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10 Design Ideas to Steal from Verjus in San Francisco

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10 Design Ideas to Steal from Verjus in San Francisco

March 6, 2020

Traveling through Europe in recent years, designer Lindsay Tusk and chef Michael Tusk noticed “different variations on the same theme” of an informal and energetic style of dining in Paris, Venice, and San Sebastian Gambero. So the Tusks, known in San Francisco for their restaurants Quince and Cotogna, came up with the idea for Verjus, a bar à vin and cave à manger (eat-in cellar) with a “high-fidelity atmosphere full of gusto, spontaneity, and excitement,” says Lindsay Tusk. An all-day menu with ingredients sourced from within Marin County is paired with wine from independent vignerons who farm land organically and with a sense of terroir.

The design is as invigorating as the natural wine, with custom steel and millwork, encaustic cement tile, antique furniture from Pierre Chapo and others, and vintage lighting from Luigi Caccia Dominioni and Gino Sarfatti. Here we outline some of the key ideas that Tusk and her team put into practice to evoke 1960’s-era France by way of California in 2019.

Photography courtesy of Lindsay and Michael Tusk.

1. Bring it home.

the exterior of verjus (at 5\28 washington street) is painted with fine paints  9
Above: The exterior of Verjus (at 528 Washington Street) is painted with Fine Paints of Europe 7235 (gray) and the door is Fine Paints of Europe 7180 (burgundy/red). The light fixtures inside are the Five Globes Pendant Lights by Gino Sarfatti. Photograph by Tolleson.

Tusk liked the “easy, convivial style of dining with its wine, food, energy, and culture” of restaurants like Juveniles and L’Avant Comptoire in Paris, Enoiteca Mascareta in Venice, and the pintxo bars of San Sebastian Gambero. In order to promote a similar casual, drop-in atmosphere, the design had to follow suit with an open layout, varied seating (or standing space), and the infusion of sophisticated color. Taking note of why an idea has flourished in Europe but remained absent in the US, for example, is part of the travel experience, with curiosity and observation leading to something new back home.

2. Hit the flea market.

the elm tables and chairs, including the s45 chair, in the dining room are all  10
Above: The elm tables and chairs, including the S45 Chair, in the dining room are all by Pierre Chapo (the stools with rattan seats at the front are by Fidel Chapo). Photograph by Christopher Stark.

Tusk didn’t miss a flea market while abroad. Twice each year, she visits the Mercanteinfiera in Parma, Italy (with over 1,000 antiques dealers) and Paul Bert Serpette at the Puces de Paris Saint-Ouen (flea markets in Paris’s Saint-Ouen). Rather than constructing a space chock full of new design (which can feel more like a showroom than a restaurant), it was important to Tusk to integrate vintage and antiques. “I think it creates more of a comfortable and residential environment with a greater sense of permanence,” she says. “Mixing vintage pieces add a period design reference to the more contemporary elements.”

3. Nix the barstools.

the stainless topped bar is constructed with ebony stained white oak slats. the 11
Above: The stainless-topped bar is constructed with ebony-stained white oak slats. The sliding barn door is by Michael Mellon. Photograph by Christopher Stark.

It’s true that Europeans are known for their never-ending dinners, but if you drop in for an apéro in Paris or an espresso in Milan, you’ll notice that everyone is standing at the counter. That drop-in, standing counter experience was something the Tusks wanted to bring to Verjus, so at the bar that runs the length of the restaurant, you won’t find a single barstool in sight.

4. Find ideas in uncommon sources.

the daily changing menu at verjus. photograph by tolleson. 12
Above: The daily-changing menu at Verjus. Photograph by Tolleson.

For the menu now positioned above the partially open kitchen, Tusk was inspired by theatre marquees, light boxes, and the work of British artist Isaac Julien. Beneath the menu is a custom steel sliding ladder: another nod to the old-fashioned theatre marquee.

5. Think like a graphic designer (and create your own tile pattern).

custom millwork by michael mellon in the form of shelves and a one off dining t 13
Above: Custom millwork by Michael Mellon in the form of shelves and a one-off dining table is paired with Pierre Chapo stools. Photograph by Christopher Stark.

