Albert Alfonso

Design Insights on Carmel Cafe and Wine Bar from the restaurant's architect. Click to read the complete profile

Paintings. When we were first discussing design ideas, I suggested anchoring the room with a big, 30-foot-long painting. They thought it was a great idea, and the murals have become a recurring element. Each one is original and unique to that unit. We all felt they would support the idea of Mediterranean art, pulling from the great culture and tradition of painting and art in Spain, Italy and France. The South Tampa unit’s painting took about a month and a half. I paint at night, and it’s oil, so it takes time to dry...I’d just come back from Paris, and it is a collage of sorts, depicting the history of Parisian cafés in four vignettes and the whole idea of the role that cafés play in daily life there.

Giclee. We’ve talked about the possibility of using giclee, which is a printing process that enables you to make a reproduction of a painting, and it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between the two. I’ve done five of these original murals so far, but as we move into other markets farther away, we’ll probably do giclee prints of the originals. They’re not cheap, but neither are the paintings, and given the time that they take to do, I’m limited.

Blue Venetian Plaster. It’s a thousand-year-old process from Italy. We had a guy come over from Italy to teach us, so I have a couple of people in my office who know how to do it. In Italy, they would grind up marble chips and put them in the plaster when they do the pigment. When done well, it has a beautiful translucent quality to it. Chris and Terry could have just painted the back bar for a lot less money, but they wanted to add something that really made a statement.

Generals and Soldiers. The paintings, the plaster, the soft red leather seating area with ceiling canopy, the wine walls – those are all instances of spending more money in a few high-impact areas. Everything else plays a secondary role in terms of bringing the design to life, so there’s no need to go out and spend a fortune on fancy tables and furnishings. There are generals and good soldiers, right? You pick the generals and fill in with the good soldiers. That’s definitely the formula at Carmel Café.