Profile: Geremia Design

You’ve been to those restaurants, you know you have. Rapturous reviews, good location, great food, pleasant enough wait staff, a slick design that’s been written up in all those design blogs you read….but….you’re just not that anxious to go back. Something just doesn’t work for you….it’s just OK. A place to go. Once.

If you’re a restaurant owner, this is not a formula for success.

So….what do you do if you’re starting a restaurant in the city that has more restaurants per capita than any other major city in America?  You call Geremia Design.

Infinitely creative, dynamic Lauren Geremia is a restaurant designer who’s helped create hot SF bars and restaurants like Aventine, Bloodhound, Coffee Bar, Umami, the newly opened TacoBar and more. She’s the alchemist behind the mood–that je ne sais quoi–that surrounds the food and the service.

She’s the person who (along with the owner and architect) creates the vision and painstakingly adds a little of this and a little of that in inspired combinations to create that ephemeral thing called mood. Of course food and service are part of the alchemical equation, but it’s all the other details that work with the food to turn the simple act of eating into something transcendent, maybe even transformative.  You don’t just walk out feeling sated: you somehow walk out feeling…you, only better. Sexier. Smarter. More confident. Energized. Happy.

That’s a tall order, but one that Lauren fills, daily.

Lauren’s restaurants are wildly diverse (taverna, clubby bar, sushi restaurant, casual taco eatery) and yet they each feel warm, charming, inviting, comfortable, intriguing.  They have heart. And that dreaded “a” word (authenticity). The look: funky and eclectic, the absolute antithesis of corporate. She mixes styles and eras, often incorporating salvage, vintage, and reclaimed materials. As befits the work of an artist, the walls are always delights, with texture and offbeat coverings that add interest and soul. Restaurants she’s shaped have personality but don’t impose. “Come and hang,” they seem to say, “make it your own. We’re just here to make sure you’re having a good time.”

This takes talent of course. But in this case there’s something more: a passion for the magic of creating a great restaurant, and a deep and abiding commitment to the entrepreneurs who take the risks to make it happen.

Connecticut-born Lauren’s talent is innate but also cultivated, courtesy of a BFA in painting from RISD, of jobs working with innovative stylists and interior designers, and of consulting to the restaurant industry. Her first major project (Umami) led to another, and another….And today, Geremia Design (which she runs with business partner Rusty Wadatz) is in demand from not only restauranteurs but retailers, and even homeowners.

Photos courtesy of Geremia Design

How’s your degree in painting informed what you’re doing now? Well I think of what I do as art direction….not really interior design…and I often start design using artwork as an inspiration. But even at RISD I was always setting up gallery openings, connecting people, bringing people together.

Now take us behind the scenes. How do you work with restauranteurs in pulling together a look? I get involved at the beginning, and only take on projects where I can take on the entire work, because I want to help drive the brand and experience. I think about design as a way to affect business. It’s powerful. (No argument here.)

I’ll do everything from looking at spaces to helping design what the menus look like. I even get involved in marketing, etc. Many of my clients are first time business owners, so I end up holding their hands, even helping them deal with City inspectors, if necessary. I shop with them, see their homes, work weird hours with them…I feel really connected to my clients and the projects. I think it makes a real difference.

So is the look–the design–your taste, or theirs? It’s always a combination….but I definitely feel fully invested in every project. I’m not afraid of saying what I think, and believe me, I have opinions about everything! But of course, my first job is to figure out what the restauranteur is about, what their taste is, what their style is about. How do you do that? (Knowing smile.) I’ve found that if you ask directly you get stock answers. So you ask priorities, look at what inspires them…we do a lot of intuiting.

But how do you make each restaurant really special? Every project is completely different.  But as I said, I usually start with artwork or custom pieces and build a color scheme and furniture around that idea.  The end result is a combo effected by my clients budget constraints, the business plan, and what’s available locally–I’m very into using local talent as much as possible. (Exactly!)  I’m not a designer who just cruises by from time to time in a fancy suit. I’m on a job site many hours each day, working closely with architect, picking out every finish. And I get my hands dirty… I paint, I do wallpaper, put up pictures, all that.

I really think that it’s important to include sentimental pieces that are directly related to the client’s life or the story behind the restaurant.  At Umami, we wallpapered the walls of a private room with Japanese grade school penmanship books. The idea was cheap and looked great.  The touch was much more personal than buying something from a store, and provided the perfect amount of texture to the room.  The history and materials of the building also shapes the design.  I believe that incorporating some history and soul into places provides the extra love. There is a story to most of my pieces and an experience, and I hope you can feel it.  (Absolutely.)

Photo courtesy of Geremia Design

The look has got to be influenced by real world considerations, too. And some of your spaces (Fraiche, TacoBar) are less dine in and more take out. Oh yeah. It’s all about being practical. When I’m designing, I keep in mind what I’ve learned about how restaurants come together, how they actually work day to day, how things stand up to wear and tear, permitting and health department issues…A million things.

How do you get and stay inspired? Ohmega Salvage, Alameda Flea Market, fabric stores, Paxton Gate, Flora Grubb. I’m always out looking. I love digging for unique things. (We forgot to ask when or if she sleeps…We’re getting the sense she doesn’t. Oh, and did we mention she also operates Collect Gallery? Exactly.) I look at it all…art, museums, nature, food. I look at what artists are doing, and also stay connected to my RISD friends who are doing great things in fashion, music, etc. And I still paint and draw. I spend 40% of my life on blogs, looking for talent.  I get inspiration from my sources as well.

In this economy it isn’t easy starting a restaurant. Is that changing what you’re seeing and recommending? People are smarter about opening restaurants…..people spend less. It requires smarter thinking, etc. about resources. Also where the restaurants are located.  You have to be more creative–and I love that challenge!

Now let’s get to the important stuff. Who plays you in the movie of your life? (The usual eye-rolling follows.) Maybe a young Jodie Foster. (Good one.)

What’s your sign? Pisces. I have no idea what that means.

What are you reading? David Byrne’s Bicycle Diaries. I get around on bike for the most part–you get to see the city from a different angle, and David Byrne’s done the same thing but on a bigger scale.

And what are the five things that define you?

  1. I have a ridiculous relationship with my dog, named Fidel. He’s a 4 lb long-haired chihuahua. All black. He’s the biggest diva in the world. (We didn’t get to meet Fidel, since he was at the dog spa that day. Naturally!)
  2. My bicycle.
  3. My little blue book. Every day, I write one thing I’ve learned in it. Some things are serious, some things funny. (People really want to get their hands on this book!)
  4. Family. I’m super connected to family: they’re a big part of my life. One thing I’ve kept from house to house is a big folder of photos of my family.
  5. My cell phone. I’ve had 11. What can I say? It’s my lifeline!


Geremia Design


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