Tiles + Tapas

Estadio, a Spanish restaurant in Washington, D.C., serves up small plates with large helpings of reclaimed tile and imported marble.

12/28/2011 By Elianne Halbersberg

A bit of Barcelona in the heart of Washington, D.C.—that was the goal when GrizForm Design Architects began work on Estadio, a Spanish tapas restaurant serving classic dishes in a traditional-meets-contemporary setting. The 2,800-square-foot establishment which seats 113 people opened its doors last year, and has been such a hit that it remains crowded on a nightly basis. A Saturday night meal still requires a two-hour wait for a table.

The structure that became Estadio was a retail plant shop prior to its eight-month renovation, which took it from what GrizForm Principal and Owner Griz Dwight describes as “basically a drywall box” to an authentic Spanish restaurant.

“We wanted a design that translated that feeling, but we didn’t want to be Disney with it,” he says. “We wanted to take some contemporary lines and ways of doing things while using traditional materials. Restaurants are both fun and difficult to design, and their success can be somewhat dependent on the quality of design. We wanted Estadio to have character.”

The restaurant’s rough-hewn personality was established early on, after a sizable amount of terra cotta tile was discovered underneath a layer of drywall. It was incorporated into the final design of the walls, as was the reddish-stained concrete floor, which was left largely untouched after construction, save for a good sweeping.

“We tried to use a lot of what was there, and there were a couple of educated guesses and lucky moments,” Dwight says. “I think it was lucky that when we took down the drywall, we got that beautiful tile.”

Accompanying the terra cotta tile are approximately 400 patterned, reclaimed Spanish tiles, procured from an antique store in Florida. Originally made in the late 19th century, the 1-inch thick tiles were salvaged from a villa in Spain before making the trek across the Atlantic. The tiles comprise a four-tile pattern, and can be rotated 90 degrees to create a mosaic; smaller border tiles are used to end that pattern on the tops and bottoms of the restaurant’s walls.

“The tile was one of our splurge items,” he adds. “We wanted to do something that would have that ‘wow’ factor, and I don’t think you can buy a local tile that has the same depth of character that this one does. The Spanish color palette is a popular one, in that it has the earth tones that people are looking for. We bought a few tiles, brought them back to the office and started to pull the reds and warmer colors. The floor worked in perfectly with it. Everything, color-wise, works with the tiles and that’s why it feels right.”

A poured-in-place concrete bar, topped with a 1.5-inch thick slab of marble quarried in Northern Spain, provides a strong visual anchor for the open kitchen area. Because of its porous nature, says Dwight, gradual wear and tear on the marble surface will enhance its character and authenticity, and add to Estadio’s distinct old-meets-new atmosphere.

To balance what Dwight calls the “hard, loud surfaces” of stone and tile, GrizForm used pre-manufactured steel rosettes, referencing the pattern on a matador’s outfit, welded together and attached to leather-backed sound panels. “We wanted to balance the stone and tile with something a little bit softer to absorb some of the sound,” he explains. “The panels pivot on custom-designed posts to make a private room.”

As a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional (LEED-AP), Dwight strives to use recycled or recyclable products in all of his spaces. Estadio presented some challenges, but sustainability came in the form of using what was available.

“Obviously, shipping [marble] from Spain is not necessarily that green of an element,” he says, “but a lot of wood in the restaurant is reclaimed pine from a local barn. There was a lot of reusing elements within the space.”

Because it was an existing plant store, the building had two bathrooms, both of which were left in place. The layout of the restaurant was designed to retain most of the existing infrastructure, and while the team had to supplement the AC system to fit the new use, the original units remain in their original location. The kitchen’s compact size and layout eliminate any extraneous elements and cooking equipment (“You won’t find a burner running when nobody’s watching it,” Dwight says), reducing the restaurant’s energy requirements.

Sustainability also comes in the form of source durability and maintenance. “We’ve chosen products that can wear,” says Dwight. “The tiles are sealed with a sealer and they’re wiped down. They bear some nicks and marks from the century of use that they had before coming here, and I appreciate and enjoy that. The concrete floor is what it is and what it will be. The wood tables are all made of recycled pine and came pre-dented and pre-scratched, so we don’t worry about having to maintain them in a way that uses a lot of resources. All of the lighting is on dimmers, so we can adjust the levels to the weather and the time of day. Two of the four walls of the restaurant are complete windows. The outside of the building had great character to begin with, and it’s in a building that had recently been redone, so we didn’t actually do anything to the outside other than give it a good cleaning.”

Estadio was GrizForm Design’s first tapas restaurant, and capturing authenticity through architecture and use of space has been one of the keys to its success. Dwight initially approached the design from a functional standpoint. Because tapas meals are served on small plates with shared platters, it was important that Estadio offer dining options for groups and individuals. The large tables offer space for multiple diners, while the high-back chairs still ensure privacy. The marble bar allows interaction amongst the chef and patrons, making it ideal for single diners. As a focal point for the restaurant, says Dwight, “You watch your food being cooked and feel like you’re at the chef’s table. It’s a very active process.”