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Two Are Better Than One

GrizForm Design Architects unites two sisters (and two buildings) to create a traditional yet modern dining experience in Naples, Florida.

by Elianne Halbersberg
Photography by Amber Frederiksen

GrizForm Design Architects unites two sisters (and two buildings) to create a traditional yet modern dining experience in Naples, Florida.

The indelible bond between siblings has long served as a creative theme for restaurateurs, but designer Griz Dwight’s latest collaboration with Chef Fabrizio Aielli explores that connection on a more physical level, telling the story of two sisters under the roofs of two separate buildings.

Barbatella, designed by GrizForm Design Architects and located in Naples, Fla., is comprised of a dining side and a bar side, joined together by an outdoor patio. To connect the structures thematically, GrizForm created the concept of two reunited Italian sisters who grew up together but went their separate ways as adults—one heading to the big city and the other remaining on the farm. The resulting space brings a bit of each sister’s life to the interior design and architecture, creating a compelling blend of culture and heritage, tradition and modernism.

Of course, creating one restaurant with two buildings—1,710 square feet on the pizza/dining side and 1,356 square feet on the bar side, with 1,622 square feet on the patio—is more difficult than it sounds. From the start, the project team found itself engaging in negotiations with various stakeholders to try and sell their unique vision.

“We weren’t even sure that we could do it at first,” says Dwight, principal and owner of GrizForm. “The two buildings have different addresses and different owners, so there are two different leases, and we weren’t sure how that was going to work with code and function. One side has the bar and the bathrooms and no dining, and the other side has the kitchen but no bathrooms, so we had to convince the reviewers and powers-that-be that this was one restaurant. The location was so perfect where it was on the street, but each of the spaces were too small to get the function you need out of a restaurant.”

And while there were some limitations placed on the team’s work on the patio area of the building (“It’s in a historic district, so you can do what you want inside, but you can’t change anything outside,” Dwight explains), the project was eventually given the green light. GrizForm eventually used the three spaces to their advantage for serving options and ambience. The courtyard and dining room are ideal for breakfast, as the spaces are brighter and more open.

“Lunch starts to veer into something a bit more causal or formal, dinner is in the more formal range and they do good late-night business—the bar is a place to go for an after-dinner drink,” says Dwight. “As the day transitions into night, the crowd shifts and different spaces get more use.”

GrizForm applies what Dwight calls “the sniper mentality versus the shotgun mentality” to interior design.

The interiors of Barbatella are sophisticated on one side and rustic on the other. The bar side features a copper and clear pine-paneled bar by Copper Werks and custom-designed booths with wood tables and floral-patterned gold fabric on the seats and back—a reference to the organic, natural tradition with a decorative twist. Cast Stone Elements created two communal tables made of custom wood, with concrete birdbaths scaled up as the bases. The ceiling and walls are covered with 1,400 green plaster medallions, linking city sophistication with the organic colors of the farm.

GrizForm applies what Dwight calls “the sniper mentality versus the shotgun mentality” to interior design. “The sniper mentality is when you put your money in the silver bullet and you make sure it goes where it’s going to be seen,” he explains, “whereas with the shotgun, you blast your money equally all over the place.” The bar was one of Barbatella’s “sniper projects.” The other was the brick tile floor in the dining area.

“We wanted to give it this earthy, rustic look to balance out the farm idea,” Dwight says. “The original floor was carpet. We pulled it up in one corner and it was beautiful terrazzo. Construction started and the terrazzo was only in that 2-foot section. Everything else was tile, vinyl or mostly concrete. We ordered the pre-cut brick tile from Chicago. It’s a thin, half-inch slice and you lay it down like a ceramic or porcelain tile.”

READ: Meet Griz Dwight and learn more about GrizForm Design Architects in an exclusive I&S profile. 

The dining area also features a delightful array of photographs of celebrated Italians, such as Sophia Loren, eating pasta. “We were concerned that the project was looking too serious,” Dwight recalls. “This is a nod back to the breakfast and lunch side, and it’s meant to say that it’s okay to have fun eating pasta and enjoying the food.”

Adding more warmth to the space is the copper-clad, wood-burning pizza oven, which offered its own set of challenges. “It barely fit, and when I say ‘barely,’ we couldn’t get it in any of the existing openings,” says Dwight. “The building is historic, so we couldn’t knock a bigger hole and push it in. The contractor was great; he did it all on his own. He’s a problem solver. He had a crane that was lifting mechanical units onto the roof. The crane picked up the pizza oven, they cut a hole in the roof and wedged it down in-between the roof structure, scraping both sides as it went, so that pizza oven is now permanent to the space. It was something to see it flying through the air attached to a crane.”

Since opening, Barbatella has received a consistent and positive response. Dwight credits this to the restaurant’s broad reach, and its ability to provide dining options for a variety of patrons. “Some people love the bar area, and others, depending on where they are and who they are, love the other room,” he says. “The patio is a huge success for a third crowd. So three buildings and three designs have really helped quite a bit."

1290 Third Street South
Old Naples, FL 34102
(239) 263-1955

GrizForm Design Architects
1611 Connecticut Avenue NW
Suite 500
Washington, D.C. 20009
(202) 234-2324