Adding purple it to restaurant décor is one of the easiest ways to make your guests feel more comfortable, tone down or illuminate an otherwise dull event space, and up the romance factor. After all, ever since ancient rulers donned purple capes and Persian King Cyrus showed up in a purple tunic, purple has been a symbol of royalty and extravagance. Possibly the most famous of contemporary royals, Prince himself dedicated hit tunes to his favorite pigment in “Purple Rain” and its kissing cousin “Raspberry Beret.” From rich wines and lavender to lilac and the deepest amethyst, it’s no wonder the color matching masterminds at Pantone chose ultra-violet as its color this year.
When decorating with purple, restaurateurs must ascertain: just how much is too much violet? A vibrant white bowl of artfully arranged eggplant might be just enough while installing an aubergine and opposing colored accent wall is décor madness. In a restaurant, a color scheme defines the atmosphere. It can help or hurt diner reviews. In a redesign or on opening night, making the wrong choice can be a costly mistake.
Celebrity designer, author, and renowned party planner Colin Cowie applies the violet spectrum in some of the world’s most extravagant dining settings. As a sought-after color by most of his clients, he says violet is having a moment in time. “It doesn’t matter where in the world you come from, purple always makes you feel and look good,” he says. “That’s one of the reasons we love purple, lavender, and lilac because they are all skin-tone friendly colors and I love the idea that with violet, you can dial it up and dial it down.”
Despite Cowie’s client list of the world’s most famous faces (Oprah, Elton John, and Jennifer Lopez, to name a few) and his partnerships with the elite culinary minds of Laurent Tourondel, Ming Tsai, and Alfred Portale through his hospitality design venture F.O.O.D. Inc., Cowie says putting purple front and center is entirely possible without spending a fortune. “It’s most effective when you mix it to see the texture of this beautiful color,” says Cowie. “Don’t be afraid to juxtapose with lighter purple and big shocks of dark purple or add metallic finishes to include sparkle – and to that gorgeous big bowl filled with Japanese eggplants, add a few limes and maybe even kiwi fruit.”
Violet is most striking against mirror. Matching it with silver is the more contemporary route while adding gold accents makes purple more traditional and opulent. “So many restaurants today are highly designed, but you can influence diners in a big way with small things – today’s centerpieces are tomorrow’s eggplant Parmesan and we’re seeing shades of purple foods with bright green grapes and big jars of bright green olives,” says Cowie. ”And a long purple velvet runner is so sexy.”
From the man whose mantra is “everything matters” and made the phrase “love is in the details” mainstream vernacular, Cowie advises against restricting purple to common areas. Even bathrooms need a violet touch. “Restaurants often put the worst light in the bathroom so you think you’re about to have your teeth cleaned, but if you add a little purple, everyone will come out there feeling twice as fabulous,” he says. “Dip lightbulbs into lavender ink; buy sleeves that fit on fluorescent tubes and wrap those in lavender gels.” Even in a gastropub, purple has a place. Cowie recommends pairing lavender light bulbs with silver to evoke images of wintertime, cozy eats, and drinks.
One example of how purple lighting can make a space more theatrical, especially a restaurant with adjoining lounge, was captured at Pittsburgh’s Savoy Restaurant and Wine Bar. The chairs and accents are white, but cue a few purple accent lights and the restaurant is illuminated in dramatic fashion. By contrast, Kimpton Hotel Eventi’s The Vine in Manhattan is a contemporary hotel in Chelsea. In this space, the rich purple tones create an understated result, but it’s just as alluring.
Due south, Wilfredo Emanuel rose to design acclaim in South Florida for his signature merging of design and high fashion. A premier mentor for Christian DIOR USA House, Univision television personality, and remarkable photographer, Emanuel is spellbound by purple in all its glory, the embodiment of richness and power it imbues in any size space. “It goes to your senses, whether you sit down at a table to find it in glasses, artwork, or furnishings; everything purple signifies importance and a sense of uniqueness from napkins to vases of flowers,” he says.
Emanuel says anyone can incorporate violet into restaurant décor, through paint, a single pillow on a chair, or, in the case of furniture, in one small piece like a charming reclaimed chair, so bold, darker purples don’t overtake the room. Emanuel loves how creativity flows from chef to table in vibrant platters and in the stark contrast of white plates brimming with kitchen specialties. “Look around your restaurant and you’ll be surprised at how much you have to work with, from purple cabbage and beets to berries, and mix those to thoughtfully place about the space,” says Emanuel, who appreciates when there is a symbiosis between cuisine and decor.
Emanuel has another timely reason for adding violet to the mix, and it’s something that resonates like never before. Cultural diversity is a huge topic right now and is here to stay. Diners crave stimulation beyond the plate, savoring what they see, touch and feel. “All of the shades of purple are colors without gender, so you can use it anywhere, applied in the right quantity,” says Emanuel. “Don’t forget how versatile foliage is and it can be very simple, like clear vases full of floating vegetation which fortifies the water into these beautiful shades of violet.”
Case in point, Juvia Miami Beach leads the way in stylish purple décor, constructed and natural. The 1111 Lincoln Road gem helmed by Jonas and Alexandra Millan (Sushi Garage in Miami Beach, Bonito restaurant in St. Barth), Juvia received the Outstanding Restaurant Design award from the James Beard Foundation. At 10,000 square feet, it is inspired by Miami’s diverse and vibrant culture. Botanist Patrick Blanc designed the vertical garden where the coveted seats are filled with diners anxious for fare from executive chef Sunny Oh (formerly of Nobu Restaurant South Beach fame) and seduced by their surroundings. As Emanuel noted, the décor is like an appetizer, and at Juvia it’s a perfect match for the tapas-style colorful ceviches, tiraditos, and entrees. Even the decadent pastries from chef Gregory Gourreau align with the restaurant’s décor vibe in items like coconut lime ice cream, hazelnut ravioli, and pomegranate sorbet. Juvia has mastered violet everywhere and nowhere through a marriage of soft creams, golds, greys, and deep purple – even the kitchen equipment is lacquered in purple. The barely there purple in the backlit amethyst gemstone topped bar is intoxicating and emotional.
Sharing the title of perfect purples is London stunner Aqua Shard. The purple chairs stand out here, uplifting the darker purple liberty print banquettes, black marble, and dark oak, alongside a delicious green tint that glides into saturated purple tones throughout. The peacock motifs are a nod to British art nouveau textile designs. Shades of purple in food presentations delight the senses and trigger feelings of high anticipation.
Now that what works is out on the table, what should restaurant owners not do when it comes to adding violet to new or existing restaurant décor? A lot, according to Emanuel and Cowie. “In restaurant décor, purple can either kill or save a design – please do not mix purple with yellow or hang purple blinds,” pleads Emanuel, who survived a Tuscan remodel in which the owner had hung atrocious purple wallpaper. “Heaviness will give your diners a sensation of darkness and claustrophobia.”
Cowie says saturating everything with any single color becomes boring. Many restaurants also have a catering arm, but not everyone has the budget to have a designer on staff or retainer. Left to transform a drab meeting room or conference space on their own, it’s violet to the rescue, preferably in many shades suggests Cowie. “Violet is one of those colors in that you should use multiple shades of because it’s so interesting to the eye and goes from light to dark and from mild to wild,” he says. “A traditional chandelier with purple lights transforms the space into a hip, graphic, and younger room.”
And in what could quite possibly be the best idea ever for adventurous chefs and restaurateurs, Cowie has this suggestion: “If you really want to turn it up, put a mirror ball in your dining room with purple light and see what happens.”
Photo credit: Paul Winch-Furness (top and bottom images).