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The French Laundry

Photography by Michael Grimm • May 17, 2018

The Three Michelin-starred the French Laundry from chef Thomas Keller has been a fixture in Napa Valley, California for the past 20 years, but even venerated institutions need a facelift every once in a while. Keller called on Berkeley, California architecture firm Envelope A+D and New York-based Snøhetta to refresh the kitchen and the courtyard, and add a new 2,500-square-foot kitchen annex to create “an energetic, positive environment,” says founding partner and architect Craig Dykers, which translates “into a great, multisensory experience to the diner.”

The addition, which houses support functions, including a test kitchen and wine cellar that’s home to 15,000 bottles, recalls I.M. Pei’s courtyard pyramid at the Louvre with an eye-catching glass frit and rustic charred wood in the tradition of shou sugi ban, surrounded by a plant-filled courtyard drawing from English and Chinese traditions. Here, a rusticated basalt stone wall slowly reveals the garden and the centerpiece 23-year-old crepe myrtle tree. This, along with a modernist landscape aesthetic, strengthens the “connections between the inside and outside,” explains Michelle Delk, partner and director of landscape architecture.

When reimagining the kitchen, “the choreography of moving everyone around the space efficiently” was essential, says Dykers. A swooping, wave-like ceiling wraps a corner of the area and is “evocative of the motions of chefs’ hands at work,” he adds, while also nodding to a white tablecloth being unfolded. Pass tables were redesigned so the shorter ends don’t obstruct the chefs at work, while a surprising skylight offers a bright, residential touch. Each design element has been thoughtfully conceived to “respond to its context and function in a direct way,” Dykers explains.

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