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Before & After: Botanica, LA’s Must-Visit Restaurant of the Summer

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Before & After: Botanica, LA’s Must-Visit Restaurant of the Summer

May 23, 2017

For a while now we’ve been eyeing Botanica, a bright new eatery, market, and food magazine in Silver Lake, California by editors and cooks Heather Sperling and Emily Fiffer. (Their healthful but glamorous plateau de fruits de terre is poised to become the most Instagrammed dish of the summer.) But beyond the duo’s “no-rules,” veggie-forward food, it’s the backstory of the restaurant itself that has us wanting to visit.

Ready to “roll up [their] sleeves and build a space of our own” (and after admiring Paris eateries designed by David Rager and Cheri Messerli of Weekends), Sperling and Fiffer asked the Weekends team whether they could recommend a design firm in California. Conveniently, Rager and Messerli had just relocated back to LA—only “a few blocks from what the future Botanica home,” Rager says. So the team, with architect David Freeland at FreelandBuck, set to work transforming a “drop-ceiling dank liquor store” into the most buzzed-about restaurant in town, back garden included. Here’s how they did it.

Photography by Alan Gastelum, courtesy of Botanica, except where noted.

After

The combination restaurant and market has bright blue trim and potted plants outside.
Above: The combination restaurant and market has bright blue trim and potted plants outside.

The space is actually two buildings: the former “totally decrepit 1940s liquor cave” in front, and a two-story former apartment building behind, connected by what is now a patio. “When we first saw the space we were excited and scared,” Sperling says. “We saw the skylight (broken and covered with a tarp) and the bottle-glass windows (cemented over but still visible), and envisioned opening everything up and letting light pour into the space.”

The interior, with concrete flooring and a new floor-to-ceiling glass wall.
Above: The interior, with concrete flooring and a new floor-to-ceiling glass wall.

To transform the interiors from dark to airy, Freeland opened up the eight-foot drop ceiling, removed an unusable mezzanine, and replaced the back wall with glass. Weekends took color inspiration from Europe for the space: “This being our first project in California after living in France for five years, we wanted to bring a bit of our home in Paris back here, while also bringing out subtle hints of the places that the flavors of Botanica’s food come from,” Messerli says. “We were thinking about Yves Klein blue, Greece, and the faded dusty pink tones of Morocco.”

“Our food is, essentially, what you’d eat if you went to a globe-trotting, semi-health-conscious, farmer’s-market-obsessed food writer’s house for a brunch or dinner party,” Sperling adds.

The Market area of the restaurant.
Above: The Market area of the restaurant.

A small neon “Market” sign hangs above the counter, and bottles of pét-nat line the walls. “Many of the elements were inspired by things we happened to come across in our daily lives,” Messerli says. “We found the rattan pendant lights on our way home from the beach one day.”

A subtly-pink wall and pastel-painted chairs. On each table: a cork-top glass water bottle and fresh herbs.
Above: A subtly-pink wall and pastel-painted chairs. On each table: a cork-top glass water bottle and fresh herbs.
Weekends wanted to create a statement wall that was “subtle and soft, but not flat. We also wanted the place to not feel brand-new when it opened.” Sperling and Fiffer enlisted a friend from Chicago, Alexis Gourguechon, to create a been-there-forever look out of paint and plaster. Turns out, it was, in a sense: “When the space was initially demoed,” Messerli says, “they discovered many layers ago that that wall was pink! It seems it was meant to be.”

Vintage mirrors, inspired by a design detail in Weekends’ “favorite little pizza place in London.”
Above: Vintage mirrors, inspired by a design detail in Weekends’ “favorite little pizza place in London.”

The tables and shelving were made by a local woodworker, MFEO (Made for Each Other). The lighting was a collaboration with the restaurant’s neighbor, Lawson-Fenning.

The concrete floor and counters are a nod to Weekends’ time in Paris: “We had a concrete floor in our kitchen,” Messerli says.
Above: The concrete floor and counters are a nod to Weekends’ time in Paris: “We had a concrete floor in our kitchen,” Messerli says.
The new back garden, with built-in banquettes and terracotta pots of nasturtiums and rosemary.
Above: The new back garden, with built-in banquettes and terracotta pots of nasturtiums and rosemary.
A long shelf doubles as impromptu seating.
Above: A long shelf doubles as impromptu seating.

Before, “the back patio was a neglected space filled with a patchwork of concrete, a shoddily-built storage shed, and old fences overgrown with vines,” Freeland says. Now, it’s a verdant garden that feels like a continuation of the interior.

“We’re big into color and flavor; we’re not into rules,” Sperling and Fiffer say on their website. On the ever-changing menu are bowls and salads with garden-fresh ingredients like charred leeks, pea tendrils, and cilantro flowers. The duo selected the tableware themselves.
Above: “We’re big into color and flavor; we’re not into rules,” Sperling and Fiffer say on their website. On the ever-changing menu are bowls and salads with garden-fresh ingredients like charred leeks, pea tendrils, and cilantro flowers. The duo selected the tableware themselves.

Before

 The liquor store, before. Photograph courtesy of Botanica.
Above: The liquor store, before. Photograph courtesy of Botanica.
A coveted garden now lives in the once-empty back lot. Photograph courtesy of Botanica.
Above: A coveted garden now lives in the once-empty back lot. Photograph courtesy of Botanica.

The space “isn’t overly designed, but just feels like it was always there,” Messerli says. Consider it added to our summer must-visit list.

For more of Weekends’ work, see Through a Glass Darkly: The Edgiest Bar in Paris and Le Mary Celeste: Coastal Cool in the Middle of the Marais. And for summery ideas and inspiration, check out:

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