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When the Design Stakes are High with Louise Lythe, David Collins Studio

When it comes to crafting the ideal dining or drinking experience, interior design plays a pivotal role in setting the stage. As the age-old saying goes, 'we eat first with our eyes,' underscoring the impact visuals have on our enjoyment of food and drink. But how do you even start to weave the threads of ambiance, aesthetics, and functionality into a seamless tapestry?

To answer this, we’ve turned to Louise Lythe, the accomplished associate director and designer at David Collins Studio (DCS). Louise joined DCS some 14 years ago following a degree in history of art and architecture, and time spent working in fashion. After moving to India to pursue fashion production and product development roles, serendipity brought her to DCS as a temp upon her return to London. The team quickly realized her talent for color and detail, launching her successful interior design career.  

Louise’s latest project is Tre Dita restaurant and Bar Tre Dita, part of the new St. Regis Chicago, a highly anticipated hotel as it is the first for the brand in the midwest. The 101-story building, designed by Jeanne Gang and her team at Studio Gang, is the tallest building in the world designed by a female architect, and features residences along with the 192-room hotel. 

To say the stakes are high for the restaurant and bar design is quite fitting, Tre Dita is the first Tuscan steakhouse for pasta prodigy Chef Evan Funke, in partnership with Lettuce Entertain You hospitality group. Louise walks us through the design process from concept to completion.  

Louise Lythe David Collins Studio
photo credit: Eric Wolfinger

Hi, Louise! So, how does it work, Magellan, the developers of this stunning new St. Regis Chicago building, show you drawings of an empty space. Where do you start?

The brief was to create an Italian restaurant, a destination for both hotel guests and locals with an impressive yet intimate feel. The restaurant and bar concepts needed to work seamlessly together. We start with a Concept Feasibility study where The Studio’s Chief Creative Officer Simon Rawlings talks us through his vision for the project. At this stage we research the mood through imagery and space planning studies. We define key points of inspiration; for example, on this project the contemporary architecture of the building, the Tuscan cuisine, and the luxury offering of St. Regis. We consider the materiality; identifying signature elements of Tuscan interiors and the unique landscape; whilst being mindful to create a unique and contemporary scheme.

We have a wealth of resources at the Studio; an extensive library of books, a dedicated sample library and librarian; an online supplier index as well as being a stone’s throw from Design Centre Chelsea Harbour––all of which we fully utilise to aid the creation of our unique designs. Once we have received client approval on this stage of the project we move onto the concept design where we can really explore and develop the elements of the design and materiality we have identified.

Chef Evan Funke in Tre Dita's "pasta laboratory"
Chef Evan Funke in Tre Dita's "pasta laboratory" / photo credit: Eric Wolfinger

Are there any general rules for creating a functional and beautiful restaurant?

It is really important to understand how the space will be used and to study that and discuss it with the Operators of the property to ensure that the functionality is there, and you meet the clients’ needs in terms of number of covers required etc. 

Wow, it must have been challenging to create warmth in the vast steel and glass space. How do you do that?

For Tre Dita we referenced the Tuscan interior architectural materials and colour palette we identified in our design research and concept proposal; pitched roofs, timber joists, stone cladding, plasterwork, checkerboard floors, strong yet faded beautiful colours into this we layered the finer decorative details wrought iron, crafted wood, linen textures. The palette spoke to the authentic and warm textures and colours of Tuscany and this helped to create a warmth to the space.

The site was a concrete shell when we first viewed it and the restaurant space was very architectural with large A frame concrete columns and an impressive 38-foot ceiling with full height glass windows. We were very conscious of the challenges a large space like this holds in terms of being able to create a warm feel and a human scale. With the strong and authentic DNA we had identified we brought those element to the space for example faded linen dress curtains in strong yet faded colours was applied to the columns and windows, hand applied patchwork plaster was applied to the walls, dark timber checkerboard floors, the room was further layered with fully bespoke and varied lighting designs in textured linen, textured wrought iron with touches of brass and alabaster – the light quality and scale were key to the success of the space and we partnered with Ricardo Lighting to realise our bespoke lighting family made to an exceptional quality. 

