By Lauren Jones
“The brief was to create something very rooted in the Midwest,” says Oonagh Ryan, principal of Los Angeles architecture and design studio ORA. While her creative musings lean more modern, it was a complex collaboration that led to the well-crafted interiors, plus 1,200-square-foot patio, of Old Pasadena’s Agnes. Run by chefs/owners Thomas Kalb and Vanessa Tilaka, the cheesery and indoor/outdoor restaurant celebrates both their professional pursuits as well as family ties—Agnes is named for Kalb’s grandmother.
In addition to the design scheme, which Ryan remarks could have gone “Disneyland country cottage quickly,” she faced another challenge when it came to the structure itself. At approximately 250 feet long with windows at either end and no alley for deliveries, the narrow former horse stable was an unlikely candidate for a restaurant. Furthermore, the façade had been listed in the National Register for Historic Places.
Taking inspiration from color palettes of the 1920s era, Shaker design, and Kalb’s myriad collected tchotchke, Ryan complemented the building’s brick and existing leaded glass transoms with a sage green exterior, oversized Roman-style doors, and pops of specialty materials. “It was a mix of high and low,” she says. A terrazzo bar was a splurge, while simple London Grey Ceasarstone was used for the cheese counter, while sophisticated pendants are paired with lighting fixtures in a custom wooden cage.
When it came to seating, Ryan aimed to engage the streetscape with built-ins underneath the operable bay windows. Textiles with select moments of color appear playful but don’t overwhelm the space, while the banquettes, which the architect originally envisioned in a creamy leather, are covered in a bold plaid, a nod to Agnes’ own home. “Thomas even said it looked like his grandmother’s sofa,” she recalls. Handcrafted chairs nod to traditional woodworking and align with the rest of the restaurant’s ethos. “It’s like your mother’s furniture that was passed down from generation to generation,” Ryan says.