The original Spago on the Sunset Strip turned Wolfgang Puck into a celebrity chef. The restaurant’s 1997 reboot in Beverly Hills made a star of Marina del Rey-based architect Stephen Francis Jones. After trying his hand at high-rises and shopping centers, Jones discovered a passion for restaurant design while creating the Santa Monica Airport-adjacent nightspot Typhoon about 28 years ago.
“Typhoon was one of the early restaurants that had polished concrete floors and exposed steel and big glass. We had such an awesome view of the runway, the way it was just perched up there, and we wanted to take advantage of that. It was an unusual experience for a restaurant — more about sense of place and how the design of a space could relate to that, as opposed to something like a Pacific Rim theme [to match the menu],” recalls Jones, who later converted Typhoon’s upstairs observation deck into sushi restaurant The Hump.
He launched SF Jones Architects after Puck’s then-wife and partner Barbara Lazaroff pulled him away from designing fast-casual concepts to reboot Spago with an ambience to match its food. The color scheme and broken tile were Lazaroff’s ideas, while Jones focused on blurring the lines of indoor and al fresco dining
by wrapping the building around
Spago was a launching pad for other projects, among them Anisette Brasserie (now The Misfit) in downtown Santa Monica, MB Post and Simmzy’s in Manhattan Beach, Greenleaf Venice on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, the private dining area for Chinois on Main, and Lucky Strike at Hollywood & Highland. Del Frisco’s Grille tapped Jones to make their Santa Monica location feel like it belonged in Southern California.
“We made it so the doors open out to an incredible view of the Santa Monica Pier sign, and we did a little island bar so you can sit right up against the glass,” says Jones. “We tried to make the light fixtures look like stars, resemble the lights from the beach.”
Seeing independent restaurants increasingly priced out of destination areas like Third Street Promenade, Jones is now conceptualizing how clusters of tiny restaurants might co-exist around shared seating. His latest project repurposed shipping containers into a beer garden at the Los Angeles Football Club’s new Banc of California Stadium.
No matter the project, “I always say it starts with lifestyle, and if you live the lifestyle it’s much easier to design that lifestyle,” he says. “My office is in Marina del Rey because I row every morning out of the UCLA Aquatic Center. My day starts on the water at six. It’s a Zen-like feeling to be out there, to hear the rhythm of the oars. That’s when I think out my day. … My commute is on Vista Del Mar, which is the nicest view to have a commute along, and occasionally I’ll ride my bike into work. It makes life just very complete in terms of how you experience the world.”
— Joe Piasecki