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Dressed Column | Theme Dining


In theme dining, Dressed Columns extend the theme found in the space. The verticality and rising pattern of columns can easily bring the theme from the ground to the ceiling plane. 


Columns define perpendicular edges of a volume in space. A column also will "assert itself as the center of the field and defines equivalent zones of space between itself and the surrounding wall planes. When offset, the column defines hierarchical zones of space differentiated by size, form, and function." 

In theme dining Dressed Columns function as design features to enhance a particular mood or concept. In this practice type, the ornamental enhancement of the columns articulates even more the adjacent planes, therefore extending a particular theme to the surrounding spaces (volumes). This effect will be more pronounced when repetitive series of Dressed Columns "punctuate the spatial volume, mark off modular zones within the spatial field, and establish a measurable rhythm and scale that make the spatial dimensions comprehensible."

The archetypical practice of a Dressed Column in restaurant design differs somewhat from its use in theme dining. In a restaurant a Dressed Column acts as transformative element in space;2 these ornate columns become focal points in space that elevate the dining experience.  In theme dining, Dressed Columns also punctuate dining spaces in a spectacular fashion, but the primary function shifts to be enhancers of a theme in a dining space. 

In theme dining columns also unite the floor and ceiling and can easily display objects or features that are seen by all. The location of an ornament (base, shaft, capital) will determine the visual behavior and focal point. Most examples found of Dressed Columns accentuate the capital, which force a viewer's eye to move upwards, and, in many instances, continue the visual spectacle on the ceiling plane. Another instance of Dressed Column occurs when the shaft is elevated with aesthetic license; in this case the eye contemplates the vertical features comprised in the middle of the base and the capital, allowing for a broader perspective of the spatial experience.

Chronological Sequence

The Decade of 1970 

Peacock Alley, an historic restaurant and cocktail lounge inside the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, was redesigned in 1971. Designer Ellen McCluskey pays special attention to the Moroccan-style columns that are described as "white columns with umbrella tops swoop to the venerable, high ceiling. These huge columns, wound with gilt serpents and nearby Moorish arches are daringly combined with delicate Art Deco bas-reliefs on the neighboring lobby ceiling."3 As a result of the ornate capital, and the upward movement of a gilt serpent, a viewer's eye is moved upwards. 

Color is applied in two different ways to emphasize and distinguish the two main areas of the venue, the cocktail lounge, and the dining room. "Color and lighting are bold in the outer lobby area and progressively become subdued as one reaches the dining area in the back. Banquettes are covered in a dark turquoise snakeskin-patterned vinyl, and the famous curved Waldorf peacock mural have also been rendered in living color."4

The Decade of 1980 

As inspiration for the Café Society restaurant in Manhattan's Flat Iron District, the owner, Shelly Ambramowitz, researched the grand lobbies of 1920s and 1930s era buildings on Manhattan's Central Park West. Restaurant designer Tony Chi, and his associate Albert Chen, create columns and cast a ceiling with a "neon glow .  . . in peach coloration."5 The columns offset the dramatic height of the twenty-two foot ceilings. Chi counterbalances verticality with dark bands of horizontal lines on columns and tri-tiered stainless steel railings, mullions, and positive/negative groove and relief-scored detailing. 

The structural columns are Light Bodies, each column incased in translucent acrylic and lit from within.6 The ubiquitous peach-colored glow from the columns and ceiling make Cafe Society more attractive for customers who want to dine in an upscale establishment. The height and massive volume of the columns make them formal and imposing in space. These qualities translate into the rest of the restaurant by allowing dining patrons to enjoy a place with sophistication and grandeur.

The Decade of 1990 

The decade of 1990 ushers in fresh reiterations of Dressed Column. Amnesia, a Toronto nightclub designed by the firm II by IV, creates a place "that lets people forget their cares and, instead, focus on fun and getting-away-from-it-all". The design approach centers on "bold, theatrical, attention-grabbing" interiors identified with the work of II by IV principals Dan Menchions and Keith Rushbrook."7 The nightclub features a burst of colors, geometric shapes and plush furnishings; something reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland.  Originally the "15,000-square foot L-form space was occupied, before total gutting, by a tile factory/showroom in Toronto." 

The 1,200 square foot mezzanine floats above the first bar and stairs with a series of color-clad support columns built to flank the entrance of the mezzanine and bar. Other columns, dressed in the kaleidoscopic harlequin colors, recede into the painted, background, creating a Camouflage8 effect. The Dressed Columns of Amnesia are a continuation of the kaleidoscopic theme and serve various functions such as "welcoming" the guests by flanking entrances, as well as supporting cocktail ledges spread throughout the nightclub. 

In 1999, the Red Sea Star restaurant opens its doors that are submerged twenty feet under water. The construction, devised by architect Josef Kiriaty with restaurant interiors by Ayala Serfaty, is located 100 feet from the shore of the Israeli resort town Eilat. Its designer, who had gained an international reputation through her Aqua Creations collection of lighting fixtures and furniture, is commissioned for her first interiors project on the strength of those products. 

The restaurant's unique dining experience includes Serfaty's warm color palette and sculptural forms that are meant to evoke the sensation of "floating weightless in the water."  The under-the-sea theme, carried throughout the dining facility with such attention to detail that even the floor "was made of a transparent epoxy poured over sea sand. The treatment not only resembles an authentic seabed, but also has a reflective, liquescent quality." Tabletops made of epoxy to reinforce Serfaty's vision. "Additional items in Serfaty's composition consist of laser-cut metal railings that resemble abstracted coral reefs or starfish, and custom bar stools with metal tentacles."9 The Dressed Columns in this aquatic-theme dining establishment include pillars covered with organic forms to resemble barnacles and anemones; these columns seamlessly blend with the theme and aid in the magical underwater creation. 

