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Look inside the French Laundry's stunning new kitchen by Snøhetta

The Property Addict / Luxury Lifestyle

United States of America / Los Angeles, California

Feb 26 2018

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Juliet Izon, Architectural Digest

Venerated chef Thomas Keller has gone through five kitchens at his three-Michelin-starred restaurant The French Laundry, but demolition day is always bittersweet. “It was a very sad moment for me when the first tractor broke down the kitchen wall,” he says of his latest renovation, which started in 2014 and finished up last year.

Keller, by his own admission, needs to be pushed into the future, but he knew this was a necessary move to keep the restaurant innovative and alleviate the cramped quarters of the kitchen. To modernize and expand the kitchen while still keeping the breezy vibe of the Yountville, CA, space, Keller turned to Craig Dykers of Snøhetta, an architecture firm with offices in Oslo and New York that has designed such landmark buildings as the National September 11th Museum and the expansion of SFMOMA. “I've always appreciated the aesthetic of the Nordic countries,” Keller says. “Craig is an American, but he learned their ways by living there for so long. And I wanted to have an American architect; we have an important restaurant in America and we wanted to maintain that connectivity.”

For Dykers, working on a smaller scale was a chance to show how his trademark undulating forms could be scaled down successfully. “Although we had never designed a kitchen before, we felt that within the intimate sense of form with function and aesthetic, there was a quality of design that was familiar to us,” he says. The inspiration for the kitchen was a much larger building, however: I.M Pei’s famed pyramid addition at the Louvre Museum. “Pei did a tremendous job in redefining what the Louvre is without changing the Louvre,” Keller says. “He created a whole new sense of energy, of place.”

The finished kitchen (along with an annex building that was also redesigned) is topped with a pitched, low-slung roof, a nod to the design of historic agrarian buildings. A similar marriage of history and modernity is found on the building’s exterior, where rustic charred wood is paired with contemporary-feeling fritted glass. Inside, the wavy lines of the space’s ceiling evoke the dramatic unrolling of a white tablecloth (while also smartly serving as noise dampeners). For the walls and work benches, Keller opted for Dekton, a material known for its durability and cleanliness. Replacing tiles and grout, which can harbor bacteria and are more difficult to clean, was important for upping the restaurant’s overall efficiency and safety. “If there's anything we can do to eliminate any foodborne illness by virtue of the materials or the techniques we're using, we want to do that,” he says.

The courtyard was also fully transformed and expanded; the centerpiece is now a lush 23-year-old crepe myrtle tree for which the team spent nearly two years searching. “I'm always trying to get more grass, vegetation, plantings, and landscaping,” Keller says. There’s one more element planned for the outdoor space, however: “We're getting ready to put a time capsule in,” he says. “That's kind of the way we think about it at The French Laundry. We don't think short term; it's a long game for us. This is our way of looking into the future; we're going to pass it on to someone who's going to embrace that same idea of stewardship and integrity.”

SOURCE: Architectural Digest

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