image of nyc restaurant design

Restaurant-style banquette seating is becoming more common in apartments. From a StreetEasy listing at 265 State St..

Ever walk into a fashionable NYC restaurant and feel like you’ve entered someone’s living room — or vice versa? With homey bistros popping up across the city, and apartment kitchens getting larger and larger, the line between restaurant design and home design is becoming increasingly blurred.

To find out how restaurant design and home design influence each other, we spoke to New York designer Meg Sharpe, known for her stunning residential interiors as well as her transformations of many a historic NYC landmark into a trendy restaurant — including Bill’s Townhouse and the Lion (beloved but now closed).

“While one influences the other, both go hand-in-hand,” Sharpe says. Here the five main factors she believes restaurant design and home design share.

image of the lion nyc

The interior of the Lion, a Greenwich Village restaurant designed by Sharpe. (Via Yelp)

A Homey Vibe

When Sharpe set out to design the Lion, once a celeb-studded Greenwich Village hotspot, the client requested a space that felt cozy, warm — and residential. “We dreamed up a story to go along with the project,” Sharpe says. She pretended that a great-grandmother had once owned the home and passed it down through the generations. The client gave her free reign to include lots of quirks, layering on new pieces of art and imagining how it had been collected over the generations to become heirlooms. This layered, lived-in look has since become popular, and can be seen in NYC restaurants like Freeman’s and Gemma, in the Bowery Hotel, among many others.

Casual, Communal Dining

“More and more residential clients are asking for a breakfast nook or banquette-style seating than when I first started out,” Sharpe says. New Yorkers increasingly crave more of the casual dining experience of a restaurant, as opposed to the formality of a giant dining table surrounded by chairs. So instead of just chairs, Sharpe is seeing a mix of chairs and benches, noting that “communal seating, whether banquettes or benches, has really infiltrated residential design at this point.”

image of common seating in a nyc townhouse

The mix of chairs and booth seating is an oft-requested element. From a StreetEasy listing at 130 E. 67th St.

Ever-Bigger Kitchens

“Kitchens seem to keep getting larger and larger,” Sharpe says, and islands are taking on a more significant role. “They’re more than just a food prep area. Now, they often have bars or seating areas, and the space is used in a way that’s more efficient, which is what I’ve seen more in terms of hospitality design and the restaurant world.” Sharpe has also seen restaurant-style cookware take more of a hold in home kitchens. “Back in the day, Le Creuset was a less-recognizable brand, but now everyone, no matter who you are, has a set of their cookware.”

A Sense of Privacy

While monolithic formal restaurants once reigned supreme, New Yorkers are craving a more intimate experience these days. “People are seeking that sense of being at home, with simple dishes that don’t use too many fancy ingredients,” Sharpe says. “Rather than the formalities of a huge restaurant, you want to feel like you can have a private conversation, where friends can join the table in the middle of the meal. You want to feel like you could sit there for hours.” Sharpe achieves this feel mostly through lighting. “At home, you’re surrounded by softer, warmer light, while restaurants can often be cold and harsh, so it’s about bringing in the warmth with lots of candles and layered lighting.”

image of kitchen at 167 perry street

From a StreetEasy listing at 167 Perry St.

Eclectic Design

Rather than the uniform designs of the past, restaurants are now leaning toward a more eclectic style. “I always try to use a mix of chairs when I’m designing a restaurant,” Sharpe says, emphasizing the importance of mixing materials. Leather banquettes, for example, feel less sterile when topped with textured pillows: “Texture makes everything feel warmer and cozier,” she says.

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