Justin Cucci’s new Vital Root design inspires a restaurant quality atmosphere at home
You may not be an accredited chef, but that doesn’t stop you from trying to recreate the dishes Denver’s top eateries consistently churn out—with 4,768 restaurant locations in the Mile High City as of 2015, there certainly are plenty of great reasons to dine out.
But although you may not be able to replicate your favorite bistro meals at home, there is one thing you can crib: ambiance. We asked chef and restaurant owner Justin Cucci (Linger, Root Down, Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox) to share the design inspiration for Vital Root, his new health-conscious eatery in the Berkeley neighborhood. Created by Cucci and Boss Architecture, the chef offers tips on how to add the space’s unique elements at home.
PLAY WITH COLOR AND TEXTURE
“I wanted the restaurant to feel like a tree house,” Cucci says. “When I came in this building it just felt like a tree house; it had great light, it was elevated off the street.”
So the team started by incorporating wood into the space—on the floor and the tables. From there, Cucci looked for unique elements that played well together—from white-washed wood tables to vintage Italian metal chairs to vintage German education posters to blue paint that matches the outside trim of the building to a modern orange light. All of this creates what Cucci calls being “intentionally misaligned.”
What would Cucci do? “Get layers and textures,” Cucci says. “… Be playful and don’t take designing seriously. If you’re flipping out about design magazines and if it will match, I think your head is in the wrong direction.”
Cucci also recommends checking out websites such as eBay, Craigslist, Etsy or just any search engine. “Sometimes when I have no idea I’ll search a word,” he adds.
ADD A STATEMENT WALL
Vital Root’s screen wall is constructed from wood and the aluminum panels used in the outdoor facade of the 1963-built Cherry Creek post office—Cucci took the slats during the tear down. Cucci and his architects decided on this design, he says, because the slats keep the space open, but also give each table privacy: “We picked a rhythm.”
What would Cucci do? Look for something with texture, search online with a good key word, be open to the unexpected and don’t cover up too much or create a wall that separates the kitchen from the rest of the house.
GROW AN HERB WALL
Cucci and his team created a garden space they would use in their food every day: a hanging herb garden, planted in roof gutters against a background of school lunch trays. “I wanted people to eat in a place where it felt like you were eating and seeing things grow,” Cucci says. “To be part of the ecosystem that is food.”
What would Cucci do? Find a unique way to make a mounted herb garden using paint cans, roof gutters, Rubbermaid bins, wine boxes, anything really. “Think of things that you would normally throw out and think right away to not throw it out,” he adds.
HANG A PAINT CAN CHANDELIER
One day, Cucci saw a cluster of empty paint cans waiting to be thrown out and noticed how pretty the colors looked together. So, instead of tossing them, he created a paint can light fixture.
What would Cucci do? The Vital Root team painted the outside of the cans black—also dipping some of the inside rim in black for more color variation—drilled holes in the bottoms, placed a can over each bulb on a string of lights and drilled the whole piece into the ceiling.
USE LIFELONG DISHES
Vital Root uses Elite Global Solutions bamboo dishes that are said to last 50 years or more. “They are indestructible,” Cucci says.
What would Cucci do? Buy a set of reliable, long-lasting plates made from environmentally friendly materials.
USE WINE BOTTLE GLASSWARE
All of Vital Root’s glassware is made from emptied matching wine bottles from his other restaurants. The bottles are sent away, cut, smoothed and returned.
What would Cucci do? Pick your favorite wine or wine bottle, collect a few at a time and then send them off to a company such as The Green Glass Co., Cellar to Ceiling or Refresh Glass for one-of-a-kind glassware.
3915 Tennyson St.
Open Tuesday-Sunday at 11 a.m.; happy hour, 3-6 p.m.
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