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10 Wabi-Sabi Ideas to Steal from Bessou Japanese Restaurant in New York

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10 Wabi-Sabi Ideas to Steal from Bessou Japanese Restaurant in New York

January 15, 2018

The pot holding a fiddle-leaf fig tree in a corner of the restaurant isn’t the only thing that Bessou’s owner Maiko Kyogoku brought from home. On any given night, you might also see her father stationed in back, making Japanese sauces. “He’s a big part of the operation,” she says of her dad, who used to run his own sushi restaurant on the Upper West Side.

The light-filled, minimalist interiors of Bessou in downtown Manhattan have an overlay of nostalgia, from the traditional Japanese design elements to the carriage bolts that Kyogoku selected because they remind her of a childhood memory. The result? An interior space that references the authenticity of the past, with a few modern twists.

Here are 10 ideas to steal.

Photography courtesy of Michelle Min and Heather Stern for Bessou.

1. Embrace the new false ceiling.

kyogoku has made some welcome updates to the false ceiling trend you may recall 9
Above: Kyogoku has made some welcome updates to the false ceiling trend you may recall from your parents’ rec room circa 1972. Using custom-made pine flooring, she designed a recessed center to Bessou’s ceiling that hides central heating and air conditioning units. “I covered it because I wanted the space to feel like a home, not industrial. In Japanese homes, it’s very common to have recessed ceilings and lighting,” says Kyogoku, who found the perfect white lantern at Design Within Reach.

2.Celebrate architectural quirks.

kyogoku was familiar with the bessou space—including its left wall, which has 10
Above: Kyogoku was familiar with the Bessou space—including its left wall, which has a peculiar curve in the middle—long before moving in, as it was previously home to her favorite neighborhood restaurant. “The walls are shaped weirdly and curve out. It looks kind of like a violin,” says Kyogoku, who makes clever use of the bend in the wall as a natural divider to create a small standalone waiter station. “You have to figure out creative ways to make a space work—in New York, sometimes you have no choice!”

3. Consider a palette of pine.

“most everything is pine,” says kyogoku of the wall slats, ceiling panels,  11
Above: “Most everything is pine,” says Kyogoku of the wall slats, ceiling panels, banquette, chairs, and tables. “We had a very limited budget and used basic wood to try to match the beautiful vintage reclaimed pine flooring.” Working within one specific wood palette creates cohesiveness despite varying tones, finishes, and styles.

4. Practice deconstructed ikebana.

the dried queen anne’s lace that hangs on the walls of bessou was saved from  12
Above: The dried Queen Anne’s lace that hangs on the walls of Bessou was saved from a bouquet given to the chef by her husband on opening night. The sparse stems are a nod toward ikebana—the traditional Japanese art of floral arrangement. “My mother was an artist and did ikebana arrangements,” says Kyogoku. Kyogoku joins others embracing a new wave of Freakebana: a modern, deconstructed take on the classical discipline that celebrates the use of banal, natural components at hand. (It also happens to be one of Gardenista’s Garden Design Trends for 2018.) The wooden vases are from vases are from Hello! Store in Tokyo.

5. Complement minimalist interiors with quiet patterns and textures.

kyogoku, who previously worked with contemporary artist takashi murakami, likes 13
Above: Kyogoku, who previously worked with contemporary artist Takashi Murakami, likes pattern and texture, and wanted to incorporate both into Bessou without disturbing the peace. “I’m very interested in patterns, like tatami flooring or old kimono design,” she says. “But I didn’t want it to be garish or too ‘in your face.’” Instead she used pine slats to create a wall design inspired by the lattice patterns of shōji—sliding doors found in traditional Japanese homes—and added subtle textures such as this jute-wrapped pipe throughout the room.

6. Store high and low.

when kyogoku first moved into the bessou space, “there was absolutely no stor 14
Above: When Kyogoku first moved into the Bessou space, “there was absolutely no storage,” she says. “So I needed to make space.” She had long, custom storage benches built out of pine with black carriage bolts along both walls, referencing the wood detailing she remembers vividly from her childhood best friend’s home. Rather than adding visual clutter at eye level, Kyogoku then had steel shelving installed over the top of the bar, so it would be high above the heads of diners and servers.

7. Shop your memories.

the ornamental elements in bessou remind kyogoku of her friends, family, or pla 15
Above: The ornamental elements in Bessou remind Kyogoku of her friends, family, or places she’s spent time. “I’m a sucker for sentimental things. Everything is based on a childhood memory, or something I saw and loved from friends,” she says. “Many of the knickknacks, like the brown glass decanter, are from one of my favorite restaurants, Brucie, that closed. There’s a little yellow stone face that I got from The Hole, the gallery around the corner.” Also on the shelf is a Ganesh charm given to Kyogoku over dinner by contemporary artist Mickalene Thomas.

8. Create clever dividers.

kyogoku uses an antique japanese sliding door from shibui in brooklyn as a room 16
Above: Kyogoku uses an antique Japanese sliding door from Shibui in Brooklyn as a room divider in the small space, and to partition off her statement greenery into its own exhibit in the entryway. Her houseplants, such as the fiddle-leaf fig tree shown here, can serve the same function as sculpture, creating a focal point within a broader space.

9. Seek out seconds.

in an effort to stick to a limited budget, kyogoku and team visited restaurant  17
Above: In an effort to stick to a limited budget, Kyogoku and team visited restaurant closing sales and discount shops to get the serving dishes and utensils they needed. “In New York, restaurants close all the time, and I think it’s a shame that things are forgotten and thrown away. What happens to those plates and everything else? It comes back to the Japanese idea of appreciating that things have a spirit and respecting where they come from, and minimizing waste,” says Kyoguku. Most of Bessou’s ceramic dishes are “seconds”—pieces with small imperfections that sell for a discount—from New York–based potter Jono Pandolfi, whose long list of customers includes the NoMad Hotel, Lilia, and Haven’s Kitchen.

10. Practice destination dining.

“bessou means ‘home away from home’ in japanese. the concept of a bessou  18
Above: “Bessou means ‘home away from home’ in Japanese. The concept of a bessou is a place to escape to or relax,” says Kyogoku. This concept is particularly evident in the dining nook in the back, where Kyogoku chose special elements that would emphasize its distinct, secluded feel. “The lamps in the nook are very special—handcrafted brass from a craftsman in Japan I have always admired. If there is any splurge element, it’s this,” says Kyogoku. Adding a statement lighting fixture can instantly transform a dining nook into a destination. For some of our favorite recent lighting ideas, see our posts on Current Collection and Four Young Designers with Fanciful Lighting Collections.

For more downtown New York City restaurant decor, see:

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