07 March 2009


Let's try to explain the micro-trend of contemporary restaurant (though by no means only restaurant) interiors of combining the clean, simple lines and surfaces of modernism with the charmingly ornate profusions of a sort of Rococo style. We'll call this combination "contemporary Rococo." Although he is not alone working in this manner, the designer who most consistently does, and has done in restaurants, is Philippe Starck. The photo above shows the graphic design of a candy-counter takeout container from The Bazaar by Jose Andres at the SLS hotel in Beverly Hills, one of Starck's 2008 restaurant designs. Photos of the interior are not allowed, so this container will have to do for now to convey a sense of the basic elements of contemporary Rococo.

It would be easy to dismiss this combination of industrial and old-world, serious and kitsch, as just another, even belated, manifestation of a familiar formula of postmodernism in design, that penchant for eclectic mixtures of old and new styles and highbrow and lowbrow cultural references that embrace an omnivorous as well as campy approach to culture. Starck's penchant for antlers and chandeliers against monochromatic backgrounds, as in the outdoor lounge area at SLS, is fiendishly playful in the postmodernist style indeed.

Contemporary Rococo is certainly that. But there's something more specific going on in this particular stylistic mixture. 

In Starck's restaurants, for example, as at the smaller-scale but perfectly on-trend LA Mill Coffee designed by Rubbish Interiors, also in Los Angeles, there is a pattern in the relationship between modernism and Rococo. Modernism becomes a flat-surface backdrop for the Rococo elements of chandeliers or flourishes on chairs, which, owing to the modernist elements' flatness and monochrome and its playing a background role, allows the Rococo to become, above all, a GRAPHIC effect. The modernism serves to flatten the Rococo into graphic pattern. Even though these restaurants are three-dimensional--arguably, four-dimensional--spaces, this aspect of their design seems to aspire to the condition of two dimensions.

It is the case that contemporary architecture is, as never before, collaborative with graphic design. Is what we are seeing with the contemporary Rococo not only a manifestation of postmodernism but also a symptom of the contemporary influence of graphic design on environmental space?

Copyright 2009 Alison Pearlman. All rights reserved.

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