Meet the Minds – Peter Hapstak

September 27, 2017
Peter Hapstak

Photos: Recent Projects

Despite a Southern upbringing, Peter Hapstak, founding partner of Washington, DC-based firm HapstakDemetriou+, evokes a Swiss design sensibility across his portfolio of restaurants and hotels. Here, the Virginia native discusses his Southern roots, the European influence on his work, and how building forts as a child cultivated his simple and pure design aesthetic.

Did you always know you wanted to be a designer?
Maybe not a designer, but definitely a creative.

What are some of your first memories of design?
I grew up in an industrial blue-collar city in the South. We would build forts in the woods and rake leaves into floor plans. You tended to make things from your surroundings. It was much simpler and pure back then.

Did where you grew up influence your career path?
Not at all. Most everyone I knew at that time ended up staying there or living close by. Getting into college was a big deal in my family. My mother was a teacher so she pushed me to be better.

Give us a bit of your background: college, first jobs, early lessons learned?
I went to Virginia Tech. It was in-state, so we could afford it. I hated working in the architecture building. It was overcrowded and more like a frat house than a studio. I got lucky when the dean and then the assistant dean took notice of me. They allowed me to create my own curriculum and educate myself in a nonlinear way.

My first architecture job was with a small firm in Lugano, Switzerland documenting the firm’s work. It was at a time that the Swiss architects were emerging onto the international scene. I got the job because I asked for it. I still ask for opportunities today.

Why and how did you start your own firm?
When I got back to the [U.S.], I bounced from firm to firm. It was the early ’80s and work was scarce. I finally landed at Studios. I managed to have an impact with the clients I worked with. There came a point in time when I started to ask myself why I wasn’t advancing there. The leap was logical. My first firm, CORE, consisted of a marketing partner, a managing partner, and myself, the design partner. My new firm, HapstakDemetriou+, is headed by two design partners. It’s an amazing dynamic. I love it.

Can you discuss some of your recent projects?
We are in our eighth year working with CAVA. We’re working on store number 70. The client pushes us to continually evolve the concept; you couldn’t ask for more. We’re opening our third restaurant for [chef] Aaron Silverman. His new restaurant, Little Pearl, is located in a landmarked carriage house on Capitol Hill. The design is modern and in sharp contrast to the existing historic interiors. We’re also completing District Winery, the second location for the owners of Brooklyn Winery, a ground-up event concept space along the Anacostia River. We will also be opening a joint venture restaurant/market concept for Saks in Miami. The 18,000-square-foot Casa Tua Cucina will have multiple stations on the ground floor of the department store. This is part of Saks efforts to drive foot traffic by increasing its offerings.

Is there a challenging project that you are especially proud of?
I’m especially proud of the consistency and quality of our work. Every day I get to work with incredibly talented and passionate people. We all work together to tailor our solutions to our clients. I often compare us to portrait painters.

How does your approach differ when designing a restaurant compared to a hotel space?
Restaurants are typically built by individuals, and the restaurants reflect them. Hotels are typically brands, and the design needs to fit the brand.

What is the most important thing to remember when designing a restaurant, both in terms of branding and interiors??
We’re not designing a restaurant for ourselves. The brand and the space is a reflection of the vision of the owner. We often need to help them find themselves.

Is there an architect or designer you most admire? 
John Pawson and Tom Kundig. For their detail, both minimal and complex.

What is your dream project?
It’s about to happen. Don’t want to jinx it!

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
[American painter] Mark Rothko.

Where would you eat and what would you be having?
On a hill. Under a tree. A basket lunch.

If you weren’t a designer, what would you be?
A farmer.