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Green restaurant/workshop redefines culinary arts

An architect and an artist become restaurateurs and transform a San Diego warehouse into a lean, green foodie machine.

November 01, 2008 |
Artist/owner Paul Basile designed and built the steel and bamboo chairs for the restaurant. Each seat back is notched for use as a purse hook. PHOTOS: STEPHEN WHALEN

Call it the green restaurant that almost wasn't.

Three years ago, when artist Paul Basile, who specializes in architectural and metal design, and business partner Matthew Ellis bought a 7,000-sf former printing shop in San Diego's Barrio Logan neighborhood, they had no plans to become restaurateurs. The building (dubbed B.L.D.G) was going to be rehabbed into a 4,000-sf ground-floor studio for Basile and 1,500 sf of loft-like offices for Bluemotif, Ellis's architecture firm, on the second floor.

Metal railings were designed by artist/owner Paul Basile for another project, then repurposed

for The Guild.
The building’s original industrial concrete floors were saved and sealed with a low-VOC coating.
The Guild Restaurant and Lounge in San Diego occupies 2,000 sf within an artist’s working studio. The rehabbed building is a former print shop.

At the time, the two entrepreneurs thought the extra space at the front of the building would be great for a future conference room or an employee break room. It sat empty for six months. “Then we decided to get really ambitious and open our own restaurant,” says Ellis. Their decision was influenced in part by the limited number of lunch and dinner options in the gentrifying—but still industrial—Barrio Logan neighborhood, but also by a desire to spur redevelopment in this part of the city. “We thought that putting in an element like a restaurant would draw people to the neighborhood and encourage more development, which is starting to happen,” he says.

Ellis and Basile shared the dual roles of developer and architect on this project, which gave them control over the tight budget (the restaurant build-out was completed for $350,000) and an enormous amount of design flexibility. “We didn't have a set design before starting with the project. It was always evolving in terms of its materials, and would change every day—sometimes a few times a day,” says Ellis. “Items we would acquire along the way would direct what materials pallet we'd use next.”

For instance, The Guild's decorative steel railings (created by Basile for another building) were salvaged by the artist himself when that building was being gutted and remodeled. For the restaurant/studio project, some original light fixtures were repaired and reinstalled. The concrete floor was refinished and sealed with a low-VOC coating. The building's wood framing was cleaned up and reused, and the façade was sandblasted to expose the building's existing concrete block walls.

When new materials were used, Ellis focused on buying green. Kirei board is a dominant interior finish, for example. The engineered panel is constructed from the stalks of sorghum, a member of the grass family, and is used as paneling inside the restaurant. The restaurant's glass tile is made from recycled bottles. The furniture, which Basile designed and fabricated himself, is made of bamboo.

The 2,000-sf Guild Restaurant and Lounge, with its assortment of salvaged, recycled, and sustainable materials, opened in February 2007. A glass wall separates the restaurant from the studio, so diners are treated to views of flying sparks and pounding mallets when Basile's team of artisans are at work. It's this unusual and highly creative setting that inspired the restaurant's tagline: “Where food meets fabrication.”

Ellis, who subsequently sold his interest in the property, made the choice to target green, not LEED, so the sustainable building is not certified. However, the project recently won the 2007 Energy Efficiency Integration Award from the AIA San Diego Chapter.

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