As a designer for Oakland, CA-based architecture and interiors firm Arcsine, Soo Yoo brings her formal training as a painter to her interior design practice. At this San Jose, CA, restaurant, Yoo’s inspiration was right in the restaurant’s name, fusing inspiration from Mediterranean cultures in one vibrant space. We asked Yoo about the space.
What was the design inspiration for the project?
From the very beginning stages, we collaborated and worked closely with our client, Left Bank, to fully understand their concept and vision for their new restaurant. The client enthusiastically shared with us that the restaurant’s name ‘"Meso," which means "middle" in the classical Greek language, derived from capturing the essence of dropping a stone in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea and watching the waves ripple along the shores of a great number of different countries and diverse cultures. This inspired us to find creative and innovative ways to incorporate a variety of cultures that surround the Mediterranean Sea, mixed with local elements and art motifs, into a vivid and colorful oasis for the San Jose community and beyond.
As a result, the restaurant has a distinctly Mediterranean ambiance with a modern spin. This was accomplished by deliberately, yet subtly, introducing elements of traditional European architecture from Spain, Italy and France, in addition to Moroccan hints of design sensibility, while utilizing raw materials, such as light walnut, ash wood, and Italian mosaic that have more clean and contemporary feel.
Another example of the balance struck between modern and tradition is the laser-cut metal screen located at the bar. The arch and the pattern both feel traditional and distinctly Mediterranean, but by using a piece of thinly profiled metal, and hanging it from the ceiling, the result becomes quite modern. We also studied the food and dishes of the restaurant, which contained vibrant palettes and unusual textures, to guide our design decisions for the space. We wanted to create a sense of visual continuity so that guests are able to appreciate the carefully designed space in conjunction with admiring the delicate plating of Meso’s dishes. The space, much like the food, is intended to provide pleasure in it of itself - a visual representation of the client’s intention translated into a timeless and lasting form of art.
What goals were you trying to meet for the client?
When we first walked through the space, it felt very large and oppressive with concrete floors, walls and ceilings. One of the goals from the start was to create a floor plan that would both break up the space into smaller, more intimate subsections while allowing vistas between the various areas. Woven rope screens in hues of warm amber are used as functional spatial dividers, achieving the visual openness between the bar and dining areas while still maintaining a sense of privacy. The next challenge that we faced was how to seamlessly integrate various materials, art, and FF&E (furniture, fixtures, and equipment) to warm up the space and create the Mediterranean atmosphere that would complement the owners’ concept.
Creating a vibrant but cozy outdoor seating area was another important request from the client. A custom rammed earth-look mural on the storefront, an homage to the once popular building construction technique in the Mediterranean region, provides an electric backdrop for the upholstered lounge seating at the entry. The similar hints of deep blue colors and intricate patterns seen inside were brought to the outdoor space through the custom concrete tiled tables which also create a seamless backdrop to Meso’s colorful plating designs.
Additionally, we designed a louvered awning for the outside dining area to provide shelter and shade for guests, especially during warmer weather. At night, the string lights daintily illuminate the outdoor dining area, creating a romantic and relaxed ambiance.
The fireplace in the back also echoes several design elements that we used for the indoor dining experience by adorning the main hearth with the same mosaic tile that was applied to the inside walls. The shapes, motifs, and colors of the tiles are reminiscent of the tiles commonly used to decorate water fountains seen in many riads, the Arabic name for a Moroccan interior garden or courtyard typically found in palaces or private residences. All of these elements are coordinated to provide a harmonious and powerful narrative for each diner and entertain them with an authentic, but modern Mediterranean dining experience.
What is your favorite part about the space?
What I like most about Meso is that it shows how immersive and theatrical a restaurant dining experience can be. Even before entering the space, the rammed earth mural on the storefront is intended to spark a diner’s curiosity and succeeds in setting a dramatic tone for the exciting culinary journey ahead. As the guests enter, they are surrounded by complex layers of intricate metal screens, colorful terrazzo, and trickling waterfalls intended to provide a peaceful but visually stimulating scene. The space immediately transports them from the streets of Santana Row to the exotic landscapes of the Mediterranean region.
One of my favorite moments of discovery within the space is what happens upon entering the restrooms, which is an unexpected but pleasant experience. Hidden behind the Manzanita trees, the restrooms are located at the end of a dark, long, and narrow hallway. As you enter, the palette dramatically changes from the darker blush tone of the hallway to a rush of warmth from the beige and cream tones that welcome and greet the diner. We were mindful and deliberate in creating this space to become a place of retreat; a place where guests are able to absorb the serenity and contentment and leave feeling calm and refreshed. The minimalistic design and monotone palette were applied to the space, allowing for the opportunity to appreciate the subtle texture of the handcrafted tile and the delicate geometric pattern of the wallpaper.
Conclusively, Meso is not simply a functional restaurant but it is also a visually intriguing maze and experiential opportunity to evoke pleasure and fulfillment for each and every diner. We designed the space with a plethora of interesting design details that are waiting to be discovered; details which encourage guests to take a moment to appreciate the culture and art of the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.