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Soft Room | Restaurant


In restaurants Soft Room is used to create the illusion of an intimate dining experience for patrons. The space exhibits aspects of visual exclusiveness, but it often lacks acoustical privacy and thermal regulation.


In restaurant design Soft Room has beneficial qualities aesthetically, functionally, and economically, but rarely acoustically.1 Artificial lighting has the capacity to transform Soft Room’s fluid walls into a dramatic space with the use of shadow, light level, and color. Functionally restaurant designers use Soft Room to soften a rigid plan of right angled spaces. Soft Room also permits flexibility, in that spaces can be used in more than one way. Soft Rooms may also be economical, because the soft walls can be easily replaced.

The chronological sequence of Soft Room begins with several examples of soft walls. At the National Hotel Exposition held in New York in 1962, the use of Soft Room was showcased as a device to separate the dining area from the bar. A vinyl curtain blurred the activities behind the soft wall and made the dining experience more intimate.2

In the 1970 decade Soft Room applications in restaurants made booths less public by visually separating them from a row of booths. In the South Pacific Ports Restaurant (1970) in New York City sheer curtains were hung from a single rod; a pair of tied-back curtains hung beside each diner-type booth.3 When the curtain was closed it created some visual privacy, but the curtain’s most important effect made an ordinary space special.

Beaudry’s Restaurant (1977) in the John Portman designed Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles illustrates a much more sophisticated use of diaphanous curtains than the Glamour of the Seas example. The Soft Room in Beaudry’s achieves the perception of a special space, because of unique architectural elements. Beaudry’s booths are three-quarters round and sumptuously upholstered in velvet. From a round ceiling slightly lower than the main dining area are suspended wire mesh screens. Pleated abric panels suspended from the ceiling buffer sound from the main dining room, and. pinwheel chandeliers in each booth supply lighting separate from the larger area.4 Beaudry’s is the first example in this chronological sequence that actually makes a Soft Room.

Twenty years after the Soft Room installation in Beaudry’s, Philippe Starck reiterated Soft Wall for the Restaurant Te`atriz (theater). Starck designed an outsized entrance with exaggerated elements – upon entry guests encounter an oversized, framed portrait of a distorted face. This exaggerated feature introduces other bizarre components of the interior experience. (see intype Exaggerate). From the vast entry space one was brought back to human-scale in the dining area, where gossamer textiles panels provide a quieting effect in the space. The yellow cast of artificial lighting accentuates the softness of the curtains. The curtains do not touch the floor; rather they stop about 1.5 feet from the floor, so as not to break up the fluidity of the space.

The restaurant and bar ADEGA, designed by Semple Brown in Denver, also incorporates soft walls of sheer translucent curtains that control the views of the wine bar, dining room, and the wine room. The thin, translucent and light-toned curtains contrast with massive columns and dark color choices for floor, wall, ceiling, and furniture. Floor lighting fixtures are installed underneath the curtain, and the lighting effect dramatizes the fluidity of the material. Lighting from the floor transforms the curtain from a room divider into a shimmering wall, because the textiles catch the light like a conduit. Light walls in the ADEGA create contrast within its darkness.

In Asian cultures Soft Room has been in almost continuous use in houses, restaurants, hospitals and hotels. Materials for Soft Room varied, such as bamboo blinds, paper doors, folding screens, twigs and leaves from the natural environment. As Soft Room was adopted in modern design and architecture, the variety of materials broadened. Restaurant designers use various materials, including sheer nylon, opaque velvet, metal screen, and wooden strips. By varying materials, colors, luster, and lighting effects, designers can manipulate spatial perceptions of the dining experience.5

