Nestled on leafy Elizabeth Street in Manhattan’s Nolita, The Musket Room opened its doors in 2013 and quickly acquired a Michelin Star. The restaurant has scored points for its alluring interior, created by London design duo James Waterworth and Alexander Evangelou of Alexander Waterworth Interiors. Cereal caught up with the pair, to discuss the origins of the design for The Musket Room, their creative process, and their inspirations.
CEREAL: What was the brief for the Musket Room?
James Waterworth: There wasn’t really a direct brief as such, but having worked with Jennifer [Vitagliano, co-owner] before, there was a level of trust. The focus of the restaurant is the intricate food, but Matt, the chef, is an incredibly laid back chap – so much so that you wouldn’t think he would be producing the food that he does. The contrast between him and the food, which is incredibly detailed and stunningly beautiful, was a starting point. We had the idea of creating a space with a certain level of detail but which was still unpretentious. So, for example, we exposed the brick on the walls, we put in timber flooring from an old barn in upstate New York, and to counter that we added walnut table tops, brass lighting and the detailing within the bar floor.
CEREAL: Do you have any favourite features of the space?
Alexander Evangelou: We love the scalloped flooring, because it’s a beautiful shape and I also love the back room, where we opened it up with a big window to look onto the herb garden. You can be having your starters and you’ll see a chef come out, clip some herbs from the garden, and five minutes later they’ll be on your dish.
CEREAL: You’re known for fusing the old and the new – is it an approach you try and take with every project?
AE: We don’t feel that it’s essential, and on some projects it may not necessarily work, but wherever we can, we love to mix antiques with modern elements or a modern space. I think if you do all modern, it will date very quickly, and if you do all antiques, you’re not progressing design. The mixture of the two pushes design forward.
CEREAL: Are there any Alexander Waterworth design signatures that work their way into your projects?
JW: We don’t know if we have signatures as much as we’re inspired by the area that surrounds the space we’re working on. The Musket Room is in a lovely neighborhood, Nolita – it’s not pretentious, it has a younger dynamic and we think it’s important to take in those elements. Maybe in ten years time when we look back at all of our work, patterns will emerge, that unconsciously, have become signatures.
CEREAL: Where else do you draw inspiration from?
JW: You can’t help but get inspired when you go to an art gallery, when you’re looking at some of the best art pieces in the world. Maybe it’s less that you’re looking at a painting and more that you’re taking inspiration from the idea of creativity. For those artists to push the boundaries like they did, they had to do something which nobody had ever done before and take risks. A lot of little things inspire me. I take pictures a lot, of things like a tree or a shape, and it may not mean anything then or there, but two years down the line I may remember that photo. For example, I was on the coast of England about eight months ago and there was an old fence for a garden. It was really worn and it was pretty simple – you could look at it in a very different way and just disregard it, but I took a picture and now we’re using it as a bar front for one of our next designs. Anything – whether a shape, flooring, an image – if you keep your eyes open, it can inspire you.
CEREAL: What philosophy do you live and work by?
AE: Letting go of fear, working hard and giving it your all. When you’re on a project you have to live and breathe every detail, the view from every chair, the height of a lampshade, the type of bulbs you use, how big the bar is in proportion to the room. There are so many little things and if you get one of them wrong, someone will clock it. And trust your gut. Other people may be putting it down, but if you know deep down it’s good, then you have to go for it.