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Featured Product: Waterfront Revival

By Jamie Nicpon, Photography by Peter Paige
As part of an effort to reshape a New Jersey waterfront district, the firm of Peter Johnston Architect was tasked with bringing Manhattan-style restaurant design to the other side of the Hudson.


By Jamie Nicpon, Photography by Peter Paige
As part of an effort to reshape a New Jersey waterfront district, the firm of Peter Johnston Architect was tasked with bringing Manhattan-style restaurant design to the other side of the Hudson.

When Peter Johnston Architect, PC, a full-service architecture and interior design firm, was approached about utilizing its talent for restaurant design and applying it to Hoboken's waterfront, the New Jersey-based organization jumped at the opportunity.

"I've always found hospitality design quite exciting. It really gives us an avenue where we can push the design, explore a variety of materials … and people who visit hospitality projects are really looking for something that engages their mind," says Peter Johnston, the firm's principal.

PJA's passion and intimate knowledge of restaurant design resulted in two very distinguished, visually appealing, and sophisticated restaurants with a touch of New York flare: The Quays and 3 Forty Grill.

"I think we most certainly were looking for that level of sophistication and there's no reason New Jersey shouldn't have it," adds Johnston, "Hoboken is a very sophisticated and unique city."

Ideally situated along the resurrected esplanade on Frank Sinatra Drive, PJA designed both restaurants to entice visitors to take in the stunning waterfront setting and the magnificent views of the Manhattan skyline. The 6,700-square-foot 3 Forty Grill and the 4,600-square-foot Quays offer panoramic city views from the dining room as well as from the lounge and bar areas.

The Quays (pronounced keys), the newest of the two restaurants, recalls the rich history of the urban waterfront through the interplay of abstract nautical geometry, carefully crafted details and period photos. The creative décor's new take on sleek modernity is ideal for a waterfront setting and is shaped by a series of up-lit cherry ribs, which create the feeling of a finely crafted vessel.

Enhancing the ambiance is a centrally located metal ceiling sculpture—a key design feature that suggests the dynamic vitality of the ocean, describes Johnston. "Actually, in The Quays, one of the most exciting elements is the ceiling sculpture. We bent a lot of the metal and directed the contractor in the placement of it so that we managed to get the right form and lighting of that particular element."

Just a few doors down from The Quays, 3 Forty Grill offers a contemporary theatrical experience created through the interplay of translucent materials and accent lighting. The raw bar, one of the restaurant's highlights, features red acrylic finish, brushed stainless steel and light outriggers that animate the form.

"I would call 3 Forty Grill more of a ceremonial, interactive dinner theater, and this whole exploration in transparency and translucency of images works," says Johnston.

Division from the service area is created with geometric acrylic panels that reveal a series of choreographed images for the patrons as staff moves along the interior of the wall. Completing the dramatic study in contrasts are deliberate material sources including textured stainless steel and metallic ceramic tile accents combined with warm mahogany wood floors and a perforated cherry panel ceiling.

In addition to PJA's ability to create several unique and sophisticated design solutions—clearly distinguishable in each restaurant—one design characteristic that was a pre-requisite in order for both spaces to be considered successful in restaurant industry terms was function.

"In 3 Forty Grill, the art sculptural wall, which was the backdrop to the restaurant, serves as a couple of things: one it has a very big functional component because the wait staff walks behind this wall to get from the kitchen to the bar, so it zones them off and gives them a traffic-free area," describes Johnston. "But the really exciting element that happens with this is that the restaurant patrons are able to see the imagery through the wall and the movements of the wait staff walking back and forth, so you get this array of translucent images and movement so it really becomes a dinner theater."

To meet the demands of restaurant industry operations, Johnston says the product sources specified for each space were extremely important, and in some cases, innovative. For example, the 3 Forty Grill, he explains, was one of the first spaces to widely utilize eco-friendly 3form materials.

"At that particular time, it was somewhat new," states Johnston. "We used it in the walls, in the back bar, and then we had pieces left over which were cut from the wall and we made lighting sconces out them … as not to waste any of the material."

Another product that PJA utilized specifically because of its durability was Mohair, a silk-like fabric that is considered expensive, but is known for being "like iron" and lasts an exceptionally long time. Mohair was prominently used at 3 Forty Grill on the lounge furniture, including sofas, chairs and button stools.

In the end, the design team was able to tie together an array of products that appeal to the senses and provide functional design solutions for both spaces. "You can see a general trend in that we've tried to contrast very cool materials with very warm materials. I think that's probably an overlying theme of our work," says Johnston. He also cited the firm's use of strong colors to accent pieces and lighting as very important elements of its design philosophy.

Peter Johnston Architect appears to have resoundingly met the goal of successfully designing two distinctive, aesthetically pleasing restaurants that will likely play a key role in the future development of Hoboken's waterfront.

"I think they have received very good reviews," Johnston concludes. "People are very surprised when they walk in because it's like nothing they've seen on this side of the river, so I think it took things up a notch."