The minute I stepped into Calavera on Broadway I was eager to know who designed the restaurant’s space. The soaring ceilings make the place feel open and inviting, not coldly cavernous, and unique details like the lighting pendants set a fun and refined tone. I was excited when architecture firm, Arcsine, connected with me on Instagram, and even more thrilled to learn of their work. Based in Oakland, Arcsine designed Calavera and many other structures in the area, including the stunning Duende Restaurant & Bodega, also on Broadway. Working on a design project takes a tremendous amount of collaboration, so it was fitting to have the talented team at Arcsine work together on an interview for 24 East. I am grateful for their time, and happy to showcase the work of this Oakland-based firm. Here’s what they had to say:
24 East: What is the background of Arcsine’s founders? And background of the name Arcsine?
Adam Winig, Principal: Daniel and I were both drawn to Architecture through passion for design and also the love of connecting with people from various backgrounds. We love that we get to talk about a construction detail with a General Contractor or specialist, work directly with artists and be included in complex business strategy sessions with heads of companies all within a day’s work. Arcsine stems from two origins. The first is simply the phonetic combination of Architecture and Design, but the second deeper meaning is the fact that Arcsine is a mathematical, specifically trigonometric function, which projects technical expertise. We feel that Architecture and Interior Design encompass both the creative artistic side as well as the technical side, so the name Arcsine seemed to be a perfect blend of the two.
24E: What type of projects does Arcsine typically work on?
Adam Winig, Principal: Our dream job is less of a specific project type like restaurant or hotel, but more about a dream Client that wants to explore, collaborate, and strive to create something unique. We love the creative process and often refer to ourselves as method architects, similar to method actors. Any project that allows us to dive deep enough into the concept to fully immerse ourselves is a project we want to work on. Typically, this has been hotels and restaurants, but we are finding ourselves doing more creative office, retail and residential work.
24E: What inspires your design aesthetic?
Daniel Scovill, Principal: Put simply, the project inspires us. We believe in a process of design that is similar to the process of method acting, as mentioned above. We dive deep in a concept and let it take us to places that we could never have preconceived. This is exciting for us on so many levels. We start listening to music that would be the project’s soundtrack… and usually a theme song emerges. Sometimes our fashion even starts to match the concept (eg: struggle between dark and light; a foray into modernism, or perhaps a rebirth of art nouveau playfully termed neo nouveau). What begins to happen is that in living the concept, design solutions emerge. Maybe it follows the soundscape of that song, or the metal detailing of a bracelet, or the colorful graphics of shoes we wore whilst we dove deep into the concept of the project. In other words, a project becomes the magnet for us to make connections to other things in our daily lives… and our success is when we can pull them together into a memorable tableau that leaves a lasting impression on those who encounter it.
24E: Calavera is gorgeous! What elements were important when designing that space?
Brooke Taylor, Director of interiors: In addition to making the space warm and inviting and dynamic, we wanted to make sure there was a true sense of Oaxaca. The alebrijes (carved animals painted in bright colors) are a very central element, so we made sure to design multiple opportunities to display them. The configuration of the back-bar shelving is a nod to patterns used by the indigenous cultures, including Zapotec and Mixtec peoples. The various distressed and painted wood throughout the space (including tile masquerading as distressed and painted wood at the bar die and in the restrooms) is reminiscent of what you would find in Oaxaca. The stamped leather bar top speaks to the tradition of leather craftsmanship, and the Venetian plaster wall is meant to look similar to leather while featuring the namesake calaveras.
24E: What is your favorite features of the Calavera design?
Brooke Taylor, Director of Interiors: The backbar is a compelling and memorable feature that’s also very simple, and the rope and rattan pendant lights are a fantastic finishing touch (made by artisan Louise Mann, found by owner Jessica Sackler).
24E: What has been notable in the East Bay architecture community in the past couple of years?
Daniel Scovill, Principal: Restaurant and Bar design has certainly been leading the charge. This really seemed to gain momentum in ’08, just as the economic world was running off the cliff. It was a perfect time for Arcsine… to be a young, bootstrapping firm in beautiful, downtown Oakland! We got to play with a lot of exciting entrepreneurs that were making some sweet tasting lemonade with the lemons of that era. Watching the past 10+ years has been exciting – I find myself daydreaming and wondering if this is how the wild-west felt. That shared experience of hard work and success during some tough years has brought many in the developing community together; which is perfect since we have some real challenges ahead of us. How do we ensure graceful growth that doesn’t push our diverse and creative community further east? How do we ensure that the boom of food and beverage doesn’t over-saturate? How do we attract more visitors; not simply the day-trippers? It is fantastic that groups like SPUR are setting up in Oakland and that the community is coming together to really share in this discourse.
24E: What is your favorite East Bay restaurant?
Daniel Scovill, Principal: I’m the first to admit that I am probably too nostalgic for my own good. As such, I have a deep love affair with Charlie Hallowell’s Boot and Shoe Service. When it opened, a friend urged me to pay a visit. My wife and I dropped by for a drink, but we could not find the bar as it was hidden in the back (this was before their coffee counter side opened… and by the way, don’t get me started on how much I love a back-room bar!). Anyhow, we gave up and I later complained to my friend who laughed at me and said their bar was in the back. “Just walk past all the dining guests, like you know what you’re doing, and head to the back room.” We tried again shortly after and I have been hooked ever since. Not just the bar, nestled snuggly in the back, but for the simple pleasures of the food, ambiance, service; and now, their morning pastry and coffee program. Sometimes my kids and I tuck messages between the bricks, other times I sit alone with a drink and my sketch book late at night, sometimes we enjoy their Sunday night resident musicians, but always (literally 100% of the time) Boot & Shoe never disappoints. I leave feeling that life is warm and special. Few restaurants can do that. Few places can do that.
24E: What is the best thing about being headquartered in Oakland?
Jack Piels, Designer: Oakland has such a rich community of artists and designers, and is going through an incredible boom right now. Historically Oakland has been known as gritty and even dangerous, but right now working in Oakland means experiencing a wealth of street style art and design, mixed with a rich history of art deco architecture. It seems like every time I turn the corner I find an old building that’s being restored and revered for its original design intent. This type of design is intricate and inspirational, and really enriches the contrasting street style that Oakland has become known for.
Daniel Scovill, Principal: Being part of a city that has simultaneously a rich, diverse history and an unknown and unchartered future. Oakland is not an actor that is type-casted. Being a creative person in a creative firm in a creative city that is continuing to define itself … that is good fortune … and we are fortunate to be here.
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Check out the Arcsine offices for yourself in a photo tour below!
First blog photo (Calavera backbar) and office photos by Misha Bruk. All others shot by Shelly Hammalian.