January 25, 2017

Q&A with Hospitality Designer John Sofio of Built Inc.

Built Inc. is known for their hospitality projects, including Bootsy Bellows, Delilah, The Nice Guy and the soon-to-come live music venue for Interscope Records, The Peppermint Club.

by New York Spaces

John Sofio
Delilah: John Sofio of Built Inc.
John Sofio of BUILT inc.
John Sofio of Built Inc.

NYS: What are you known for?

John Sofio: I've made a name designing and building high end restaurants/bars and nightclubs, such as The Nice Guy, Bootsy Bellows, Delilah, and other celebrity hotspots around West Hollywood and the Sunset Strip.

NYS: What draws you to designing for the hospitality sector?

John Sofio: I like to study spaces and the way people interact within them. I've also always been an artist. These two interests manifest perfectly in hospitality design, as it requires attention to detail in both aspects; aesthetic and social function are equally important in my design.
I remember during the opening of what was then The Beverly, someone telling me "look how happy you've made everyone." The physical feeling of these spaces and its human impact is very important to me.

NYS: What are the advantages and disadvantages of working in the hospitality sector?

John Sofio: In contrast with residential projects, the amount of people with whom I can share my creation is amazing. Additionally, two large advantages are the client and the budget. I am free to explore more creative and artistic expression, avoiding conservative or uninspired design, as the client rests easy, hedging toward more rather than less, trusting in my work.

John Sofio of Built Inc.
Redesign of Bootsy Bellows; John Sofio of Built Inc.

Perceived disadvantages often work to our advantage, as time restrictions and high risk factors promote and allow for spontaneous inspiration.

NYS: We love that you incorporate vintage textiles and rare lighting into your projects. Where do you source them and how do you use the textiles?

John Sofio: We're now designing and fabricating almost all of our own lighting and fixtures, as well as patterned textiles for the upholstery of custom furniture. The vintage objects are sourced from personal collections which is constantly growing through our travels, road trips, and exploration around the country.

John Sofio of Built Inc.
The Nice Guy; John Sofio of Built Inc.

NYS: What are some of your more well-known projects and the concepts behind them?

John Sofio: "Bootsy Bellows" gets its name and inspiration from owner David Arquette's mother, as a commemoration to her life and career as a burlesque dancer. "The Nice Guy" works as an East-coast-Mafia-style Italian social lounge and restaurant, inspired by my roots and experience growing up in New York.

"Delilah" is my interpretation of the classic supper club; a private and exclusive dining experience in a space that is versatile and organic in building social energy throughout the night.

NYS: What have you learned from designing a myriad of restaurants, clubs, and lounges?

John Sofio of Built Inc.
The Nice Guy; John Sofio of Built Inc.

John Sofio: I've come to realize my design through a process of layering, one that starts with an initial concept that is addressed from the floor plan through to the finishes of a project. The organic movement in a space as well as the design of the bar/counter-its height, shape and relationship with the rest of the space- are crucial elements in bringing the concepts to life.

NYS: What is a personal restaurant favorite of your design and another by a fellow designer? What did you love about both of these projects?

John Sofio of Built Inc.
Bootsy Bellows Redesign; John Sofio of Built Inc.

John Sofio: Bar Stella in Silver Lake is my favorite low key spot. I draw inspiration from the intimate and private feeling. My favorite personal projects are The Nice Guy and Delilah. Those are a pair, they're like my kids...I can't choose a favorite.

NYS: What are some things you have learned over time that allow you to consistently improve on the design for any restaurant?

John Sofio: Once a project is finished and open I try to stay away from the space for a couple weeks before revisiting to analyze it from a new perspective. I separate myself from the initial process and look from a designer's critical eye for things that do and don't work, and then evolve and build from there. All of my projects are done in the context of my other work. The Nice Guy created a new type of restaurant/bar that Delilah then expanded upon. The Peppermint Club, which is about to open, is layered with forms, textures, and shapes in the same effect as Delilah but to a more extreme degree. I am constantly creating and challenging new standards for my own design.

John Sofio of Built Inc.
Bootsy Bellows Redesign; John Sofio of Built Inc.

NYS: What is the underlying tenant of your firm?

John Sofio: Control at every stage in a project, from a brand's inception to its buildout and completion, is key to Built Inc.'s success as a design/build firm. Every aspect and detail is intentional and complementary to the next. No design happens by default.

NYS: What are you working on now?

John Sofio: We're about to open The Peppermint Club, a live music venue for Interscope Records.

NYS: What would your dream project be?

John Sofio: Creating and branding a full package hotel, including the restaurant and bar, would be an amalgamation of my creative pursuit.

John Sofio of Built Inc., Delilah
Delilah; John Sofio of Built Inc.

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