Californios 59A1860

When chef Val Cantu and his wife, Carolyn, a former junior designer for San Francisco firm Ken Fulk, set out to design Californios, they bucked conventional wisdom about designing for small, narrow spaces. Rather than go white or light to open up the 30-seat, 1,200-square-foot space, Carolyn chose black for the ceiling and walls. Her goal: To create intimacy and a dramatic backdrop for the vibrant artwork, gold accents, caramel leather banquettes and waterfall chandeliers that bring the space to life. Just as Val’s food does, she wanted the space to reflect a distinctive departure from what guests might expect of a Mexican restaurant.

“I really love the black paint. When we first mentioned that we wanted to paint the restaurant black, people – including the painter we worked with – thought we were a little crazy,” she says. “But I think a really dark color in a small space can make everything feel more intimate. We tried a couple of different blacks and this one is very warm, almost dark chocolatey in tone, depending on how the light hits it. It ended up being one of our best design decisions.”