For Plainview, N.Y., restaurant Sawasdee Thai Elevated, a traditional approach to cuisine and design just wouldn’t do. Husband and wife owners John and Walailak Conrad (Walailak is a Thailand native) sought more authentic flavors and spices for their menu – think coconut milk soup with kaffir lime leaves or housemade tamarind soda – and a space that was sleeker, brighter and more contemporary than what they had observed at other local Thai eateries.
After securing a 2400-square-foot location within the Plainview Shopping Center (Plainview, N.Y.), retail and restaurant design firm Horst Design Intl. (Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.) set out to transform what the firm’s principal and creative director Doug Horst calls “a slightly charred, but pretty good vanilla box.”
“There was a Chinese restaurant in this location for 65 years, and there had been a fire, so the space was completely gutted. There was nothing left: no kitchen, no plumbing,” he says of the blank canvas they had to work with. It also has a ceiling height of almost 15 feet – a rather unusual attribute for a suburban shopping center location. This allowed them to add drama within the space via a dark-hued open ceiling with exposed ductwork and a free-hanging mahogany architectural element that stretches above the entry to the dining room’s back wall. The ceiling treatment, says the owner, is an abstract form of the Thai dragon, which represents “magic, protection, wisdom and longevity.”
An all-glass storefront leads diners into Sawasdee (a Thai greeting that means “welcoming respect and gratitude”), where a curved, purple LED-lit bar and towering spirits display beckons. Two 14-foot-tall fabric murals separate the bar area from the dining room and feature custom artwork of Thai elephants (chang in Thai) that can be seen from both sides. The primary color scheme throughout focuses on pearly white and plum tones to play up the contemporary vibe and depart from the traditional use of blue and gold that, according to Horst, is found in many Thai restaurants.
Materials alternate between traditional and modern to capture the mix of updated and ancient styles found throughout Thailand. On the floor, a durable porcelain tile is patterned to look like worn concrete, and on the south wall in the lounge, rough, timeworn-looking bricks in a yellow-tan color mimic old Thailand architecture. On the north wall next to the bar, the design team incorporated high-gloss white laminate panels inset with acoustical material and LEDs.
In the dining room, larger-than-life images from Thailand, including shots from one of Bangkok’s floating food markets, as well as a photo depicting a temple located in the owner’s native province, tower over 12-foot-tall fabric seating pods, lined with a white sound-absorbing, stain-resistant nylon wallcovering crafted from recycled soda bottles.
Everything together – the high ceilings, the suspended mahogany sculpture, the elephant murals, the plum-and-white color palette – creates something unexpected, says Horst. “When you enter this restaurant in a suburban shopping center, you’re not expecting this environment. The whole thing just jumps out at you and has that wow factor.”
Sawasdee Thai Elevated, Plainview, N.Y.
Horst Design Intl., Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.
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