Soul FoodAuthor:Abigail Stone
While imitation may be one form of flattery, for an interior designer it’s repetition that’s an even more potent acknowledgement of the success of their work. Interior designer Sean Leffers, who had worked with the client on Pacifique, transforming a tired French bistro on La Cienega into an elegant dining spot, received this confirmation when the client asked him to shoulder the design of Soulmate, a new Spanish-influenced restaurant on Robertson, just north of Melrose. To pile on the accolades, the new space is bigger in every way.
“This time the budget was ten times what it was on Pacifique,” Leffers shares, “We completely gutted the existing space, built a large courtyard, and created two bars and seven different types of seating in several zones — including a cozy bar, a formal dining space, private areas and casual dining — to accommodate 200 people.”
As is clear from his own home in San Francisco, Leffers understands how to harness the power of the dramatic. Here that takes the form of a large olive tree that springs from the central courtyard of the 7000 square foot restaurant. “There was some pressure to remove it in order to accommodate more seating,” says Leffers, “I had to metaphorically chain myself to it in order to keep it.” He adds, “For me, it’s the soul of the space.” His instincts proved to be on point. The tree not only punctuates the beauty of the soaring restaurant, telegraphing its laid-back Mediterranean feeling, but unifies the sprawling space into a cohesive whole that keeps it from feeling cavernous. “Everyone ended up being very happy we kept the tree,” says Leffers.
For Leffers, the tree was part and parcel of his overarching vision. “I try to think about the experience we are trying to offer the occupants of a space — visually, emotionally, intellectually — and start building our little universe around that,” he says, “I like to have a complete story that we are trying to tell. It makes it more fun and interesting, and when we are making hard decisions it serves as our North Star.”
For Soulmate, which serves Spanish farm-to-table food courtesy of Chef Rudy Lopez — including pan con tomate, vegetable fideuà with garlic aioli, uni toast made with Santa Barbara sea urchin, spicy paella bites and chicken croquettes — the idea was to create a welcoming space. “We wanted to offer the neighborhood a place that had it all — amazing food, great music and stunning art in a setting that was beautiful and inviting,” says Leffers, “We wanted to translate the buzzy late night atmosphere that you might find in a hot restaurant somewhere in Spain into something that made sense in Southern California which is, above all, a living laboratory of cultural mix and testing new ideas.”
A salt and pepper floor crafted from white concrete and black Mexican beach pebbles, grounds the airy courtyard. Over the outdoor area, a retractable roof opens to the sky when the weather is temperate. “It’s translucent so that even when it’s closed during cold or rainy weather, the space is still flooded with light,” Leffers explains.
“We wanted to create an atmosphere that felt eventful and like you could have a complete night out without having to also hit a club,” Leffers says, “I think we succeeded.”