‘The Bear’: 4 Interior Designers Weigh In on Carmy and Syd’s Japandi-Inspired Eatery

Still, Carmy made the choice to offer diners a peek inside his world, incorporating a window looking directly into the kitchen. “More and more restaurants at the forefront of the culinary scene are wanting to connect people to the preparation of that food, to potentially see it, to understand it, to honor it, and to honor the people who are making it,” he says.

Xavier Donnelly (Stissing House, Dig, and Le Dive)

It was immediately clear to Donnelly, Creative Director of the firm Ash, that The Bear’s restaurant design was the brainchild of longtime restaurant staffers. “There were a lot of things they did that were so practical and smart that a designer might overlook,” he says. “There’s this sweet scene where, the night before their opening, they’re fixing a hook under the table. I was like ‘Oh my God, that’s such an amazing, ergonomic detail [by] somebody who’s had to deal with people not knowing where to put their bags or coats.”

Donnelly notes that Carmy’s simple, modern choices go against the current trend of fine dining restaurants leaning into a more rustic, down-to-earth vibe, akin to old-fashioned neighborhood restaurants. The designer adds that Chicago tends to tout bigger, over-designed restaurants, but that there’s an exciting scene of smaller chef-driven spots where The Bear fits right in—including Cellar Door Provisions, a vegetarian restaurant with clean, unshowy decor; and Elske, a Danish-inspired eatery featuring warm brick walls and sparse wooden furnishing.

Leigh Salem (Raf’s, Rose Tavern, and Mollie)

When Salem first took stock of Carmy’s new restaurant, he noticed the lighting. “They were able to capture something that feels like a pretty bright dining room but doesn’t feel sterile,” the partner at Post Company tells AD. “I think that’s purposeful, in contrast to his past experiences in a very clinical environment.” (A.k.a. those terrifying flashbacks to his days at Eleven Madison Park in NYC featuring his old boss, played by Joel McHale.) The globe-like fixtures created an intimate, homey feel at The Bear.

“A strategy for lighting and restaurants is: You want many points of lights and to have those lights be quite dim,” Salem explains. “You’re going to get a softness of shadows, you’re not going to get severe spotting where shadows are cast on your plate and across the room.”

Carmy also made the strategically off-trend move, in Salem’s opinion, of leaving the tabletops bare. “Table linens have come back into fashion in a way—for a while it read way too formal or stuffy—I think 1719889697 people are interested in these traditions of hospitality,” Salem says. “The decision to do a more minimal tabletop and expression of the wood grain [was likely because] they want the food to stand on its own, it’s an intention to remove the theater from the tabletop.”

Jon de la Cruz (Che Fico, Protégé, and Mezcaleria)

Although Carmy, Syd, and company may have leaned away from some current fine-dining trends, they seem to have pulled inspiration from a decor style that feels very of-the-moment in general: Japandi. “Clean, minimal, natural finishes; nothing superfluous or overly decorative; warm, natural colors,” de la Cruz tells AD of the aesthetic. “No tablecloths, no meaningless artwork, pared down to the essentials.”


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