Creating a compelling narrative is a key part of the design
process for Dan Mazzarini and Brian
Humphrey of BHDM, who are finishing up
their latest project, a craft beer bar, which opens next month.
Since joining forces in 2008, Dan Mazzarini and Brian Humphrey have been conceiving and crafting eclectic hospitality, retail and residential spaces through their company, BHDM. Mazzarini (previously designing stores for Ralph Lauren) and Humphrey (who ran his own design practice) met while working for Kramer Design Group and have never looked back; the diversity of BHDM’s projects is a testament to their success and their love of variety.
From clients including Calvin Klein to NYC restaurants like Omar’s, no matter the project, Mazzarini and Humphrey pride themselves on imbuing their work with a unique sense of story and character. "We always like to think of our projects from a narrative point of view," Mazzarini explains to CH. "What’s the tale that we want to build around this? To conjure up not just a story for the space but something that informs all the design answers as well?"
Sometimes, the narratives conceived of are very specific. For the first restaurant the two designed together—The Lion, John Delucci’s Greenwich Village establishment, which opened in 2010—Mazzarini and Humphrey invented an entire fictional legacy to inform their design choices; the space has been passed down through generations of "the Lion family." The rustic furnishings, ornaments, and wall hangings (which include many depictions of lions) constitute "a living collage to this imagined family tree."
When designing Miami's Lords South Beach (a boutique hotel that opened in 2011), Mazzarini and Humphrey drew influence from the city’s Latin indoor/outdoor culture as well as the hotel’s contract with Levi’s. But when approaching the design of the interior of one of the hotel’s restaurants, they were also inspired by a certain archetype dubbed by owner Brian Gorman as “Cha Cha Rooster.” (That also happens to be the name of the restaurant.) A Cha Cha Rooster being "a cross between a Golden Girl and Magda from 'There’s Something about Mary,'" Mazzarini says. Humphrey adds, "Too much jewelry, too much eye makeup, but you just love them because they’re so overdrawn." Such devotion to the character resulted in BHDM perfecting each detail in the space. The design choices that followed—portraits of fabulous women, the restaurant’s bright yellow and gold palette, the lobby’s polar bear and the plaid and denim uniforms of the employees—all work together to define the hotel’s brand.
Also unique is BHDM’s beautiful hand-drawn renderings they produce for their clients; they're created by Humphrey, who uses his background in illustration. "We want you to know what it’s going to feel like, rather than where everything is going to be exactly," Humphrey explains, “That’s what you get with computer sketch-up renderings." The designers believe that the sketchy, unfinished nature of the drawings also serves to draw clients into the creative process. While interpreting the sketches, clients often reveal their own preferences. For instance, a client may point to a gray surface in a drawing and say, "Oh, is that leather?" To which the designers say, "It can be!"
And, for the projects that end up being merely speculative, the renderings are all that survive. BHDM worked with the Royalton Hotel to reimagine its restaurant, Brasserie 44, which had been a see-and-be-seen spot for the fashion crowd in the '90s. Mazzarini and Humphrey tackled the challenging project, conceiving a modern and social space that incorporated layered textures possibly worn by patrons—like tortoiseshell, leather and goat hair—and black-and-white photos from the space’s glory days. The project never came to fruition, but the images set a pretty fabulous scene.
One of BHDM’s current projects is Hog’s Head, a craft beer bar set to open at 142nd Street in Hamilton Heights, Harlem in late May. The intimate 17-seat bar will have 20 beers on tap, plus specialty bottled beers and a full bar. For this space, the designers are aiming to capture the grit and machismo of the bar’s Harlem neighborhood, as well as the Irish heritage of the bar’s owner. BHDM is incorporating plaid into the tiled floors and a classic subway aesthetic into the bar top as well as the bar’s exterior.
While the space’s mood—and perhaps its narrative and characters—can be discerned through the renderings, the space has yet to be built, and many design choices are still up in the air. Mazzarini says, "We tend to be dissonant on things almost until the presentation, at which point it seems to gel and all fall into its place." Of this organic process Humphrey adds, "The thrill is in the challenge. Every space has an awkward moment. And those become our great challenges."