In 2011, Schoos Design was asked to convert a large industrial warehouse in La Jolla into a seafood restaurant for chef Brian Malarkey. Thomas combined his instinct for sumptuous casual-dining with his offbeat wit to create this wry twist on seafood restaurant decor.

The end result, which won several awards and was widely praised by the critics, required transforming a cold, dark warehouse into a lush, inviting restaurant full of artistic innovation and wit.  The following slides explore the many challenges faced by the design team in achieving this transformation as well as the inspiration behind the creative process.

There were two main influences for the interior of Herringbone.  The first, most obvious influence was the vintage architecture of the building itself, which includes rustic wood, rugged brick and certain Spanish touches such as red roof tile and arched windows that suggest the historic California "mission" style.  Thomas retained as many of these elements as possible. Within this rustic setting, however, Thomas wanted to create an environment as easy and comfortable as a modern California beach house, with casual furniture pieces and an openness to nature. 

Before any other work could begin, the entire site had to be prepared for the installation of six huge olive trees.  Thomas did not want the trees to be in pots but to grow directly from the floor of the restaurant like a true indoor arbor.  To accomplish this, the entire floor had to be removed and the soil prepared, including an automatic irrigation system.  Even harvesting the trees was a lengthy process, since the roots could only be cut a foot deep at a time, followed by a rest period of several months to allow the roots to "heal" before cutting just another foot deeper, followed by another 3-month rest. 

The presence of indoor trees also required a second ventilation system. Every night, the regular climate control system for humans is turned off and a "swamp cooler" is turned on to provide sufficient humidity for the trees to thrive.

Thanks to all this preparation and effort, the dining room has become an indoor olive arbor where diners may enjoy the gnarled, sculptural trunks of these ancient wonders up close, as well as the aromas and dappled light created by their overarching branches.

To let in the fresh ocean breezes (from the Pacific Ocean a few blocks away), Thomas decided to tear the roof off the front of the building, creating a large courtyard.  The steel trusses that previously supported the barrel roof were left intact and are used as a framework for the automatic retractable awning seen here. During the day, this awning can be opened electronically to allow for true alfresco dining.  At night, it can be drawn closed for a cabana tent effect.  

To mitigate the cool ocean breezes further, two new fireplaces were installed on each end of the courtyard.  The fireplaces are surrounded by comfortable lounge furniture, creating a cozy beachhouse effect.

One beauty of the retractable awning over the courtyard is that the adjacent bar area changes character with the time of day.  During daylight hours, it is a casual beach bar, while at night it takes on an exotic nightclub vibe.

Because Herringbone is a seafood restaurant, Thomas wanted to play with nautical imagery and textures of the sea in the decor.  A lucky coincidence is that the barrel roof of the main dining room resembles the inverted hull of a ship, which suggested some of the innovations on the following pages. 

To reinforce the imagery of the ceiling as an inverted ship, Thomas decided to use inverted row boats as the structures for his signature lighting fixtures.  Since his first restaurant for Chef Brian Malarkey (Searsucker in San Diego), each restaurant Thomas has created for Malarkey has included chandeliers made with pendent ropes and Edison bulbs. In many cases, the ropes are draped from artifacts appropriate to the theme of the particular restaurant.  In this case, row boats were a perfect choice, especially these antique examples with their distressed wood and rustic textures.

The rowboat chandeliers extend along one entire side of the restaurant, lighting a row of banquettes, as well as providing accents elsewhere (such as this one near the "lobster trap wall").   In addition to providing their surroundings with a soft ambient glow, the chandeliers support the seafood theme in a novel way while providing wonderful rustic textures. They also frame the seafood-themed paintings nicely.

Another quixotic use of nautical artifacts is seen in this wall of lobster traps that are filled with inflated puffer fish, their google-eyes staring comically out at diners. The art installation conjures up images of seafood and the fishing industry, but in an unexpected, amusing way.

Another whimsical use is made of puffer fish in this large, ornate chandelier, which would come across as classically formal if not for the presence of puffer fish lampshades.

One of the most striking features of Herringbone is the chandelier over the main bar.  Extending the signature rope chandelier concept even further, the piece consists of a massive beluga whale skeleton that is suspended inside what appears to be the skeleton of a blimp, all of which is intertwined with rope and light bulbs. Besides being wildly original ("What, a whale skeleton inside of a blimp again??"), the piece becomes a focal point for the room, making a dynamic artistic statement.  Plus, at night the white skeleton seems to glow from the reflected light.

During the day, the chandelier is just as impressive, filling the cavernous space with its mixture of rustic textures and sleek white bone.

In addition to designing much of the restaurant's furniture and fixtures, Thomas created this series of original paintings for Herringbone (many of which are visible in these slides).  The whimsical graphical style of these paintings helps create an ambience for the restaurant that is modern and artistic, while also being light-hearted and fun.

Besides all the seafood references, Thomas keeps cuisine central in Herringbone by elevating the kitchen and placing it prominently behind a display window along the entire back wall of the restaurant. The action in the kitchen becomes like a floor show for curious diners.

Though eclectic, innovative and surprising, the diverse elements of Herringbone work together because they are part of a singular artistic vision.  With each venue, Thomas, the Schoos Design team and Brian Malarkey's Enlightened Hospitality Group continue to perfect their ideal of a "social dining experience," creating restaurants that delight the eye as well as the palate.  Herringbone is sophisticated without being stuffy, creative without being pretentious, and elegant while still being comfortable.  It is the kind of place that makes people want to linger, have another drink and watch the action.