Skip to content

Light and Happy Restaurant Decor Trends

Dark, masculine restaurants are out. The freshest decor is feminine.

By Amy Saunders | May 4, 2018 | Living Room

Words By Maura Judkis, The Washington Post


Morris could have been – almost was – another dark and moody cocktail bar with industrial accents and heavy drapes. That was what Swatchroom designer Maggie O’Neill’s client, David Strauss, wanted, and she drew up the plans. But then, ‘I went home and I said to my husband, ‘I can’t do another place like this. I can’t do another dark, Edison bulb’ bar.’

She persuaded Strauss and his partner to let her try something different, and that’s how Morris became the opposite of its original design: a bright, almost monochromatic baby blue bar with pink and floral accents, and perfume bottles with cocktail ingredients inside.

‘There’s a softness that was unexpected,’ said O’Neill, who cited the Wes Anderson film ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ as inspiration for the Washington bar’s palette. ‘I think we could all use a little sweetness in our lives right now.’

Restaurant design trends cycle in and out, and for more than 10 years, they’ve felt distinctly masculine. Edison bulbs and reclaimed barnwood conjured up the rough, callused hands of a man who worked the land. Dark, Prohibition-era speakeasies brought to mind the gangsters and bootleggers who kept their fellow men liquored up throughout that period in history.

It’s all starting to look a little dated, though. Femininity is what’s fresh: Florals, pastels, soft fabrics and gauzy textures are making more appearances in restaurants as designers move away from oversaturated trends. And it’s not just cupcake bakeries and ice cream shops.


Ostrich-feather light fixtures are a focal point at Primrose. Image: Deb Lindsey, The Washington Post.


The Gallery at Sketch, a London restaurant fully swathed in the dusty-rose shade du jour, millennial pink, has inspired imitators in Seoul, Doha and Paris, and regularly draws visitors who dress to match it. New York’s all-pink Pietro Nolita draws crowds for its pink spaghetti, and at Stephen Starr’s La Mercerie, a floral shop and housewares store are part of the restaurant. In Washington, you’ll spot flowers on the lighting fixtures at Calico and floral toile fabric on the banquettes at (naturally) Tulips. Plenty of restaurants, such as Sfoglina, Rose’s Luxury and Elle, use unabashedly pretty mismatched floral china.

‘Since we didn’t have an outside space, we wanted to figure out a way to bring the outside in,’ said Nick Pimentel, the co-owner and designer of Elle, which also has floral wallpaper and uses pastel green as an accent colour throughout the space. ‘We were trying not to do industrial and reclaimed and hard. We wanted it to be a little softer.’

Part of that meant introducing cute elements throughout the restaurant, such as bunny- and mushroom-print wallpaper by the bathrooms, and a large painting of a rather majestic longhair cat in the main space of the restaurant.

Featured Image: Katherine Frey, Washington Post

Gallery image 0Gallery image 1