By Michael Aushenker
Seventeen years ago, architect Stephen Francis Jones made the conscious decision to open his firm in Marina del Rey based on one simple factor: rowing.
Jones has been making the Marina the site of his favorite exercise for 20 years. Proximity to UCLA Aquatic Center, where he floats by Mother’s Beach every day, was a key selling point.
“In the morning, the whole place is full of crew from UCLA, the men’s and women’s teams,” Jones said. “For me, it’s my hour in the morning where I can think through my day. My one hour of meditation.”
Apparently, his morning dose of meditation is paying off. Among the notches on Jones’ professional belt: MB Post restaurant in Manhattan Beach, the retro bowling/nightclub chain Lucky Strike Lanes, Redwood Grille on the second tier of Santa Monica Place, and Del Frisco’s Grille, overlooking Santa Monica Bay.
He also had a hand in creating four Greenleaf Chop Shop locations (including Costa Mesa and Corona Del Mar); the sultry Whisper Lounge at The Grove; Grill on the Alley Westlake; the Asian-contemporary Bui Sushi Bar in Malibu; Diamondhead Grill at Honolulu’s W Hotel; Rainbow Junyuan Plaza, a five-level retail complex in Kunming, China; and four Java House outlets in Kenya. (One of his Java House projects, housed in the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, was damaged in the recent shooting massacre; Jones mentions as an aside that he was inside that very mall just a week prior to the Sept. 22 attack that left nearly 60 people dead).
Jones’ current obsession: a re-design of the flagship La Brea Bakery store in a La Brea Avenue retail space once housing a large corner flower shop. In recent years, La Brea Bakery has passed hands from Nancy Silverton of Osteria Mozza fame to the corporate entity Aryzta, which has made good about going national with its French baked goods.
“I don’t think I can ever retire,” the easy-going Jones told The Argonaut in an interview within his snug, loft-topped sanctum, which he admitted to tinkering with, before showing sketchbooks filled with the freehand ink line drawings he’s made on trips to Europe.
Originally from Orlando, Fla., Jones grew up in the shadow of some interesting architecture: Sleeping Beauty’s castle, the Haunted Mansion and Space Mountain. Both of his parents worked for Walt Disney World, and the young Jones spent much time wandering the enchanted theme park. Despite the plethora of imaginative edifices and some urban planning that included the quaint communities of Fantasyland, Adventureland and Tomorrowland, he insists these quirky environs did not set him on his pathway to becoming an architect. However, he realizes the strangeness of “growing up in Disney World where that was my reality. I was visiting Charles Street in Boston and my reaction was, ‘Wow, this is just like Main Street!’”
A graduate of the University of Florida, Jones went to work for Robert Brannen’s prestigious architectural firm in Boston before coming to out to California to get his master’s at UCLA. It was at the Westwood campus where, in the last quarter of his last year, he met wife Stephanie, an environmental planner. As an aspiring architect, Jones considered “the two Franks as my biggest early influences: Frank Lloyd Wright with his harmonious interplay between architecture and nature, and Frank Gehry’s use of form and scale to articulate spaces.”
Jones additionally cites his “early experience working in Spain for the world-renown architect Ricardo Bofill. I worked for him for a year and really developed an understanding of classical design order set to a post-modern aesthetic.”
Jones cut his teeth as an in-house architect for Wolfgang and Barbara Puck (prior to their divorce). Jones, who was assigned to the casual dining department, needed to be involved in fine dining in order to work on the new Spago restaurant, which relocated from West Hollywood to Beverly Hills in the 1990s.
“So I quit,” Jones said, “and I started working for fine dining as an outside consultant.”
It was then that he officially began SF Jones Architects, and designed the Spago in Beverly Hills “that just had a facelift (a few years ago),” Jones said. “It’s still the same architecture, still the same space, they just reapplied the makeup.” He also worked on several additional projects for Chef Puck, including a restaurant in Japan and the private dining room addition to Chinois on Main.
Puck’s Santa Monica annex is not the only project in that community that Jones has designed. He worked on Typhoon restaurant at Santa Monica Airport; Del Frisco’s steakhouse; Daily Grill at Yahoo Center; and the short-lived Anisette, which visually resembled the type of French brasserie artists Manet or Monet would have felt at home at in-between paintings. A partnership between Chef Alain Giraud, and Mike Garrett and Tommy Stoilkovich, owners of Falcon in Hollywood and Pearl Dragon in Pacific Palisades, Anisette became an expensive endeavor after the 2008 recession hit, coupled with the fact that the owners made the mistake of signing a lease and paying rent before Anisette had opened.
The months waiting for various approvals from city officials became costly and paved the way for Anisette’s shuttering in 2010. Nevertheless, the restaurant, now Misfit under new ownership, still has the majority of Jones’ handiwork, down to the word “Anisette” still inexplicably scrawled in big letters across the tile floor.
With Del Frisco’s Grille, some of the detail in his interior décor scheme, such as the lamps, was replaced last minute by Del Frisco’s pair of owners.
“They thought they looked too Asian (and didn’t fit with the restaurant’s motif)” said Jones, smiling as he adds how the lamps are stockpiled in the next room.
While such a haphazard decision may sound trivial, Jones insists that “details are everything. It’s what pulls it together (to realize the customer’s experience).”
Sometimes, collaborating with a corporate entity can mean too many chefs in the kitchen. However, he says his experience with Aryzta on La Brea Bakery has been positive, despite a branding re-direction emerging from corporate well into the creative process. With his handful of architects and interior designers in a relatively small studio space, Jones enthusiastically walks The Argonaut through conceptual designs, pointing out the expansive and contemporary yet tasteful environment he has created for La Brea Bakery, incorporating a restaurant and a bakery with an inviting airiness and transparency that creates an intimacy, despite the vastness.
Jones has also enjoyed creating concepts for private individuals, such as the men behind the original Lucky Strike at Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue, which he designed before the upscale bowling chain branched out to Orange County and other locations.
“My best projects turn out to be my best clients,” Jones said.
In the past two years, Jones has taken to the iPad like he has to the Marina’s waters, and the Apple tablet has streamlined his process. And all the while, the avid rower, who also loves that he is able to bike from his Manhattan Beach home – where he lives with his wife and their children Quinn, 16, and Camryn, 11 – to his office on Thursdays and Fridays, will continue to commute to and operate from his cozy Marina del Rey digs in a fashion as customized to his way of life as his designs are for his clients.
“When I have a Sig alert,” he said, facetiously, “it’s because the wind is blowing sand on my path.”