end notes

  1. 1) "Soft Wall" was identified by Mijin Juliet Yang who named the archetype “Fluid Wall” in Mijin Juliet Yang, “Theory Studies: Contemporary Boutique Hotel Design.” (M.A. Thesis, Cornell University, 2005), 60; Marta Mendes named the type “Soft Room” in Marta Mendes, “Theory Studies: Archetypical Practices of Contemporary House Design.” (M.A. Thesis, Cornell University, 2008), need page numbers.
  2. 2) National Hotel Exposition [1962] Walter M. Ballard Corp., New York City in “National Hotel Exposition: NY,” Interior Design (Oct. 1962): 208.
  3. 3) Diner booths are those with straight, rather than slightly reclined, backs; seat depth is shallow. Diner booths are upholstered in textiles that are easily cleaned, such as vinyl.
  4. 4) “The Los Angeles Bonaventure Hotel,” Interior Design 48 (Dec. 1977), 121.
  5. 5) Evidence for the use and the chronological sequence of Soft Room as a restaurant archetype was developed from the following sources: 1960 National Hotel Exposition [1962] Walter M. Ballard Corp.; New York City in "Restaurants," Interior Design 33, no. 10 (Oct. 1962): 208; PhotoCrd: Louis Reens; Hawaiian Village Restaurant [1965] Kenneth Sanders; Myrtle Beach, SC in "Dining Polynesian Style," Interior Design 36, no. 10 (Oct. 1965): 215; PhotoCrd: Alexandre Georges / 1970 South Pacific Ports Restaurant [1970] Fred Brush; New York City in "The Glamour of the South Seas," Interior Design (Apr. 1970): 169; PhotoCrd: B and G International; The Atrium Club [1976] Ellen L. McCluskey; New York City in "The Atrium Club," Interior Design 47, no. 4 (Apr. 1976): 126; PhotoCrd: Jamie Ardiles-Arce; Beaudry's Restaurant [1977] John Portman and Associates; Los Angeles, CA in "The Los Angeles Bonaventure Hotel," Interior Design 48, no. 12 (Dec. 1977): 121; PhotoCrd: Alexandre Georges; Giorgio's [1978] Joseph Villano; New York City in "Disco Drama and Dining a la Directoire," Interior Design 49, no. 4 (Apr. 1978): 238; PhotoCrd: Jamie Ardiles-Arcee / 1980 Jane's Bar and Grill [1989] Bob Patino; New York City in Edie Lee Cohen, "Jane's Bar & Grill," Interior Design 60, no. 6 (June 1989): 225; PhotoCrd: Peter Vitale / 1990 Rocco's [1990] Ahearn-Schopfer & Associates; Boston, MA in "Rocco's in Boston," Interior Design 61, no. 6 (June 1990): 207; PhotoCrd: Peter Vanderwarker; Angelo Pietro [1991] Lembo Bohn; Japan in Edie Cohen, "Angelo Pietro," Interior Design 62, no. 12 (Dec. 1991): 79; PhotoCrd: Masaki Ono; August Moon [1992] Fong and Miyagawa Design Associates; Irvine, CA in "August Moon," Interior Design 63, no. 6 (June 1992): 143; PhotoCrd: Chris Eden; Rococo [1996] Floss Barber, Inc.; Philadelphia, PE in Christy Casamassima, Restaurant 2000: Dining Design III (Glen Cove, NY: PBC International, 1998), 90; PhotoCrd: Catherine Tighe Bogart and Tom Crane; Theatron [1997] Philipe Starck; Mexico City, Mexico in Olivier Boissière, ed., Outstanding Bar and Restaurant Designs (Paris: Telleri, 1998), 44; PhotoCrd: N. Ishii/Skinkentiku; Shanghai Lilly [1999] Tony Chi and Associates; Las Vegas, NV in Matteo Vercelloni, New Restaurants in USA 2 (Milano: L'archivolto, 2003), 171; PhotoCrd: Paul Warchol / 2000 Chino Latino [2000] Steven