Tre Dita dining room
Tre Dita dining room / photo credit: Eric Wolfinger

We have a vast and ever-growing network of suppliers that we have collated as a studio over the last 39 years which we tap into for specified and also to create bespoke custom samples – we really value their expertise and collaboration and are always striving to create new and exciting finishes.

Another way we create warmth is through art.  The challenge here is all the glass walls!  One of the signatures of St. Regis bars is a large mural.  A mural is a signature feature across their portfolio, and we wanted to create a new interpretation. The St Regis Chicago mural was partly informed by the long space of the bar footprint and the available wall space due to the expanse of the glass façade. We wanted to take the mural to the next level and its unexpected form was ultimately Simon’s idea. We collaborated with the artist Dean Barger for the commission and spoke to him in detail to progress the concept – trialing different canvas grounds and painterly techniques. Dean Barger’s Chicago roots, experience, and Studio capabilities made him the perfect man for to create this incredible 96-foot-long canvas artwork. 

Tre Dita Chicago
Dean Barger's mural hangs above Bar Tre Dita / photo credit: Eric Wolfinger

Hanging a painting from the ceiling is so clever!  Right, so custom artwork, lots of pretty fabrics, beautiful carpets, marble, tile, sounds expensive. Even in luxury, I imagine you have to work to budget?

When designing and selecting materials we, of course, always have their end use within the scheme front of mind. We are constantly evaluating materials to ensure they are operationally fit for purpose and will age well – this is particularly important in a busy bar and restaurant space. It’s all about balance and making considered selections so that the result is robust yet not compromised aesthetically!

DCS was recently awarded the Butterfly Mark, a highly regarded and stringent recognition for businesses that meet the highest ESG standards by Positive Luxury. How does sustainability impact your design choices? 

At David Collins Studio, we adopt a definition of luxury that promotes artisan craftsmanship, quality materials and local sourcing to deliver interiors that are designed for longevity. We marry beauty with functionality and operational efficiency, aiming to create designs that are environmentally conscious. Partnering with local suppliers and makers is something we enjoy and enriches our designs. We also work with suppliers who meet our supplier code of conduct as this has become an important offering within our industry, we are fortunate to have a wide pool of suppliers to work with. 

We have worked with sustainability consultants to develop a comprehensive Materials Sustainability Guide to help our designers understand the impacts of different materials, allowing our team to better design solutions that consider issues including energy and carbon, human health and wellbeing, and the end of life of materials - promoting their longevity. All materials in our sample library are colour coded accordingly which helps inform our selections.

Tre Dita chicago
a cozy space in Bar Tre Dita / photo credit: Eric Wolfinger

Back to the bar and restaurant, once the design is done, how does it feel for you?

It is the most thrilling experience to visit a project that you have worked on––often for several years. Putting together the final elements of styling the space and installing the artwork make it all worth it!

the Private Dining Room at Tre Dita
one of the Private Dining Rooms at Tre Dita / photo credit: Eric Wolfinger

What do you hope diners will feel when they visit Tre Dita?

I think Tre Dita is impressive, immersive and unique, whilst also being welcoming and providing a very special experience. I hope people will feel a real sense of enjoyment and theatre. 

Thanks, Louise, this has been an enlightening conversation!

Quickfire with Louise!

What is your morning routine?

I start the day with a cup of Fortnum and Mason Irish Breakfast tea and a short meditation!

What is your top design hack for home?

A vase of beautiful fresh flowers is very uplifting and impactful. Also buy things that you love - don’t follow trends! 

What is your best travel trick?

I never travel without an eye mask and ear plugs and try to get as much sleep as possible when travelling long haul. 

What is the best advice you ever got?

Keep it simple.

What books/podcasts/TV are you into right now?

I enjoy biographies over fiction and always have one by my bedside table – currently Bunny Mellon: The Life of An American Style Legend. I’ve been listening to the podcast Blood & Business, created by sisters Cassie and Bethany who re-visit stories of Americana history such as the Kennedys, Bouvier sisters etc. I’ve also been enjoying Instagram posts from Marc Rebillet. It’s amazing to see his passion and process creating music!

David Collins Studio


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