1 Why did you get into bar design?
I was a heavy construction worker when I was young. We followed the big jobs around, so I was always in a town where I didn’t know anybody. And after work what do you do? You clean up and find a bar. I had never been involved in the bar culture before that at all. Once I discovered a bar, if I had a good time and I liked it, I’d go back a second time and maybe somebody would know my name. I’d go back a third time, and I’d be a regular. And all of a sudden, I might be in a strange city, but I had a home away from home. And that feeling of having a second home, of having another living room, of community, has really been a part of my work the whole time. Much later, I had some friends who were opening up a bar; they asked me to design it for them, and I said, “sure.” It took me a few more years to hang up my toolkit and do it full time. But I embraced it, and it’s been a wild ride. It’s been a good ride.
2 What do you like most about designing bars?
The best thing is going back into a place that I built and watching other people enjoy it. That is definitely a high. It’s something you don’t get outside of hospitality—you don’t get to enjoy your work.
3 What makes a great bar design?
Know what you’re selling, and know who you’re selling it to. Design around your guest experience.
4 What are some common design mistakes?
Following. Using somebody’s else’s ideas and following trends—that’s the biggest mistake. My true philosophy of a bar is give me a couple of sawhorses and a couple of planks, and if I have great servers and great hospitality, it will work.
5 What’s trending in bar design?
I think [design] is returning to the neighborhood spot a little bit. I think that themes have been thoroughly explored. Look how people live now—especially in the cities—we’re living in smaller and smaller apartments, and we’re meeting our friends outside rather than in. So I think bars need to have a little more universal appeal and not be so specific. I’ve also got a four-letter word to describe the future of bars, and that’s “food.” Serve food, and serve good food.
6 Any advice for bar owners searching for a designer?
Go into a bar you like—maybe you like the lighting, the furniture, the general vibe and ambiance—and ask questions like, ‘Did somebody design this for you?’ A lot of people with their first bar may not be able to hire a full-time designer, but reach out to a designer for minimal help to get you going. We offer full service—we take you right through the process, the whole thing. But if you’re bootstrapping a bar together, raise enough money to just hire a designer to do a couple of mood boards, maybe some renderings, some hand sketches, to point you down the right road or help you with your layout, which is the first thing I do. I always do the layout first—that decides everything. Call somebody like me up and say, “We’re just starting. Can you help?” We have a program for reaching out to first timers and giving them a leg up. Who knows, they may become empire builders.