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Brian Miller and Jason Maringola // Photo: Trent Johnson

Streetsense Cultivates Neighborhood Hospitality

Bars are more than the drinks they serve. Behind the beer, cocktails and spirits is the lay of the land, the setting, the vibe. It goes without saying that without good product, any establishment will falter, but a backdrop that melds with its culinary offerings will only serve to heighten the experience for the customer.

One way to achieve this elevated interior ambiance is by allowing professionals to take over, because it’s often not as simple as taking the ideas from your brain and putting them into practice.

That’s where Streetsense comes in. The company is described as an experience-focused design and strategy collective, and has continually delivered spectacular interior architecture on an international level. You’ve likely seen their decadent design around the District, including at Ivy City’s Coconut Club, Shaw’s The Dabney and Penn Quarter’s Daikaya, to name a few.

Coconut Club // Photo: Rey Lopez

One step into their Bethesda office and you’re greeted with a number of creatives all huddled up, sketches adorning drafting boards, posters lining the walls and retro knick-knacks placed throughout the space. And while the Streetsense office has a certain feel, the company’s aesthetic is as diverse as their extensive roster of clients.

“We do more than just design and we think differently because we actually understand the analytics and demographics of our areas and bring people to the table,” design director of interior architecture Jason Maringola says.

Variables for the Streetsense process include the typical timeline, budget and service, but one goal that never wavers regardless of scope is the team’s ability to connect with the client. This can mean traveling to South Carolina and visiting dive bars or hopping on an international flight to tour dojos in Japan.

“There are a number of restaurant projects I’ve worked on where we’ve gotten to travel with the clients to really dig in beyond mood boards, Pinterest and Instagram and figure out what they’re trying to draw from,” says Brian Miller, senior design director of interior architecture of Edit Lab at Streetsense. “We want to know how they think people get together over food and drinks, how people socialize, about how communities are oriented around those concepts.”

Daikaya // Photo Nikolas Koenig

This part of the process is what has always driven Miller and Maringola, who both grew up with a strong unwavering desire to work in architecture. As a child, Miller’s family moved around from town to town and he took note of buildings commanding attention. And for Maringola, even at an early age he’d memorize floor plans of homes his parents toured, sketch them out and offer critiques.

The collective childhood wonderment of all things hospitality design is reflected in their day-to-day, including the neverending goal of getting inside the brains of bar and restaurant owners to render artistic mockups that reach beyond visually interesting interpretations of what could be pretty or trendy. Instead, Streetsense seeks to establish a dominant thematic concept able to operate as a focal throughline. From there, they’ll determine one clear option with secondary layouts.

“I think we try to drive an approach that’s not to get us excited or the client excited, but about the people walking in the door of that business,” Miller says. “What’s going to make a really good experience for them? Is it a quiet night out? Is it a birthday?”

Maringola adds that their design isn’t really for the client. And while discussing the looks and feels of their babies, striking a balance between doing something personal and artistic is the toughest part of the process.

“Our clients are taking a risk, they’re putting a lot of money out to create a space and to trust us. The most rewarding thing for a client to tell us is that it’s better than they imagined. Most clients aren’t visual, so when they see the space and people interacting in the space, it goes from night to day. Then, they realize we really created something unique for the community,” Maringola says.

Moxy Atlanta // Photo: courtesy of Moxy

Some of the clients they work with aren’t backed by a corporate entity with limitless coffers, Miller says. When dealing with mom and pop shops, decisions are made with an understanding that livelihood could be on the line.

On the flip side, with larger clients, out of towners might require an entire education on the culture of a location or neighborhood. What makes this particular area unique? What does it need? For this, Streetsense sets up tours and activities to help the companies learn about their future clientele.

“The work our studio does [is] with extremely neighborhood driven places,” Miller says. “Clients look to us for that understanding, and some of our more exciting projects are when we get to work on a lot of places within a small area. This allows us to kind of create an ecosystem like [we created] in Blagden Alley.”

Big or small, Streetsense’s interior hospitality designs craft unique experiences for visitors. And with backdrop details such as lighting, theme and decor under their supervision, our favorite restaurants, coffee shops and bars can do what they do best; serve you.

“I always think of it as production design for a movie,” Miller says. “If that setting isn’t right, you know it’s not right.”

“But, the big thing is we could do all the beautiful design in the world but if the food sucks, service sucks, whatever we do won’t mean a thing,” Maringola says laughing. “That’s the catalyst.”

To learn about Streetsense, visit www.streetsense.com.

