September 24, 2015

Q&A with Cass Calder Smith on the design of Japanese restaurant o ya!

Cass Calder Smith of CCS Architecture answers our questions on his firm's design of the new Omakase-style Japanese restaurant in the Park South Hotel.

by New York Spaces

o ya
Cass Calder Smith

NYS: CCS Architecture just designed the New York City edition of o ya, a contemporary Japanese Omakase-style restaurant. What did this design entail?

Cass Calder Smith: Once we were hired, it started with a delicious and interesting dinner at o ya in Boston. Three people from my office and I went up there and had a great time. It was important to get to know Tim and Nancy and the look and feel of the restaurant and a taste for the food and the sake. The owners wanted to translate the sensibility of the Boston location for New York—not literally replicating it, but keeping the same DNA. o ya Boston is located in an old warehouse and so the shell of its interior nicely counterpoints with the existing building shell of concrete and exposed structure.

Tim, Nancy, and I worked collaboratively during the design process, as I do with all my clients. In addition, the restaurant needed to be in sync with the other parts of the Park South Hotel that CCS is also designing. Similar to the Boston location, we designed a contemporary, quasi-Japanese interior and contrasted that with the existing rustic elements of the building: brick walls and concrete floors. The main element of the place is the long dining counter and chef area. It's the heart of the project.

o ya

NYS: What is Omakase? Why would you recommend diners give it a try?

CS: The definition of Omakase is a meal with all the dishes selected by the chef. In Japanese, "I'll leave it to you," to entrust.

The main reason to try this form of dining is that the chef ends up creating your whole meal, which, with sake pairings, can be spectacular. It is a special experience and just delicious. I've eaten in Japan a number of times and it's just great to sit back and let the dinner happen over a few hours. There are usually quite a few courses, but they come out quickly and the portions are small, so in the end you don't end up overfed. I think it's a nice respite from the decision-saturated days we have. As professionals, we make a thousand decisions all day and for dinner, we need to make only one—where to eat.

o ya

NYS: Why did this project interest you?

CS: I love Japanese food and Japanese design, and have been to Japan numerous times so, it was very interesting to explore the creative solutions that the project demanded. o ya is not a traditional Japanese restaurant, it's a variation.

NYS: Where is o ya located and why did this appeal to you?

CS: o ya is located in the Park South Hotel—a boutique hotel on East 28th street between Park Ave South and Lexington Avenue in NYC. The area is burgeoning, as are the neighboring NOMAD and the Flat Iron District, it's a quite exciting area.

NYS: How did you tie in the façade of o ya into the design of the interiors and into the Park South Hotel's design?

o ya

CS: The façade is very distinctive in relation to the hotel façade. o ya is in a brownstone that is part of the hotel —not part of the same building but an adjacent building and it is set back from the street about ten feet and down about two feet. This setting presented an opportunity for us to create a unique and iconic façade. So, we created what I felt was a Japanese street façade, yet also the buffer zone established by the set back became a bit of a Japanese garden. This evolved from the idea of having the entry door a little hidden and secret from the street, which is common in Japan. We brought a large boulder from upstate New York, which we placed at the edge of the sidewalk as a greeting that one walks by and down and across to the entry door. The façade itself is made of wood boards that were charred for a burnt finish—a typical Japanese siding technique called shou sugi ban. When we presented this to Tim and Nancy they loved the idea. We created two slot windows, which are very modern in shape and create a subtle connection between inside and out.

o ya

NYS: You are very well known for your unusual and fantastic use of natural wood. How did you implement natural wood into this particular design?

CS: I really got into wood when I started practicing architecture in California, which has lots and many kinds of it. In o ya, we used 2 kinds of wood in specific locations: walnut, which is a hardwood, is the bar top, the tables, and the wood down low on a wall where it needs to be durable. We also used clear cedar for the ceiling and some of the walls. This mix created a more casual result that if only one type of wood were used. It also offers a combination of medium and dark... black and tan.

NYS: In the design of o ya, did you work closely with anyone?

CS: We worked especially closely with Tim and Nancy, but also with John Taft, the owner of the Park South Hotel, which hosts the restaurant. It was a terrific team of like-minded people who were constantly thinking on how to make the place better but keep it casual for a unique dining experience. We also collaborated with New York firms Reveal Lighting and Samtel who designed the kitchen.

o ya

NYS: Why did you choose Chef Tim Cushman and his wife Nancy to collaborate on the project?

CS: They chose me.

NYS: How many locations does o ya have? What about each location's design separates or unites each?

CS: o ya has two locations, one in Boston and now in New York. We only designed the New York location.

NYS: What can visitors expect when entering o ya?

CS: A soothing and delicious departure from the happy chaos of New York City. Tim plays a great music soundtrack, visitors will definitely enjoy that!

NYS: What design elements did you implement into the interiors?

  • The boulder on charred siding on the façade
  • The cedar and walnut inside
  • The larger dining/sushi bar. (note that we did not use sushi cases...we went away from these to make it not look so much like typical sushi bars. This is a way you see it commonly in Tokyo.
  • A beautiful tile work: Heath Ceramics recycled kiln shelves in Pisces Green and Canvas
  • The client ended up using Heath Ceramics share plates as well
  • At the front of the restaurant we create an area that has 4 built in booths that are very intimate and create a "place within a place".
o ya

NYS: You implemented Japanese carpentry into the space. What was so important about doing so?

CS: The craft and workmanship of carpentry done in Japan is unlike anywhere else in the world that I have encountered. It is very nice to work in the same vein. I was a carpenter many years ago as I was studying design and becoming an architect so, I have a particular appreciation for it. It creates a very warm-feeling space, which is great for dining.

NYS: What type of dinner parties would you recommend this location to? Is it romantic? For groups? Is the counter conducive for people to dine in solo?

CS: Any size is good...alone or with another at the bar, or 2 at the smaller tables. My personal favorite is 4 people in one of the booths in the front. It is nicely tucked in for privacy and also up, so one has a nice view over the rest if the restaurant.

NYS: When are you taking us? ;)

Anytime...let me know.

o ya