When designer Marissa Zajack walked into the space that would become Red Herring—an upscale L.A. restaurant that has found a new home on Grand Ave—it was an empty warehouse. Although Marissa works regularly with homes and spaces already in existence, she says there’s something about creating something from the ground up. Where your average person might see an asbestos hazard, Marissa saw an opportunity.
A year later, the restaurant sits pretty: California Art Deco meets a taste of Old Hollywood. It makes sense that Marissa has a background in graphic design, working with the likes of Wes Anderson to bring her designers eye to the glamour of Hollywood. She likens her first venture into the space that would become Red Herring like “walking into a blank soundstage.” Movies are part of Marissa’s inspiration, and creating something “really classy and timeless” was part of her goal for Red Herring. It’s safe to say that she has succeeded.
Read on for some tips you can implement to bring the restaurant’s look to your own space.
Center an Artwork
The main art piece in Red Herring was commissioned the good old fashioned way—via Instagram DM. When Marissa messaged the self-taught Insta-famous artist Mike Willcox, she did not expect a response. “I had never done that before,” she admitted.
Months later, the final product is breathtaking, a sprawling floral mural of greens and golds. To achieve the aesthetic she wanted, Marissa first sent Mike a color guide—she wanted “a lot of the rich tones” of the restaurant to come from the mural itself. Mike then sketched out the design and made it come to life in photoshop. Using an L.A.-based company, Marissa then had the image blown up on commercial-grade wallpaper.
A lesson to learn from this: Centering on artwork will never fall out of style. Building a room around the artwork can help you capture the mood you want. The “aged” look of the mural was key to capturing the aesthetic Marissa wanted for the restaurant. “I wanted it to feel like it had been unearthed,” she says. “Like it had been there from a fabulous time in the ’20s, you know?” Wallpaper is not just for dilapidated childhood bedrooms. Rather than purchasing an expensive art piece, you may want to invest in a digital design that you can get printed using a custom shop. “You can make anything into wallpaper as long as long it’s a high-quality piece of artwork,” Marissa says.
Lighting Is Key
“Lighting can make or break a space,” Marissa says. And she’s not just talking about the amount of lighting and where it is placed, but the type of light that a fixture gives off. For example, in the dining room of Red Herring, three midcentury pendant lights “give off a warm, airy hue.” This is very different from the vibrant red lighting in the bathroom, which achieves a different effect.
Marissa also emphasizes the importance of shape when it comes to selecting lighting. “I wanted to look at the lighting like a sculptural element,” she explains. The shapes of the lights are meant to accent other shapes in the space. To this effect Marissa designed a custom light in the back of the bar.
Accent the Architecture
When Marissa designs a space, she aims to echo the existing architectural structure. When talking about her experience designing homes, she offers the following wisdom: “What you can bring out within that architecture is what will make the old place just sing.” The idea is to be complementary.
Marissa designed Red Herring with the natural lighting of the place in mind, and it contributes to the overall open space feel. She pays careful attention to the shapes involved. In Red Herring, “everything has a soft curve to echo the arches.” You can also see accenting at work in the color scheme of the restaurant, too. A palette of nude pinks and brass accents pull together the deep green-blue tones of the mural (and the wall facing the bar), contributing to overall color harmony.
Find a Plant Person
If you’ve ever envied those people who have the instinct to purchase just the right plant, name it something quirky, place it in just the right sun-dappled corner, and keep it alive like a great romance, Marissa let us in on the big secret: There’s always a plant person. This person, an expert working in, say, the Home Depot, can offer you advice on which plants to pick for your space and why, as well as how to care for them.
When it comes to placing plants, Marissa likes shelving units and bookcases. But plants can serve as so much more than props or corner pieces. Sourced from a California flower mart downtown, the plants in Red Herring play a dual role: in addition to being great decor, they function as a great separation between the bar and dining room. “Plants are good way to punctuate spaces within a larger area,” says Marissa.
Marissa leans into the geometric, and you can see this in almost every element of the restaurant. In the lighting fixtures, there are a variety of circles, ovals, hexagons, and arches. The same goes for the seating elements. Two gilded loops—personally designed by Marissa—partitions the front of the restaurant from the seating area. Ribbed geometric patterns meticulously carve out the wooden space under the bar counter. And of course there is the mural that pulls the place together: in Marissa’s opinion, it contains “the perfect combination of floral, geometric, and abstract elements.”
All this to say: Figure out what elements inspire you and what you are drawn to. Maybe this involves the patterns you would doodle in your school notebooks, or the colors that you gravitate toward in every store. Bring elements of that instinctive you into a space, and it will inevitably ring with an element of timelessness.
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest