Dining By Design

Marguerite Rodgers talks about restaurant interiors.

By Mara Zepeda
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Nov. 26, 2008

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And the dish ran away with the spoon: Marguerite Rodgers (above) designed Fork: etc. (photo by MArguerite rodgers LTd.)

Philadelphia has more restaurants than it knows what to do with. Consistently ranked as one of the top towns for food, the city has a restaurant scene that's especially strong on cozy dining rooms you never want to leave.

What inspires us to linger over dinner for four hours? Or return weekly to our favorite corner bistro? Or dine with friends in a space that's a thousand times more comfortable than our home dining room, but just as intimate?

We caught up with Marguerite Rodgers, designer of Old City's Fork: etc. about uniting dining and design.

What was the inspiration for Fork: etc.?

"Our initial inspiration was Fork, which we designed 11 years ago. Fork: etc. is cleaner and more streamlined. We wanted it to feel like a casual, neighborhood place. The bistros and brasseries in Paris and Italy were our visual inspiration."

What are some of your favorite design elements that you incorporated?

"The light fixture that hangs above the communal dining table is a central design element. I found the basic fixture with sockets at auction and designed new wood sockets, wax candle sleeves and then we created a custom transparent plastic shade with suede corset lacing and a large belt. The building was previously an old sewing factory, and using the lacing and the belt was a nod to the space's history."

Was there any item that was impossible to track down?

"For budgetary reasons I had to give up on having a real stone floor, but I'm very pleased with the large slabs of porcelain stone. It has a nice scale to it and a very clean feel."

What would you say is a telltale sign of a well-designed restaurant?

"People linger. They want to be there. A pet peeve of mine is spaces in which there's no variety of scale, where everything is the same height. Especially in cavernous adaptive reuse buildings like old warehouses or banks, people can feel lost."

What restaurants' ambiance do you find so enjoyable that you never want to leave?

"I like Morimoto for the food and atmosphere. It's different and a bit of an escape. I like BYOs that feel cozy and comfortable. I like the garden at Roberto Cafe on South Street because it feels like you're at a friend's house. We're working on a project in the Bahamas, in Nassau, and I like to go to Caf� Matisse and Greycliff. Sensi in Las Vegas is great. In Milan, the outdoor garden of Hotel Bulgari is great for people watching. And Cipriani, in Venice, is lovely."

What's a kitchen or dining room design tip you can pass on to home cooks?

"I like kitchens that feel like rooms. People like to hang out in kitchens. They're the heart and soul of the family. Too much granite and stainless steel can make the space feel cold and clinical. Wood countertops make the room inviting and more comfortable. I've installed real slate or chalkboard paint in home kitchens [as in Fork: etc.]. It's a great place to jot down a phone number or note. I also prefer pantries of full-height storage cabinets to upper cabinets."

Talk about another recent hospitality project.

"We recently installed a bar at Lacroix, which opened the second week in September. It's counter height--36 inches high--with glass artwork concealing the liquor cabinet when it's not in use."

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