Walk into Brindille, an award-winning restaurant in the heart of Chicago’s River North neighborhood, and you will experience a glimpse of refined Parisian atmosphere and cuisine. This small space exudes efficiency, flexibility, and awe-inspiring design at every turn. Thanks to the exceptional design prowess of Chicago-based Bureau of Architecture and Design (Bureau AD), this is one culinary experience that truly wows, both gastronomically and aesthetically.
Tom Nahabedian and James Gorski, his partner at Bureau AD, are pragmatic modernists. They react to each project differently, designing to meet and enhance each structure, which results in buildings and spaces that are more timeless than trendy.
“Our work is punctuated by a rigorous attention to detail, programming, space planning, contextuality, materiality, sustainability, and innovation,” says Nahabedian, whose Chicago-based architectural design firm has won plenty of accolades for its work. “Brindille is a great example of what we strive for. One might walk into Brindille and get the impression that it is a restoration of a 40-year-old restaurant, while another might realize that it is brand new. For us, that is what timeless design means.”
Design-wise, Bureau AD’s vision for Brindille was to create a Parisian-inspired, luxuriously appointed, sexy jewel box of a refined modern restaurant. The goal was to create a place where the cuisine, service, art, graphics, architecture, design, and atmosphere were in continuous harmony.
“We sought to create a space that was a modern interpretation of a classic, urban, Parisian restaurant—not a bistro, but a definitive, and hopefully timeless, restaurant with sophisticated appointments and luxury,” Nahabedian says. “The entire dining experience at Brindille is intended to be opulent, so the space is designed to reflect that level of attention to detail.”
The main theme that plays throughout the restaurant’s space is nature, or more specifically, twigs and branches.
“We had been trying to come up with the right name for the restaurant, which is often very difficult,” Nahabedian says. “Seeking cohesion, we thought it should be a French word and reflective of the cuisine and what we were trying to accomplish. We settled on Brindille—a beautiful, albeit tough-to-pronounce, French word for ‘twig.’ It was the perfect double entendre as a twig represents new growth as this project represented the expansion of owners Carrie and Michael Nahabedian’s restaurant group.”
From Lindsey Adelman light fixtures to Michael Aram serving pieces and Lora Fosberg artwork, the Bureau AD team strove for continuity throughout the Brindille space—from outside to inside, upstairs to downstairs. Inspired by the refined artwork of Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, nature, and urbanism, the Bureau AD team also reacted to the urban site. Designers embraced the atmosphere, light, and vibrancy of the River North neighborhood, which is known for its restaurants and nightlife, and helped Brindille become a participant in the space.
“We created a large storefront of butt-glazed and curving glass above a board-formed concrete bulkhead,” Nahabedian says. “We have received a great response from people who greatly admire this addition to the cityscape and how it gives a perfect introduction to the dining experience.”
That experience begins outside of the restaurant, Nahabedian says. As a result, the designers sought to create an interesting new façade complete with painted millwork that extends inside and wraps around and within the entry vestibule, as well as a frameless glass storefront that features a curved piece that directs one to the entry door.
During the design and construction process, the team unearthed the space’s original concrete basement ceiling. They loved the look of it, so they sandblasted and stained it to create the look they wanted.
“That ceiling leads into another find—a beautiful old rubble foundation wall that we cleaned and tuckpointed, added brass accents, and lit by a cove from above,” Nahabedian says. “As much thought was put into the lower-level washrooms as any other space.”
For the Bureau AD team, what really separates a hospitality project like Brindille apart from others is the depth of knowledge required to effectively pull it off.
“It’s not just architecture, engineering, and interior design,” Nahabedian says. “We like to have a hand in all aspects of the project including the branding, graphic design, menu design, furniture design, selection of china, silverware and linen, kitchen and bar equipment, servers’ uniforms, and music. This list is long and diverse, but if we can impart our skills and sensibilities across the board, it makes for a much more cohesive result.”
While Nahabedian enjoys the entire design and construction process, he especially enjoys the creative process when the look and feel unify with the function of the space.
“It’s really that kind of perfect juxtaposition where everything clicks. Then it is a long haul to see it finally permitted and constructed, which can be exhausting,” Nahabedian says. “But then when you sit in the space and enjoy a great evening and see others enjoying themselves, enjoying everything that you strived for, it is quite rewarding.”