Repurposed décor inspires fresh, yet familiar feeling
CAMPER | 898 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park, CA, US
completed September 2018 | size 4,046 sq. ft. | photos Aubrie Pick
Contributing Shop! member: Shawmut Design and Construction GC
Once a dark, traditional steakhouse, this restaurant space now exudes a light, bright, California contemporary feel for an eatery that feels like an extension of home. Fostering congeniality, warmth, and connectivity, the restaurant is designed with the community in mind, complete with communal seating, a bar, private dining room, and a display kitchen.
Camper’s floorplan adds openness and brings in light wherever possible. The removal of existing heavy shutters maximizes the impact of floor-to-ceiling windows along the two front elevations, allowing sunlight to stream in during the day and the warm glow of the overhead pendants to spill out onto the sidewalk at night.
Wood beams running throughout the main dining area accentuate the architecture and spaciousness, drawing the eye upward and creating a sense of lightness. Simple iron pendants, installed in a thoughtful grid, expand sightlines over the previous heavy chandeliers. The opened-up front room now includes a prep kitchen behind glass doors to give guests a window into the food-preparation process.
The design creates synergy between the menu of fresh, seasonal California cuisine and the aesthetic of the space. Finishes and décor evoke the outdoors, reinforcing the restaurant’s concept of natural, fresh, organic offerings.
Inspired by the colors and the textures of the California coastline, a tonal palette of grays, umber, sage, and blues — together with the materiality of the finishes — lends an easy elegance to the space. A medley of wood tones runs throughout the restaurant, with cinnamon colored tables, white oak flooring, and warm wood beams overhead. At the bar, cooler tones prevail with a grey quartz counter and blue, vertically installed rectangular tile.
Plywood runs throughout the restaurant, most prominently at the central banquette, the custom service station at the center of the restaurant, and at the back elevation of the bar. The design team took this simple, budget-friendly material and elevated the intrinsic beauty of its burl through an extensive finishing and fabrication process, breathing life into something otherwise seen as ordinary and making it one of the centerpieces of the room.
Found, repurposed, and personal elements give the space an inviting, lived-in feel. A steel cabinet with years of patina acts as the host stand. Antique canteens and salvaged wood frames hang on the walls. A photograph at the entrance to the restaurant, a large-scale image of the restaurant’s namesake — the Camper van — was taken by a friend of the chef. Vintage items and mirrors serve as art, an economical solution that doesn’t compromise style.
Local vendors and artisans with deep roots in the Bay Area further the space’s community connection. Handmade Heron Blue tile by Heath, a now-iconic ceramics company founded in Sausalito, Calif., sits behind the bar. A mural commissioned from a San Francisco artist covers a wall of the private dining room.
A centerpiece of the space, a large custom communal table at the entrance of the restaurant, resulted from a collaboration between the design team and a local artisan. Crafted from salvaged pistachio wood, the table sets the scene for a dynamic shared dining experience, punctuated by dark wicker barstools and iron pendants overhead.