Meet the Minds Behind Restaurant Design – Wendy Haworth

December 20, 2016
Wendy Haworth

Photos: Recent Projects

Founder of her namesake Los Angeles firm, Wendy Haworth’s thoughtful and flexible California style characterizes her restaurant projects, which reinforce the outdoors with natural tones and materials. Here, Haworth discusses her formative years in publishing, her firm’s robust and growing portfolio, and designing her dream hotel.

Did you always know you wanted to be a designer?
Not at all. I was always drawn to design and looking back I had “designer tendencies” as a child—redecorating and moving the furniture in my room around, creating floor plans for my dolls, that kind of thing.

Did where you grew up influence your career path?
Perhaps. I grew up outside of Detroit where there is a history of modern design—Charles and Ray Eames, Florence Knoll, and the Saarinens studied nearby at Cranbrook Academy of Art.

Give us a bit of your background: college, first jobs, early lessons learned?
After graduating with a degree in apparel and textile design from Michigan State University, I moved to New York prepared to pursue three different career paths: photographer, clothing designer, and interior designer. Photography won when I got an internship in a photo department at a magazine. After that, I got a job at Elle and then Vogue as a photo editor. After three amazing years at Vogue, I met Amy Crain, who had just started a catalog and now showroom, Room, and worked for her. She has an amazing eye and taught me a lot about design. After that, I moved to Los Angeles and took some courses through the UCLA extension program, and it went from there.

Why and how did you start your own firm?
It just happened. I was working with someone (who has now become a dear friend) and she asked me to help her decorate her house, and then things took off.

Can you discuss some of your recent projects?
We had a few openings this year—most notably, Winsome in [LA’s] Echo Park, which was the first restaurant for Med Abrous and Marc Rose. I really enjoyed helping make their vision and values come to life. And then there is Gratitude in Newport Beach, which was the fifth restaurant that I’ve done for the owners. I love how fluid the process is and how each restaurant just gets better and better.

Is there a challenging project that you are especially proud of?

Winsome was challenging in that our clients wanted so much in such a small space—restaurant, coffee bar, retail area. The struggle with the constraints is always at the center of the design conversation and the source of our best work.

What are you looking forward to at your office?
We’ve got a few restaurant project openings on the horizon that I’m excited about. One is Felix in Venice Beach for chef Evan Funke and the Gusto 54 group, [which is] headed by Janet Zuccarini. We also designed the food and beverage spaces at the James hotel in West Hollywood that will also be opening early next year. Another is Gratitude in Beverly Hills that I’m really looking forward to seeing come together.

What do you find are the most challenging and exciting aspects of your job?
The most challenging aspect is managing expectations and keeping everything on schedule. The most exciting for me is working with clients to collaborate on the vision for a new space and then seeing it all come to fruition.

What is the most important thing to remember when designing a restaurant—both in terms of branding and interiors?
I try to select furniture and finishes that have longevity so that a restaurant doesn’t look dated 10 years in. I want my client’s projects to be successful and become part of the community and not a blip on the scene.

Is there an architect or designer you most admire? Why?
There are so many but I’m really in love with Carlo Scarpa. I just love how he [mixed] materials and the lovely details in all of his projects.

What would be your dream project and why?
I would love to do a boutique hotel in another country, preferably with a tropical climate. I love traveling and would like to immerse myself in the craft of another culture and translate that into a hotel experience.

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
There are so many so I’ll keep it to the ladies: Charlotte Perriand, Eileen Gray, Coco Chanel, Jane Austen, and Gilda Radner for some levity.

Where would you eat and what would you be having?
Pizza at home in front of the fire.

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