Harris Architect; Minneapolis in Henry Urbach, "Dinner Theater," Interior Design 71, no. 12 (Oct. 2000): 205; PhotoCrd: Scott Frances; Daidaiya Ginza Restaurant and Bar [2001] Hashimoto Yukio Design Studio; Tokyo, Japan in Joachim Fischer, ed., Restaurant Design (Stuttgart, Germany: Daab Press, 2004) 152, 153; PhotoCrd: Anonymous; Tamarind [2001] Chapman and Chapman Architecture; New York City in Sheila Kim, "Taste of India," Interior Design 72, no. 12 (Oct. 2001): 100; PhotoCrd: Mark Ross; ADEGA Restaurant [2003] Semple Brown, Union Station; Denver, CO in Martin M. Pegler, Contemporary Restaurants and Bars (New York: Visual Reference Publications, 2004), 19; PhotoCrd: Ron Pollard; Maimon Nishiazabu Restaurant and Bar [2003] Hashimoto Yukio Design Studio Inc.; Tokyo, Japan in Joachim Fischer, ed., Restaurant Design (Stuttgart, Germany: Daab Press, 2004), 160; PhotoCrd: Romeo Balancourt; Sushi Samba [2003] David Rockwell, The Rockwell Group; Chicago, IL in Pegler, Contemporary Restaurants and Bars, 106; PhotoCrd: Mark Ballogg, Skeinkamp Ballogg Photography; Le Meridien [2003] Yabu Pushelburg; Minneapolis, MN in "Wonder Twin Power," Interior Design 74, no. 12 (Oct. 2003): 245; PhotoCrd: David Joseph; O-Bar [2004] Thomas Schoos Design; Los Angeles, CA in Michael Adams, "Hollywood High," Hospitality Design 26, no. 4 (May/June 2004): 51; PhotoCrd: Kund Villand; Le Drugstore [2004] Michele Saee; Paris, France in "American in Paris," Hospitality Design 26, no. 8 (Sep./Oct. 2004): 108; PhotoCrd: Luc Boegly; Toque [2005] Jean-Pierre Viau; Montreal, Canada in Michael Webb, "Seriously Sensual," Hospitality Design 27, no. 4 (May/June 2005): 80; PhotoCrd: Marc Cramer; Au Pied de Cochon [2006] TVS; Atlanta, GA in Andrea Toochim, "Local lure," Hospitality Design 28, no.3 (Apr. 2006): 217; PhotoCrd: Raul Vega; Bergdorf Goodman [2006] Kelly Wearstler; New York City in Aric Chen, "Dining on Seven," Interior Design 77, no. 4 (Apr. 2006): 262; PhotoCrd: Annie Schlechter; Morimoto New York [2006] Tadao Ando Architects and Asoociates; New York City in Sarah Amelar, "Morimoto New York," Architectural Record 194, no. 9 (Sep. 2006): 104; PhotoCrd: Richard Pare; The Penthouse [2007] RTK Associates; Santa Monica, CA in David Tyda, "Penthouse Perfection," Hospitality Design 29, no. 3 (Apr. 2007): 238; PhotoCrd: Jonathan Rouse; Chinatown Brasserie [2007] William T. Georgis Architect; New York City in Jana Schiowitz, "Imperial Comfort," Hospitality Design 29, no. 2 (Mar. 2007): 110; PhotoCrd: Roberto D'Addona; Queenie [2007] Michael Malapert; Paris, France in Stacy Shoemaker Rauren, "French Kiss," Hospitality Design 29, no. 6 (Aug. 2007): 125; PhotoCrd: Queenie Restaurant; Wakiya at Gramercy Park Hotel [2007] Anda Andrei, Ian Schrager Company; New York City in Stacy Shoemaker Rauren, "Imperial Design," Hospitality Design 29, no. 8 (Nov. 2007): 107; PhotoCrd: Gramercy Park Hotel.

bibliographic citations

1) The Interior Archetypes Research and Teaching Project, Cornell University, (accessed month & date, year).

2) Cho, Jasmin. “Theory Studies: Archetypical Practices of Contemporary Restaurant Design.” M.A. Thesis, Cornell University, 2008, 126-135.