The use of a theatrical technique to "translate an animator's creative process into a whimsical dining experience" characterizes the 1999 Disney Cruise Line's restaurant Animator's Palate designed by Rockwell Group. "The dining space conveys the experience of walking into a pen-and-ink sketch. While patrons dine, Disney animations gradually evolve into full-color drawings. By the end of the meal, says senior project manager Nancy Thiel, the room dances with brilliant hues." When diners enter, the room is all black and/or all white, but as the meal progresses, the floor, wall, ceiling, tables, and even waiters' outfits evolve into vivid colors.10 Columns, dressed as paintbrushes with fiber-optic filaments, change color and illuminate the painter's palette. One of the main characteristics of these Dressed Columns is their interactive lights and ever-changing looks. The kinetic nature of the columns make them unique features, able to affect the mood and spatial perception of the guests dining in the restaurant. 


In theme dining, Dressed Columns are an integral part of the success of the business venture. Dressed Columns are widespread in the theme restaurant industry, because they help to deliver the theme of the restaurant. From the beginning Dressed Columns have been clad with a variety of materials, ranging from sculptural forms, and paint, to high tech interventions, making the dining customers more aware of their surroundings and the vibrant energy present in the restaurant space.11

end notes

  1. 1) Francis D.K. Ching, Architecture: Form, Space & Order, 2nd Ed. (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1996), 126, 131.
  2. 2) Jasmin Cho, "Theory Studies: Archetypical Practices of Contemporary Restaurant Design," (M.A. Thesis, Cornell University, 2009), 46-56; The Interior Archetypes Research and Teaching Project, Cornell University, (accessed May 21, 2012). 
  3. 3) Peacock Alley [1971] Ellen L. McCluskey and Associates, design; New York City in Anonymous, "Ellen L. McCluskey," Interior Design 42, no.8 (Aug.1971): 147; PhotoCrd: Henry F. Fullerton.
  4. 4) Peacock Alley [1971] Ellen L. McCluskey and Associates, design; New York City in Anonymous, "Ellen L. McCluskey, Interior Design: 147.    
  5. 5) Cafe Society [1988] Tony Chi, design; New York City in Monica Geran, "Cafe Society," Interior Design 59, no.14 (Oct.1988): 238-39, 303; PhotoCrd: W.H. Rogers III.
  6. 6) The Intype Light Body is a large translucent three-dimensional architectural object, or element, such as a column, that is lit fully from within to produce a glowing light. A Light Body is not planar.  Joanne Kwan, "Theory Studies: Archetypical Artificial Lighting Practices in Contemporary Interior Design," (M.A. Thesis, Cornell University, 2009), 126; The Interior Archetypes Research and Teaching Project, Cornell University, (accessed May 21, 2012). 
  7. 7) Amnesia Nightclub [1996] II by IV, designing firm; Toronto, Canada in Monica Geran, "In Living Color," Interior Design 67, no.14 (Nov.1996): 136-139; PhotoCrd: David Whittaker.
  8. 8) Camouflage refers to the application of a consistent pattern to the wall, floor, and ceiling planes, as well as furnishings. Wrapping the interior with a continuous pattern effectively blurs the transition between horizontal and vertical planes or between planes and furnishings. Elizabeth O'Brien, "Material Archetypes: Contemporary Interior Design and Theory Study" (M.A. Thesis, Cornell University, 2006), 132; The Interior Archetypes Research and Teaching Project, Cornell University, (accessed May 21, 2012).
  9. 9) Red Sea Star Restaurant [1999] Ayala Serfaty Interior Design; Eilat, Israel in Eddie Cohen, "Under the Sea," Interior Design 70, no.9 (Jul. 1999): 142-47; PhotoCrd: Albi Serfaty.
  10. 10) Animator's Palate [1999] Rockwell Group, design; Disney Cruise Line's ships Disney Magic and Disney Wonder, Florida in Elana Frankel, "Toon It Up," Interior Design 70, no.14 (Nov. 1999): 188; PhotoCrd: Mary Nichols for Walt Disney Imagineering.
  11. 11) Evidence for the archetypical use and the chronological sequence of Dressed Columns in theme restaurant design was developed from the following sources: 1970 Peacock Alley [1971] Ellen L. McCluskey and Assocs.; designer; New York City, in Anonymous, "Ellen L. McCluskey," Interior Design  42, no.8 (Aug.1971): 148; PhotoCrd: Henry F. Fullerton / 1980 Cafe Society [1988] Tony Chi, designer; New York City, in Monica Geran, "Cafe Society," Interior Design  59, no.14 (Oct.1988): 238-39; PhotoCrd: W.H. Rogers III /1990 Amnesia Nightclub [1996] II by IV, designing firm; Toronto, Canada in Monica Geran, "In Living Color," Interior Design  67, no.14 (Nov.1996): 137, 139; PhotoCrd: David Whittaker; Red Sea Star Restaurant [1999] Ayala Serfaty Interior Designer; Eilat, Israel in Edie Cohen, "Under the Sea," Interior Design 70, no.9 (Jul. 1999): 142-47; PhotoCrd: Albi Serfaty; Animator's Palate [1999] Rockwell Group, Designers; Florida shipyard in Elana Frankel, "Toon It Up," Interior Design 70, no.14 (Nov. 1999): 188; PhotoCrd: Mary Nichols for Walt Disney Imagineering.

bibliographic citations

1) Roses-Sierra, Jimena. "Theory Studies:  Archetypical Theme Dining, Practices in Contemporary Interior Design." M.A. Thesis, Cornell University, 2012, 46-59.