The 2021 Restaurant Aesthetic Is Optimistic, Nostalgic, and Vacation-Obsessed

The 2021 restaurant design trend taps into our need for escape

8/1/2021 10:00:00 PM

The 2021 restaurant design trend taps into our need for escape

The hot new restaurant design trend taps into our need for escape

of the early 20th century. “Because we felt we were doing something unprecedented in NYC, we decided to really embrace the future,” says Rose. The chrome and glass call back to Futurism’s obsession with the speed and motion of the Machine Age, and the velvet booths are vaguely retro. But the overall effect of the space feels like something from the not-too-distant future.

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Alluding to the near past can also summon a feeling of escape. The Reagan-era revival that has swept the design world for the last five years can still be seen in restaurants, but this time around it’s moreMiami ViceMemphis. The Ettore Sottsass-inspired designs (all that terrazzo, all those squiggles) are being replaced with something that looks more like a chic grandma’s place in Boca (see those clamshell chairs at ZZ’s). “The 1980s was a very American sort of moment,” says Fulk. “They had that bit of flash and fun, but also that attitude of confidence.” (It’s a trend you’re likely also to see reflected in diners’ outfits too, as there is seemingly no end to ’80s and ’90s fashion trends to be revived.) For older millennials like me, the

Miami Vicevibes are a reminder of our childhoods, but I wonder if there’s something else at work here. In the cyclical nature of design, it’s typical for trends to get plucked out from the period just before you were born. So if the ’80s-90s aesthetic appeals to Gen Z, it might have the bonus of making millennials feel young and hip, too.

Millennials craving the next new thing may also be responsible for the pendulum swing away from the black boxes and minimalist white interiors that were so popular in the aughts and early teens. In 2021 restaurants are full of happy colors with swaths of turquoise, orange, and especially

(Little Palm and Fandi Mata both feature the rosy hue). Restaurant designers have dialed up the intensity from the pre-pandemic dusty pastels to decidedly pop-y shades. Color feels current again.The poolside bar at Little Palm at the Ryder Hotel in Charleston.

The Little Palm dining room.Mike LedfordThe connective thread through the various influences right now — the ’50s abundance, the ’80s confidence, the candy colors — is optimism. Line up photos of the new restaurants and it’s clear they share an aesthetic of unapologetic joy

— think playful wallpaper, cheerful lighting, and peppy stripes.Together, these style trends suggest restaurant diners want a break — not just after the pandemic, but from the darkness of the Trump years. We want to dine in a Wes Anderson version of a Boca Raton beach club, to put our troubles behind us while we put the rest of the pieces of our world back together. After nearly a year and a half of dining at home, these happy places feel right: Don’t you want to enjoy your first meals out in a place designed to make you smile?

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“It’s hard to describe it as a design direction, but I do think that part of the DNA of them is that they are these incredibly optimistic spaces,” says Fulk of Strawberry Moon and ZZ’s Sushi Bar. “They are hopeful fun spaces that are purposely designed to celebrate, come together, and to actually be near one another. Who would have ever thought that that felt like such a rarefied thing?”

Correction, July 27, 2021: This article was corrected to show that Marc Rose and Med Abrous are restaurateurs and that Parts and Labor Design designed the Panama Room. Read more: Eater »

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