April 27th, 2011 22:36 EST
Judyth Piazza chats with Stephen Francis Jones of SFJones Architects designs
Stephen Francis Jones of SFJones Architects designs distinctive restaurants. From his latest upscale rustic eatery Manhattan Beach Post, to the high-end classic style of Wolfgang Puck`s Spago in Beverly Hills, to the retro-chic Lucky Strike Lanes, he has created extraordinary environments dedicated to food and fun. He brings a wealth of experience and vision to a diverse range of projects: high-end restaurants and lounges, casual eateries, hotels, and spas - around the U.S. and around the world - including some of the most visually exciting and highly acclaimed restaurants in Los Angeles. After studying architecture at the University of Florida, Jones got his Master`s degree at UCLA. He began his career in Boston, working with Jung/Brannen Associates designing high-rises.
The experience was valuable, as it taught him that his interests and strengths were in more personal venues. "The scale of those projects was so large," Jones recalls, "you lost the sense of detail and a certain amount of control: you delegated tasks and moved on to the next project before you could see the last one to completion." He wanted to work on a more intimate scale, taking a concept and making it real, overseeing each project to its end.
After his first year at UCLA, he went to Tuscany: "I perfected my sketching abilities, studied Italian hilltown architecture, and fine-tuned my knowledge of architecture," he says. While living in Europe, he worked for a year in Barcelona during the exciting buildup to the 1992 Olympics. There, he worked with the internationally renowned firm, Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura, where he was the designer on the Cagnes-sur-Mer mixed-use complex in France, and the Institutio de Mediteraneo in Barcelona. He began working for the famed L.A. firm Grinstein/Daniels while still at UCLA, and after completing his Master`s degree, Jones spent a year in Miami rebuilding hurricane-damaged homes and then returned to Los Angeles to work on the design of a co-generation power plant in Sacramento. Jones was given the opportunity to reinvigorate his passion for restaurant design when he was hired as the in-house architect at the Wolfgang Puck Food Company. In 1996, he left the Wolfgang Puck Food Company to start his own firm, SFJones Architects. Eager to continue his association with Jones, the famed chef and Barbara Lazaroff hired him to recreate Wolfgang Puck`s most celebrated restaurant in its new Beverly Hills location.
The result was a much more elegant and refined incarnation of the celebrity pizza restaurant: Spago all grown up. Jones continued to work on Puck`s fine and casual dining restaurants- from designing Wolfgang Puck Cafes in Canada, Kuwait and Japan, to Chinois on Main`s private party room, to most recently giving a contemporary sophistication and luxurious Roaring Twenties feel to the arrival and interior event space at the Grand Ballroom at Hollywood and Highland.
The new incarnation of Spago propelled Jones to new heights, attracting upscale clientele and commissions for his firm. Jones went on to design Lucky Strike Lanes in Hollywood, a combination restaurant, bar, and bowling alley that quickly became a popular hipster hangout. It was such a success that Jones was hired to create Lucky Strike alleys in Chicago, Toronto, Denver, St. Louis, Louisville, South Beach and Orange County. The fresh concept of a retro bowling alley/lounge became fiercely popular nationwide: SFJones Architects was hired to design Big Al`s, a bowling alley and sports bar in Vancouver, Washington, and Ashton Kutcher`s Dolce Group hired Jones to design Ten Pin Alley in Atlanta. "I`ve created an unexpected niche in stylish bowling alley architecture!" laughs Jones.
Rental shoes are not an essential feature on all of his projects: "My favorite projects are the ones when the client comes to us with a well-defined idea of their concept," Jones explains. "We interpret and enhance that idea, creating dynamic and imaginative results that resonate with our clients, fully realizing their innovative ambitions."
Hollywood power player Mike Ovitz sought out Jones to designed his first sushi restaurant, Hamasaku, in West Los Angeles, where Jones` design attracts as much attention as the elegant cuisine. Ovitz brought Jones back to collaborate on another sushi venture, Kumo, on Melrose Ave. Jones was hired by restaurateurs Tommy Stoilkovich and Mike Garrett along with four-star chef Alain Giraud to create Anisette, a classic French brasserie in the landmark 1929 Clock Tower building in Santa Monica.
Now, SFJones Architects, a six-person team, works on 12 to 15 projects a year. The firm`s recent restaurant projects include the posh Bui Sushi Bar in Malibu; the rustic, family-style Lazy Dog Cafes in Cerritos, West Covina and Rancho Cucamonga; the simple, modern Italian mozzarella bar Obika in Century City and the Beverly Center; the fresh, sleek Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop in Century City; the sophisticated Grill on the Alley Westlake; developer Rick Caruso`s Amici Trattoria at Americana in Glendale, The Whisper Lounge at The Grove and Nate N` Al`s in Westlake Village; and Breakers Inn, a beautiful, ground-up cliffside bistro on the northern coast of California. "Opening a new restaurant is a huge thrill, like opening a movie," says Jones. "It`s great to be able to invite all your friends to come and enjoy your work." Diversifying into international ventures, SFJones was selected to rebrand the exterior skin and interior features of the Rainbow Junyuan Plaza, a five-level retail and office space in the city of Kunming, China. Inspired by the bright hues and dynamic contours of a Rubik`s cube, Jones fashioned a modular facade of colored glass. With its vibrant design, this project has generated attention from architecture aficionados across the country, establishing a presence for Jones in China.
Jones also remodeled the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, along with its cool cosmopolitan restaurant Breeze, and the hotel`s Spa Mytstique. This sophisticated spa attracted the attention of renowned skin specialist Dr. Howard Murad, who hired SFJones Architects to design the Murad Inclusive Health Center in El Segundo, California. Healthful restaurant projects for the office crowd include the Veggie Grill in El Segundo and Irvine, and Lemon Moon in West Los Angeles.
It`s no surprise that healthy restaurants and spas are part of Jones` portfolio. Jones, a Manhattan Beach resident, is an avid cyclist and volleyball player; in fact it was his frequent playing of volleyball on his local beaches that connected him with restaurateur Chris Simms, with whom he`s now collaborated on six projects, including the recently developed vintage vogue M.B. Post with celebrated chef David LeFevre (formerly of The Water Grill in downtown Los Angeles).
The married father of two (his wife, Stephanie Eyestone Jones, is owner of Matrix Environmental, an urban planning firm,) Jones lives a carefully integrated life. His mornings begin very early at the UCLA Aquatic Center, near his office in Marina del Rey. An hour or more of sculling gives him time and tranquility to think through his day. He says that some day he would love to design a boutique hotel or a resort, but he prefers, for now, to work on a scale he describes as, "manageable on an intimate level, so that I can give full attention to my clients and coworkers."
"My ambitions go beyond architecture," he explains. "I like to live my life with the same passion that I bring to design. I want to do work that feeds the spirit, not the ego."