we decided this would be a good way to answer. I know this sounds pat, but we “begin with the end in mind,” – the end always being “pleasurable and comfortable experiences for our guests.” We ask, “What, optimally, ought our guests experience when they arrive, while dining, en route to the restroom (this one is of particular interest to me),” and so forth. Then, after agreeing (which most often takes awhile), the Q-W Right Reverend Minister of Design, Don Rives, and I sit down and “commence arguin’” (we have never come to blows, but there have been some pretty dramatic demonstrations of exasperation).

From here we agree upon a sort of “vignette.” For instance, with the Green Valley Grill, the vignette was a fantasy that we had discovered an early 1900’s brick, Tuscan-style building that had once housed a mill or a store. With our Cary Lucky 32 restaurant, we began with a fantasy of a freestanding “art-deco” styled post-war grocery store. So, the first step with both of these projects was to design what we “discovered,” then we designed the restaurants to fit that aesthetic.

With the O.Henry Hotel, we wanted it to appear as though it were built as any city’s best hotel at the turn of the last century. We pretended that the late Charles Hartmann, the architect for the 1919 vintage O.Henry that stood in downtown Greensboro, was our advisor. We studied the design of the original O.Henry, and other Hartmann buildings, to come up with the various architectural features that we thought Mr. Hartmann would insist upon. Then we commissioned Chip Holton to create a painting of a hotel incorporating those features in the proportions we imagined. Only after all of that did we start putting lines on the architectural drawings.

Crazy, isn’t it? Like I said, don’t do what we do – it’s nutty – but it works for us. And, it’s a lot of fun. It’s childish and free and, in candor, it’s a wonderful indulgence. (As a side note, our friend Chip Holton shared Bruce Mau’s “Incomplete Manifesto for Growth” with us and it really struck a chord [brucemaudesign.com]. In it Mr. Mau says, “Process is more important than outcome.” To paraphrase his words, when the outcome drives the process you will only ever go to where you’ve already been. If process drives outcome you may not know where you’re going, but you will know you want to be there. (Reading this was affirmation that we’re not the only ones who go through our posterior to get to our elbow.)

Our mantra during all of our design processes is “It’s about our guest’s experience, our guest’s experience, our guest’s experience.” We just hope that you enjoy the spaces we create half as much as we enjoy creating them, and that the fun and excitement we have with this process shines through and enhances your enjoyment when you are in them. (I sure as fire hope that this doesn’t sound like bragging. It’s not. More than anything it is an excuse for how long it has taken us to figure out how to add outdoor dining to our Greensboro Lucky’s and how to enhance the outdoor dining experience at our Winston-Salem restaurant.)