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Asian Influence

Iron Chef Morimoto’s new restaurant honors the past while offering a fresh take on cultural design motifs through innovative uses of materials.

06.02.2017
The new Morimoto Asia reinterprets Asian motifs in distinctive ways, and features soaring glass-beaded chandeliers that hang from the double-height ceilings to create a sense of grandeur.

Morimoto Asia Morimoto Asia

When it comes to creating magic, no one does it quite like Disney. So when famed Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto opened his first Pan-Asian restaurant at Disney Springs in Orlando, Fla., last year, getting the details right was imperative.

STUDIO V Architecture in collaboration with Patina Restaurant Group were commissioned to tackle Morimoto Asia’s design, which honors the industrial history of the former bottling company’s space it occupies while offering a contemporary twist—earning a 2016 Design Built Award of Merit from the American Institute of Architects in the process. The 522-seat restaurant successfully creates a series of unique contemporary design motifs that provide a departure from typical Asian restaurant design clichés which also pay homage to traditional elements in distinctive ways. A key component of the design concept was to reinterpret the ideas, materials, textures, and colors of Asian culture in a new creative, compelling manner.

The mood of grandeur is instantly set upon entering the restaurant through a three-story glass corner, revealing the dramatic interior. From the double-height ceilings hang soaring glass-beaded chandeliers, custom fabricated from copper mesh fish-traps that recall traditional Asian paper lanterns. A dramatic winding sculptural bar at more than 270 feet in length is one of the largest in the world, as it snakes through the soaring 36-foot-tall space to connect the grand dining
room on the ground floor with the upper level, wrapping around the striking stairway.

“The curving sculptural surface is made possible by the latest digital software and Corian, a strong yet lightweight manmade material,” explained Jay Valgora, principal and founder of STUDIO V Architecture. The sculptural bar links together the first floor bar, the maître’d desk, and curves around the stairway to the upper mezzanine lounge and bar.

The restaurant is predominantly a black box which carefully introduces hints of gold and red selectively throughout the design, in some of its most intimate spaces. Studio V employed the deliberate use of red and gold, iconic and traditional motifs of Asian restaurant design, but in unexpected places to maximize the visual impact and introduce an element of surprise.

Although restrooms are often neglected, at Morimoto they held an opportunity to introduce an unanticipated element: a corridor lined with dark tile and framed portraits terminates in a flash of red at the restroom. “We chose red glass penny tiles to be used in the interior of each stall to create a sense of surprise and delight when visitors open the door,” said Sohee Moon, senior designer for Morimoto Asia.

The red accent occurs again in the Secret Stair, a lofty VIP entrance to the mezzanine’s copper sushi bar. The designers created a pattern of custom red and gold glass penny tiles from Nemo Tile to generate a sense of mystery in the stair shaft that softly glows. The use of a color gradient from the alternating red and gold was chosen to highlight the verticalityof the spacious stairway which features part of the grand sculptural bar snaking through it.

interiors+sources recently spoke with Melissa Savadove, A&D sales and project manager for Nemo Tile, about how the innovative use of tile helped this award-winning space come together.

interiors+sources: What was the inspiration for the project, and how did Nemo Tile get involved?
Melissa Savadove: It was about a one- to two-year process, and originally the designer came to me with some photos taken on a trip to Shanghai. It was more of an ancient Shanghai kind of approach with nodes of stone, and then they wanted me to interpret that in a little bit more of a modern way. Over the year to two years, it evolved [and we decided] to go a little more modern.

Then they had this need to create gold and red accents, which is hard to find in the right tile. Plus, they needed it for partitions as well as this grand, spiraling staircase. It had to have the effect of the red and gold in the glimmer they wanted, but also they decided to kind of do a penny shape, a little nod to Asian tradition, which was perfect because then it was easier to source the material. Really the best source for glass that’s unique and in a [lower] price range is China. Then I was able to basically start with color samples and narrow down what colors would work for them.

i+s: In terms of the patterning, were you involved in that process with the design team?
MS: Yes. It was actually a very long process because we had to come up with whether it was going to be a set pattern that could step up and curve the space, or [if we were going to create] a gradient or random [design]. That was a process of going back and forth with the factory and the designer and myself, and trying to figure out—between the height of the space and the movement—what would create the most impact. Once we got a little further in the process, they were able to come up with just a quick rendering of the inspiration of an almost raining gradation from gold higher up, all the way down to more of the extreme, vibrant red at the bottom.

The pattern didn’t develop until the very late stages, with exactly how they were going to use it throughout the space. They just knew they definitely wanted to use it in the stairwell. But then when they saw how vibrant the red was and the glow of the lighting, they decided to utilize it in other spaces as well, including the restroom partitions so that it was a little bit of a surprise [for guests] with the contrast of the metal and dark colors within that space as well.

i+s: What considerations were given regarding the performance of the tile within the space?
MS: Cleanability was definitely a major issue in [specifiying tile]—with the glass you don’t have to really worry about any type of staining. They knew being in a stairwell, of course, people’s hands are going to rub all along it because it looks like it is playing with the light and it’s not flat. Then with it being used in the bathroom partitions as well as in a few bar areas, they had a real concern, especially during the mopping process, that it would stay intact and not get dirty at the lower portion. We just simply added the floor tile that we put in, in a co-space, to kind of help with that.

Photography by Jeremy Bittermann