NEW YORK — When Patrick Jouin, 36, first visited the space he was to reimagine for Alain Ducasse’s new restaurant, Mix, the flash of inspiration came quickly. The French-born designer took one look at the exposed-brick wall that now serves as a centerpiece of the restaurant, and in less than a minute, he says, decided that it should be painted white and covered with a sheet of pink glass so it resembles an enormous mural.
“Exposed-brick walls are very New York. We don’t have them so much in Paris,” Jouin said Monday at the recently opened restaurant, where intermittent fire alarm testing was taking place. “They’re like those big, beautiful steel plates on the cement in the street. A truck goes over them and BLAM! I love this noise. It’s incredible. In France, the streets are narrow and they don’t do that sort of thing.”
Jouin has found that the streets in Paris aren’t necessarily the only things that are narrow. So, sometimes, are the tastes. He says that working in New York gives him more room to play around. “In Paris, when you need to drill something outside, you’re not authorized. It’s very traditional. They don’t care about the decor, they only care about the food,” he explains. “Here, there’s a different spirit. You can do something unusual. You can do more modern and futuristic things.”
Jouin’s background is in furniture design — he worked for many years with Phillipe Starck before teaming with Ducasse for the Hotel Plaza Athénée restaurant and bar in Paris — and the personal touches at Mix, Jouin’s first project in New York, are apparent in objects throughout the restaurant. In fact, the only things that Jouin didn’t design are the flatware and the Alessi salt-and-pepper shakers. “I didn’t want to design everything,” he jokes. “If you design everything, then it’s overdesigned.”
“A restaurant is more than just tables and chairs,” Jouin continues, “So I invent new tools.” He gestures to the seven “drink sticks” in front of the bar. Imagine pillars descending from the ceiling with ledges at various heights for resting beverages. “This way, you don’t have to hold your glass when you’re with your friends. You can put peanuts there, too.”
Jouin also created a foldable table — a platter with crevices for dishes and an X-shaped base — which his father, a craftsman, manufactured for him in Paris. “We put dishes here, like in a Chinese restaurant. You don’t need the menu, you just choose what you want by sight.” And then there is the two-toned, wide-back dining chair that Jouin feels should put even the most anxious patron at ease. “It’s sort of like a Cadillac. It’s simple, like in a diner,” he explains. “It says, ‘Don’t worry,’ because when some people come in, they are stressed with modernity.”
The Jouin touches continue into the bathrooms, where even the toilets are furniture. “We sit on the toilet often — why can’t it be a real chair, too?” is the philosophy. And so is having a sense of humor about the austerity of designing a space for Ducasse. “We are doing everything perfect,” he smiles, “but we are not serious.”