The encaustic cement floor tiles from Lindsey Lang Design in white, black, burgundy, and pink. The goal was to connect the kitchen, dining room, and wine shop with one continuous, directional, and connecting pattern. The unique pattern of colored groupings appears as if it was casually random and pleasingly inconsistent, but the forethought in design works to direct and guide, almost subconsciously, from one space to another.

6. Gloss up the ceiling.

a view of the full eat in bar space. photograph by christopher stark. 14
Above: A view of the full eat-in bar space. Photograph by Christopher Stark.

Something we started noticing early last year was the slow trickle of the high gloss ceiling trend. It opens up a space (particularly for a lower ceiling) and adds a dose of dimensional color. Tusk chose Fine Paints of Europe 7180 in Ecobrilliant finish, “a burgundy shade that one associates with wine.” The colorful gloss ceiling contrasts with the more matte brick walls painted with Benjamin Moore White Dove.

7. Like the design of a midcentury master? Look to their children for more.

the shutters are mahogany window louvres from the \1970s sourced at paul bert s 15
Above: The shutters are Mahogany window louvres from the 1970s sourced at Paul Bert Serpette in Paris. Tusk’s team put them on custom iron pins to make them swivel. The pendant lights over the long farm table are Luigi Caccia Dominioni LS2 Pendants. Photograph by Christopher Stark.

Most of the dining furniture at Verjus is vintage by Pierre Chapo, the midcentury Parisian furniture designer. When Tusk was looking for the perfect height stool to pair with a 14-foot long English pine farm table from 1860, she reached out to Pierre Chapo’s son, Fidel Chapo, who has taken over his father’s workshop and still reproduces some of his original designs under the name Meubles Chapo (“Chapo furniture”). (We’ve seen a similar pattern with designers like Gesa Hansen, Mariah Nielson, Benjamin and Thomas Cherner, and others.)

8. Mix 20th with 19th century.

in the shop, woodworker michael mellon and ironworker dan hamilton created cust 16
Above: In the shop, woodworker Michael Mellon and ironworker Dan Hamilton created custom worktables stocked with wine, Kimora Japanese glassware, Town Cutler knives, and vintage French ceramics. Photograph by Christopher Stark.

Verjus is located in the historic Eclipse Champagne Building at the base of the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco. The building dates back to the 1850’s, San Francisco’s Gold Rush and Barbary Coast eras, so while Tusk was focused on 1960’s France as the core inspiration, she blended the two centuries by way of antiques. Seen here is an 1890’s glass cabinet originally from an apothecary in Florence, Italy (sourced at the Mercanteinfiera in Parma).

9. Create an eat-in kitchen with booth seating.

over the dining booth is a vintage danish red pendant light from the \1960s. th 17
Above: Over the dining booth is a vintage Danish red pendant light from the 1960s. The booth is outfitted with leather upholstery from Christian Liaigre and the Pierre Chapo stool has a dark gray sheepskin for an impromptu cushion. Photograph by Christopher Stark.

To create the cave à manger (eat-in cellar) in the adjoining wine shop, Tusk had a custom corner booth made from locally-sourced elm by artisan Michael Mellon in San Francisco (the curved bench is a Pierre Chapo design). (The eat-in kitchen booth is one of our favorite ideas we called out in our post on interior design trends.)

10. Even the pantry deserves design.

nearly all the stainless and cold rolled steel elements throughout verjus are d 18
Above: Nearly all the stainless and cold rolled steel elements throughout Verjus are designed custom by Henry Defaux of DeFauw Design. Photograph by Tolleson.
inset into the pantry alcove is pale grey glossy tile from heath ceramics. phot 19
Above: Inset into the pantry alcove is pale grey glossy tile from Heath Ceramics. Photograph by Christopher Stark.

The wine shop features charcuterie, preserves, vinegars, and conserva made up of 30 different types of tinned fish and shellfish. Rather than merchandising these into a one-dimension shop, they’re displayed on stainless steel counters, hanging from S-hooks, and set into alcoves. The takeaway is to keep your pantry as organized and beautiful as a shop (and vice versa), whether out on open shelving or behind cabinet doors.

For more restaurants with genius design ideas see our posts:

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