Architectural Record | May 2016

Mitchell Wall Architecture and Design

Named after the Italian word for Paris, Parigi was designed to look as if it were an Italian restaurant in the heart of the French capital. Located instead at the ground level of a luxury apartment building in Clayton, a tiny suburb of St. Louis, the newly opened eatery fuses Italian design inspiration, and leading Italian design brands, with a traditional bistro feel.

Lighting played a large role in achieving that effect. The restaurant’s main space is divided into three zones—the general seating area, private dining, and the bar—with a different lighting scheme corresponding to each. The main dining room, which includes booths at the center and small tables along the expansive storefront windows, features rows of bare LED A-lamps—a nod to Adolf Loos—suspended from brass lampholders along the ceiling. “Exposed bulbs were very commonplace in bistros at the turn of the last century,” explains architect Susan Bower, who led the design team at locally based firm Mitchell Wall. “They also work here to provide spherical illumination and bounce light up to show off the ceiling posters.”

A mash-up of images of Italian and French art, food, fashion, and cinema designed by architect Stephen Leet, these PVC panels are affixed to the ceiling due to the limited wall space. Those cross bands of artwork, though, also serve to tie the two linear seating areas together. Embedded in the salmon-colored partition walls that separate them are vertical architectural fixtures, whose LED light sources emit a soft glow around the lampshade and beneath the base toward the floor.

On the low wall by the booths, upholstered in a bright orange that was a popular color for Ferraris in the 1960s, is a line of large table lamps. Finished in copper, they offer diffused light while mingling with James Beard Award-nominated chef and owner Ben Poremba’s collection of copper pots and espresso makers.

Brass-colored panels in tandem with cleverly concealed LED accent ropes are responsible for the golden hue around the bar. Rotating sconces with long cantilevering arms satisfy Poremba’s wish for the bar to be a flexible space.

A large window on the kitchen, visible from the main dining room and bar, is framed by heat lamps that both keep food warm and act as subtle ornament. “Light and heat emanate from the kitchen,” says Bower. “We wanted that to be the brightest spot.”

On the opposite end of the restaurant, and exuding a very different kind of illumination, is the private dining room. Painted turquoise, with walls left bare to allow for presentations during business lunches and dinners, the central focus is a beautifully tiered Ingo Maurer chandelier. Called Lacrime del Pescatore, Italian for “tears of the fisherman,” its nylon nets are dripping with 385 crystals. A single 3,050K halogen spot, mounted separately on an adjacent wall, projects onto the luminous drops.

“Installing that piece was like installing an artwork,” recalls Todd Lannom, consultant and supplier for the project, who also provided lighting for three of Poremba’s earlier restaurants in a grittier part of downtown St. Louis. “Each crystal had to be added individually, and the placement of the nets adjusted with the incremental weight. It’s amazing though how light fills that volume with just one bulb.”

“Given the context of the restaurant in a suburban highrise, we really wanted that space to sparkle and evoke the clinking of glasses,” says Bower. “The defraction of light into a rainbow of colors makes you feel as if you’ve entered a very special place.”