Rossoblu was a near-unanimous choice from the editorial team for Most Gorgeous Restaurant of the Year for Eater LA’s 2017 Awards. It’s clear why: the restaurant is well-known for its distinctive use of unique industrial space in Downtown LA, informed by chef Steve Samson’s upbringing in Bologna and seamlessly constructed as a first-rate dining room.
First impressions and even photos try their best to encapsulate a dining experience at Rossoblu, but nothing quite matches the look and feel during a busy weekend evening. It’s at once reflective of the current fashion and simultaneously recollective of sitting in an Italian grandmother’s dining room. It’s a hard feat to pull off, but the design team led by Marwan Al Sayed and Mies Al Sayed of Masa Studio, with contribution from Howard Chu (also of Masa) and J.P. Guiseppi (Rossoblu’s creative director), collaborated to produce LA’s most compelling restaurant interior of last year.
Eater met with Marwan Al Sayed, Chu, and Guiseppi (Mies was unfortunately ill that day) at Rossoblu to discuss how the design came together, and it was surprising to see all the details, from the tables and seating to the lights and wall ornaments. Perhaps the overarching paradigm was most informed by Arte Povera, a contemporary art movement that took place in the late 1960s and early 70s that gave meaning to the everyday and relied on simple objects to portray dynamic energy through the work.
The approach is most apparent in the showstopping mural, made by Cyrcle. The piece has its own story as a colorful street art-inspired work by Bologna and LA’s own art-laden Industrial district. But even the smaller details evince a “poor art” methodology when building out the space. Instead of using actual terrazzo tiling, the construction team ground down literal decades of concrete, where the rock had aged and developed a pattern similar to that of the classic Italian flooring.
It helped that the incredible high ceiling industrial space had lived its previous life as one of LA’s main produce distribution centers, giving it a robust, utilitarian look that matches the Al Sayed’s expertise with sleek concrete structures like the astonishing Amangiri in the Utah desert. The golden bar leans on heavy use of brass as an accent, while the wooden window covers leftover from the produce distribution hangs behind the bar accented with brass tabs to give it a matching flair.
The flow of the energy of the space seems to draw eyes from the colorful mural to the kitchen, a dark, stone-like hood and countertops facing the kitchen. From there, food and life quite literally spill into the main dining room. The sofas comprise the main visual components of this space and the custom pieces reflect Steve Samson’s summer festas (parties) in Bologna.
The dining room’s expanse feels like a family party, and those sofas, which employ palm tree fabric and a grandma-like lattice hanging over the edge. According to Dina Samson, a scouring of hundred-year-old documents in Steve’s family estate in Italy revealed palm trees as the crest. Since palm trees are LA’s trademark, it made sense to line the fabric with that pattern.
The energy from the dining room spills further out into the patio, and summer weather will eventually allow the opening of the glass doors. That sense of openness comes from the tiled mirrors that line the other half of Rossoblu’s far wall, and it’s all meant to evoke the piazzas and arcades in Bologna.
So there’s this inflow and outflow, from the wood fire hearth and its imposing black hood; the colorful street-art mural; the scattered, low-flung tables and banquettes; the golden bar, and the both the elevated and ground level patios.
How does it all come together in an Arte Povera way? Mainly through the use of ordinary materials, like the door handles repurposed from the old produce dollys literally leftover from the warehouse. Or from those faux-terrazzo floors or the brass tabs placed on the bar windows. Though this humble approach, the design team managed to stay within a tighter budget and still put together a magnificent result that successful captures a contemporary restaurant space in the late 2010s.
Still, with golden accents and its grand look, there’s something ritzy and sumptuous about the interior that belies its Arte Povera influence. There’s certainly an element of practicality when it comes to building restaurants, the saving of a few bucks and reusing found items that’s both intuitive and budget-friendly. The end result of Rossoblu’s interior, and all its details, gives the place a sense of warmth and approachability despite its cold industrial history. And for that aim, the work from Masa Interiors and J.P. Guiseppi is a highly successful balance of old and modern, cutting-edge and classical.
Rossoblu. 1124 San Julian St, Los Angeles, CA 90015.