Kevin Albaugh, and his project team at MBH Architects collaborated with the design team at Earls Kitchen + Bar, led by Jennifer Hoffbeck, to construct and design, respectively, the first U.S. locations for Canadian brand Earls Kitchen + Bar in Tysons Corner, VA and in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago. The casual, upscale concept targets young professionals both with its menu and its contemporary and relaxed dining rooms and bars. The space is everything this generation wants: down-to-earth, cozy and sophisticated. Albaugh shows us around Earls in Tysons Corner to share five elements of Millennial-friendly spaces.
1. A dynamic, open layout
Think rooms that are big and open, yet don’t feel like a cafeteria. The dining room at Earls benefits from the upbeat and vibrant energy of the adjacent bar and lounge. Albaugh says that Millennial-oriented restaurants shouldn’t be afraid to allocate up to 50 percent of their front-of-the-house space to a bar and/or lounge. Instead of walls, Hoffbeck uses other elements, such differing wall or flooring materials or ceiling fixtures to separate spaces. Speaking of lights, each Earls restaurant features a custom fixture unique to the location. The chandelier at Earls Tysons Corner is made of geometric pieces that descend from the paneled ceiling in the main dining area.
2. A rustic and refined aesthetic
Though downscale dives and fast casual restaurants are emerging as huge segments, “upscale casual” is still a profitable and appealing restaurant niche, especially among Millennials. Albaugh points out that in the U.S. Earls restaurants, the brand’s clear and cohesive "refined industrial" aesthetic “relies on pulling in several authentic materials including stone, tile, steel, wood and cast-in-place concrete.” These hard elements are balanced by refined appointments such as button-tufted booths, a paneled ceiling and artistic lighting fixtures.
“Another theme Earls strives for is the use of real materials: no artificial veneers or plastics that replicate the appearance of something else; no tiles that look like wood or laminates that look like stone,” Albaugh says. “Marbles and granite are true stone; woods are solid or true wood veneers. Leathers are not plastic. Concrete and steel are honest and not disguised. Everything that’s there is the material as it is, and the uniqueness of each material is celebrated.” An added benefit of such materials is that they are generally sturdier, making for more durability in the very busy and often lively Earls restaurants.
3. Integrating the outdoors
Folding or overhead doors and movable glass and wall systems can provide visual continuity between the indoors and outdoors. “Integrate the exterior skin at the perimeter, so in nice weather there’s an indoor-outdoor flow,” says Albaugh. He adds that outdoor spaces should be anchored in some way to avoid the feeling of “floating in space.” At Earls Tysons Corner, an overhead trellis gives a sense of scale and “ceiling” to outdoor areas. The trellis is repeated indoors to connect the spaces.
4. Local connection
At Tysons Corner, a large cast pewter sculpture by Vancouver artist Ricky Alvarez depicts a plan view of downtown Washington DC. While part of a chain, Earls attempts connect each restaurant to its market through the use of art that makes a large splash on the interior and imparts a neighborhood spirit. Earls "works with local artists to create installations that best represent the history and culture of the location," explains Albaugh. For the RF&P (Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad) art installation pictured here, the design team at Earls worked with Washington DC artist Tim Conlon, a painter known for his photorealistic depictions of weathered trains and freight train graffiti.
5. Sustainable materials
Sustainability is important to Millennials, so Earls restaurants are being designed with this in mind. The executives and designers make energy efficient building design and custom LED lighting part of the prototype. Reclaimed and repurposed materials help keep the carbon footprint to a minimum.