The Bygone // Photo: Maxine Schnitzer
DC’s Innovative Restaurant & Bar Interiors
Photos: Farrah Skeiky and Greg Powers Photography

Designer Experience: DC’s Innovative Restaurant & Bar Interiors

How would you describe the interior of your favorite restaurant? Is it bold and sophisticated like a glass of red wine, or cheerful and casual like pop music? Maybe it’s sensual and romantic like a slow dance. As the bar and restaurant scene continues to boom in DC, its interiors are becoming increasingly customized, intentional and, well, manipulative. But in a good way.

On Tap spoke with the designers of some of our favorite new spots, including Sakerum, Lincoln, Columbia Room, The Dabney and Community, delving into how they create the ultimate environment for a special night out. Maggie O’Neill, cofounder of Swatchroom, starts off every new project by asking the client how they want their space to feel. She’s searching for a launching point, a spark for the creative process.

For example, her client wanted Sakerum on 14th Street to be both soothing and exotic. Her firm realized the concept with clean lines, natural materials and “punctuations of glamour.” As a sushi restaurant, looking to Japanese design was logical, but Swatchroom also brought in Latin cultural influences like bright, mismatched pillows lining benches adjacent to the Asian element of low wood tables.

Designers of the best new restaurant interiors in DC consider every single aspect of your experience in the space. From how you enter the restaurant, to the way diners and servers circulate through the room, the tiniest details have been considered and choices carefully made. Beyond lighting and materials, the most successful designers select everything from the font on the menu to the weight of cutlery in your hand.

When Brian Miller, design director at Streetsense and longtime friend of Columbia Room Owner Derek Brown, agreed to redesign the bar in Blagden Alley, the firm approached the project almost like production design for a play. The bar is small, so designers developed a kind of choreography dictated by the space to have “the best drinks you can possibly make while having the best time you can possibly have,” Miller said.

“We really wanted to pinpoint what was special about the old Columbia Room and what could be improved.”

There are three spaces in the bar: a tasting room, punch garden and spirits library. The latter conjures masculine rooms in sprawling English estates, with rich woodwork and deep leather sofas. The original bar could only be accessed by walking through another restaurant. Miller and Brown felt it was crucial to keep that kind of sequence in the new space: first enter the alley, pass through the garden, into the spirits library and finally arrive at the bar.

“The anticipation that builds is a really important part of the experience,” Miller said.

The most impressive feature of Columbia Room is the large, custom Italian glass mosaic mural behind the bar. No rows of bottles or TV screens stare back at patrons of this exclusive spot. The firm designed the artwork based on medieval illuminated manuscripts. It is highly detailed, allegorical and rich with iconography, exploring the duality between dark and light, man and woman, sun and moon. Alchemists were the first to mix delicious cocktails, and the artwork explores the techniques and ingredients of the craft. It’s the ultimate message to patrons that this place is special, it’s intentional and it will last.

Custom art is something our top picks share – the mosaic wall in Columbia Room, wrought metal mirrors in Sakerum, custom portraits and penny floor in Lincoln, and the cheerful, Hollywood-inspired painted mural in Community. Richard Stokes, founder of Stokes Architecture, designed the latter, a new-concept diner in Bethesda’s Woodmont Triangle.

Open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and cocktails, it even features a window where late-night partiers can pick up fresh doughnuts and coffee. Stokes has created a space that pays tribute to mid-century modern casual dining spots, elevating the look with sleek lines, dark wood and custom barstools in orange with smart, plaid seatbacks. A partial wall of stacked white stone separates the bar from the dining room – but all diners have access to views out of the wall of windows overlooking the street.

Trends to watch for? Clean lines, custom elements – often made by local artisans – metals like rose gold, brass and polished copper. Mid-century modern is in, while reclaimed materials and Edison bulbs are out. Casual gathering places where people can come and go all day are more common than the white-tableclothed steakhouses of the District’s past. Boho chic and warm colors are on trend, as are colors found in Miami Beach, like muted mauve, dirty yellows and minty greens. O’Neill avoids the latter, however, creating classic spaces that aspire to timelessness.

“This is the year of intensions,” she said, her excitement and passion bubbling through the phone.

Restaurantgoers in DC are sophisticated, savvy and looking for “high-impact moments,” she said. These hot spots deliver just that.

On Tap’s Picks
Columbia Room:
124 Blagden Alley, NW, DC; www.columbiaroomdc.com
Community: 7776 Norfolk Ave. Bethesda, MD; www.communitybethesda.com
The Dabney: 122 Blagden Alley, NW, DC; www.thedabney.com
District Distilling: 1414 U St. NW, DC; www.district-distilling.com
Lincoln: 1110 Vermont Ave. NW, DC; www.lincolnrestaurant-dc.com
Provision 14: 2100 14th St. NW, DC; www.provisiondc.com
Sakerum: 2204 14th St. NW, DC; www.sakerum.com