A pair of Asian-inspired motifs create a singular experience in a Chinese/French fusion restaurant in the Waldorf Astoria New York.
By Matthew Hall
Talk about a tight turnaround: The design team at Studio GAIA had roughly 10 weeks to convert a lobby-level space in the famed Waldorf Astoria New York hotel from Oscar, which featured American cuisine, into La Chine, a Chinese/French fusion restaurant.
The gold-painted dome at the center of the space was a holdover from the previous tenant, which aided the designers in meeting a tight deadline for creating a new restaurant there. All photos: Courtesy of Waldorf Astoria New York
“The owners’ goal was to create a restaurant that would appeal not only to hotel guests and New Yorkers in general, but also to Chinese delegates at the nearby United Nations (U.N.) headquarters,” says Studio GAIA founder and principal designer Ilan Waisbrod. “The accelerated schedule for opening the restaurant stemmed from the fact that the owners wanted La Chine opened in time for the start of the next session of the U.N. General Assembly, which was then less than three months away.”
In addition to dealing with that demanding timetable, Studio GAIA knew the restaurant it created would have to avoid being a “typical” Chinese dining destination, given the sophisticated tastes of its intended clientele. To start, the designers deep-sixed the deep red that characterizes many Chinese restaurants.
An intricate, Asian-inspired pattern is repeated in metal work throughout La Chine, helping to create depth and define a variety of zones.
“We were looking to create something that was unique and would also reflect the Waldorf’s heritage and history,” says Waisbrod. “To that end, we came up with a color palette with a heavy emphasis on black and warm-tone grey, with gold accents.”
Those colors permeate the 4,000 sq. ft. space, which is subdivided into three areas: a main dining room, a private lounge and a semi-private dining room. Underfoot, the designers installed a white travertine floor that unites the zones, highlights the dark furniture and adds a feeling of opulence, Waisbrod says.
With its crisp, clean lines and shimmering finishes, the restaurant's bar evokes a jewelry box.
Also present throughout are two traditional motifs from Asian culture: the cherry blossom and a traditional geometric pattern. “These features serve as our main textural elements throughout the venue,” says Waisbrod. “The cherry blossom is referenced in the wall covering in all three spaces, in varied color configurations to enhance each experience. We also translated this cherry blossom into custom-made laser-cut metal screens that split the space into smaller dining areas. The geometric pattern, meantime, counterbalances the delicacy of the cherry blossom, and was utilized in the back bar and in the custom folding screens.”
Serving as the restaurant’s literal and visual centerpiece is a gold-painted dome that is a holdover from the previous tenant. That installation, which is roughly 23 ft. in diameter, is complemented by an oversized chandelier. Underneath are a series of round banquettes that anchor the main dining zone.
“Everything flows outward from this central point,” says Waisbrod. “On one side, you have the semi-private dining area separated by custom screens, and on the other side is a bar that looks like a jewelry box when viewed from the main dining area.”
Waisbrod notes that the private dining and lounge within the restaurant “feature a plush, elevated design that creates a personalized and exclusive experience for VIPs. To help create that feel, we included a two-tier crystal chandelier and hand-painted wallpaper to convey a high-end, intimate vibe.”
Other Asian artwork reinforces the luxe vibe. Perhaps the most striking installation is the 25-ft.-long “Horse Scene” in the main dining room, by Anthony Baskin. “In Chinese culture and mythology, horses represent power and nobility, which made this a fitting piece for prominent display in the main dining room,” notes Waisbrod.
The end result of his team’s efforts, says Waisbrod, is “a one-of-a-kind fine-dining experience the likes of which the city has never seen before.” In New York’s hyper-competitive restaurant market, that’s no small feat.
OWNER’S REPRESENTATIVE/PROJECT MANAGER: Stys Hospitality
DESIGN FIRM: Studio GAIA: Ilan Waisbrod, principal designer; Junho Choi, designer/project manager; Maral Sarisozen, FF&E; Min Kyung Kang, assistant interior designer
SPECIALTY DESIGN CONSULTANTS: Anthony Baskin (artist); Clevenger Frable (kitchen); One Lux (lighting); Southport (MEP)
ARCHITECT: William B. Tabler Architect
GENERAL CONTRACTOR: E.W. Howell
FLOORING: AKDO; High Style Stone & Tile; The Rug Co.
LIGHTING: Santa & Cole; Dean Phillips Architectural Lighting and Design; Trans-LUXE
METALWORK: Metal Dimension
MILLWORK: Modern Woodcraft
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