As it entered a new decade under new ownership, the beloved neighborhood Italian fixture Serafina was in need of a refresh. Founded nearly 30 years ago, the restaurant has always aimed to echo the welcoming embrace of an Italian home, and has done so incredibly successfully, building a family of devoted regulars and eager first-timers. Serafina asked local Best Practice Architecture to tackle the design, which was completed just weeks before COVID-19 necessitated the shutdown of dining rooms across the city. Executive Chef and Owner Christian Chandler is excited for the day that he can share the dining room with the community again–looking forward, the team is releasing a preview to excite and inspire future guests.
What was once two separate shops that had since merged into one, the existing space was funky and eclectic– a collection of unique artwork, found objects, and improvised table arrangements. Best Practice wanted to honor the history of the place rather than entirely wipe the slate clean. The goal was to strike a delicate balance between past and present, to evoke the charm of a rustic Italian trattoria without being too referential or on the nose.
Executive Chef and Owner Christian Chandler:
“We had been planning this remodel for some time, and to have it finish just as dining rooms were closing throughout the city was pretty devastating. We are open for takeout currently, but looking forward to a day when our new dining room can be shared with our guests!"
The design team began with the color palette –a refreshed version of the “Serafina red and green”– and updated the restaurant with new paint on virtually every surface. Along with color, Best Practice designed custom brass features that assisted in dividing up the large and disjointed space: a dark and moody bar in mostly black, a romantic dining room painted a mellow red, and a connecting solarium dining space painted a muted green. The brass screen and shelving pieces created new storage and space delineation, while avoiding boxing in any one area from another. Through a carefully curated set of new lighting fixtures, the team stayed true to the restaurant’s eclectic origins. The collection featured all brass fixtures, each slightly different in form and function, so that they helped separate bar from solarium and dining room, while maintaining a cohesive connection across the entire space. In the dining area, the floor was updated to a classic black-and-white checkered floor pattern, but it subtly subverted the traditional by creating a super-graphic checker pattern on the diagonal, instead of the typical 12-inch by 12-inch alternating pattern. The bar area was designed to veer on the dark and serious side with black paint and tile, black quartz countertop, and dark walnut furniture. The large Capiz pendants chosen to hang over the bar offer just enough of an old-world feel to an otherwise modern space. The team added brass shaded pendants hung at eye height over each table lining the full window wall along a busy street, adding curb appeal from the street and a consistent line of warm light onto a previously unlit section.
From a functional and operational perspective, one of the primary elements that needed updating involved acoustics–the many hard surfaces and the sheer volume of space created an echo chamber of noise rather than a cozy restaurant dim. Best Practice saw this challenge as an opportunity for design–they used sustainable wood wool panels, a material typically employed strictly for its acoustical properties, as a sort of textured wallpaper across the entire space. These panels were painted either black, red, or green depending on their location, and were attached to the walls throughout the restaurant, providing a consistent backdrop on which to mount new sconce fixtures and hang the client’s existing art collection. Additionally, these wood wool panels were deployed on the ceiling for the dual purpose of acoustical control and visual cohesion. Previously a chaotic assemblage of wires and outdated track lighting, the ceilings throughout the space received a much-needed makeover. With strategically placed panels that both concealed electrical conduit and provided a grid for new track lighting, as well as a fresh coat of flat black paint over the entire ceiling, the focus could be redirected downward, on what matters: the plates!
All of the old chairs and stools were replaced, and rather than a varied assortment of pieces, Best Practice selected one seating option – the Reece Chair from Grand Rapids. The wood and steel frame offered a slim and modern sensibility, while the black eco-leather upholstery provided the comfort necessary for dining. In the bar, an existing built-in bench was replaced with a walnut tabletop and a custom upholstered seat back in the same black eco-leather as the chairs. In the dining room, the design team once again took the opportunity to design around a challenge–an area formerly aimed at hosting live music had been adapted into seating over the years, but the underused nook was awkward and dark. Best Practice designed an upholstered bench, and placed two chandeliers over the dining tables, transforming an odd corner to a feature section of the restaurant.
The team affected change largely through color, finishes, and lighting, as well as a few select places that allowed for heavier-handed design. Best Practice’s aim was to use their delicate hand in enhancing what was already there, while deftly adding sprinkles of designed elements, in order to breathe new life into the space and ring in the next 30 years of amazing food.