Kurve Designer Karim Rashid Thinks New York Has Some Catching Up to Do

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"I’m interested in this idea of living in a world with no corners."Photo: Melissa Hom

When Andy Yang’s mysterious Thai venture, Kurve, finally went into soft-opening mode a few weeks ago, after almost a year of delays, the buzz wasn’t about the menu (you can view a version of it here, but keep in mind it’s still in flux) or Sascha Petraske’s first venture into “bar chef” territory (we tried a coconut swizzle and a spiked Thai iced tea the other night — outstanding), so much as it was about Karim Rashid’s splashy interior, photos of which are after the jump. The famed designer has only worked on about ten restaurants, starting with Morimoto in Philadelphia and ending with his current projects in Shanghai and Lisbon. “I don’t do a lot of them in the U.S.,” he tells us, “because a lot of the time developers and restaurateurs are extremely conservative and very worried.” We asked him about other New York City restaurants; his favorite color, pink; and what he plans to do with the hidden cameras above his oddly shaped bar.

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So the obvious question first: What took so long?

A lot of the times I’m designing things that are not necessarily typical of what’s in the construction world. I think [owner Andy Yang] went through a few rounds of different contractors to get the right people. You can get one contractor to do the job quickly and well, but Andy, I think, brought in different people to do different parts and that’s high risk. If you’ve got one person doing the wall and the other doing the flooring and they don’t meet up, each person is going to blame the other.

Were there things that didn’t turn out the way you wanted? Pleasant surprises?
The way it was designed was almost exactly the way it’s built. I do so much with computer work that I can light an interior using the same technology that we light the space with. When I walked in, it was like walking into my computer screen.

You certainly travel a lot. How do you think New York restaurant design compares to the rest of the world?
Something happened to New York — 9/11 put some sort of damper on the city. Even prior to that, New York had not developed at the same flux, intensity, or speed as London or hundreds of other cities. When people ask me to name my favorite architecture and spaces in New York, I have trouble doing that, and I’m surprised and a little bit shocked how kind of conservative and backward it has become. I hate to say this, but I find New York uninspiring at this point in time.

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What would you do with a space like Daniel, which is currently being remodeled?

I know Daniel: He met with me four years ago, and I was going to do a restaurant for him in Las Vegas. There’s a way of speaking and communicating, through the physical space, about our contemporary world and the type of progressiveness that his cooking has. There’s a tendency that’s lacking in New York, in general.

So I take it you wouldn’t preserve any of the classical elements?
No, not at all. I’m not the least interested in preserving anything that’s so-called “classical.” Classical itself is a style; it’s not design. When you design, you’re using contemporary issues and criteria. When you style, you’re appropriating history. If I turn around and make Pastis and copy a French bistro, it’s completely fake. Who are you trying to fool? Why are you copying a French bistro in New York? If I go to a restaurant like Daniel, I’d expect to have something like his food that I can’t taste and touch and see anywhere else.

But don’t you risk alienating people who, say, don’t like lime green?
I don’t think that’s how people judge an experience. Kurve is probably [catering to] more of a youth-culture-driven market. One of the successful restaurants in London was Sketch. It was totally over-the-top. It looked almost like Space Odyssey, and it was phenomenally successful.

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Youth-culture driven, sure. But some people are saying it doesn’t belong in the East Village.

So what belongs in the East Village? If I walk down a block, I see disgusting, falling-apart awnings. All the signage has totally ruined the city: It’s vulgar. What is fitting in? Doing something else bad? The beautiful thing about the urban fabric was its eclecticism. Also, I thought the East Village was hip. Have all the punks retired?

You seem to like pink a lot. Why use it in the restaurant?
It’s something I’ve always gravitated toward. It’s incredibly positive and high energy. If I’m walking through the airport in a pink suit, you’d be surprised how many people say something nice and positive. At the same time, you can’t put another color into the world that’s so controversial. A lot of the colors I work with are inspired by the late eighties, when I started using computers a lot.

The central bar has been described as “vulva shaped.” Were you thinking of specific forms when you designed the place?
People read that kind of stuff into everything. It’s like saying every skyscraper is phallic. It’s ridiculous. I work with organic shapes that make the space fluid. I believe in a soft world: I’m interested in this idea of living in a world with no corners. We’re soft, organic, asymmetrical as human beings. It’s very weird that we live in a Cartesian world.

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Besides being too rooted in the past, what irritates you the most about New York restaurants?
A lot of times, things are extremely unpractical. Sharp corners on tables, uncomfortable chairs. I really don’t want to sit on a wooden chair for two hours. Then I can’t read the menu at all because the lighting is so poorly done, and I can’t hear the person across from me because the acoustics are so bad. A lot of restaurants are very dark, which is a nineteenth-century premise of intimacy. Candles shouldn’t be there to provide the mood: The restaurant should be designed to give you a mood.

Were those cameras I noticed over the bar?
The cameras take imagery of people at the bar, then an algorithm takes the real images and abstracts them in the hidden monitors behind the oval mirrors. They’ll become artistic video shows. I’m trying to incorporate new technologies into all of my projects, so they become part of the space. I use the term "techno organic" — the idea of the artificial meeting the natural. The restaurant I designed in Serbia, Majic, is fantastic because even if you’re outside of the restaurant you can SMS all over the restaurant. Now I’m developing a restaurant where the menus will be liquid-crystal displays.