You may try a new restaurant because you’ve heard good things about the food, but you’ll form your first impression of the place’s flavor from the decor.
“I’ve learned that [a restaurant’s style is] extremely important,” said Nathan Lindley, owner of Public House on Market Street and former owner of St. John’s Restaurant.
Lindley said he didn’t have a decorating budget when he opened St. John’s more than a decade ago, but changes have been made over the years. “If you look at St. John’s now, it’s more polished and packaged,” he said.
When Lindley opened Public House in May 2009 on the south end of Warehouse Row, he requested a decor that personified a “modern farmhouse tavern” from a designing firm.
“They came back with board and batten, white on white, and furnishings that included large, simple chandeliers,” he said. “The budget kept us from doing as many things as I’d like, but I did commit money for statement pieces of furniture, like the big booths we have when you walk in the door.”
Housed in a building constructed in 1902, Public House gets part of its charm from century-old brick walls and heart-pine beams. Tables made of natural wood, covered in crisp, white linen tablecloths, and wide-open dining spaces create a clean, eye-pleasing atmosphere.
Lindley said customers have preferences for particular tables.
“Whether it’s a booth, a round or square table, I try to have tables that every customer likes,” he said. “A group of men, for example, won’t sit in a booth. Women will.”
Lindley said he routinely makes small updates in the restaurant’s decor.
“I’ll see something at a restaurant in Atlanta and think that I’ve got to incorporate that in my restaurant, but I limit major updates to every five to seven years,” he said.
Lindley said he likes the clean and simple look of Public House, which seats 80 inside and an additional 30 outdoors.
“It’s just what I envisioned,” he said. “The name is tied in with the idea of simple, regional food.”
FoodWorks is also housed in a decades-old building. Built in the early 1920s, the two-level structure’s interior highlights natural wood and original brick. The restaurant opened in 2006 in the eastern end of Knitting Mill Antiques on Manufacturers Road.
“Our space was not utilized at all,” said Troy Sutton, FoodWorks operating partner. “The lower level, where our bar is, was basically rubble.”
Sutton said he opened the restaurant with two partners.
“There was already an architectural rendering put into place, so it was easier to see what the restaurant would look like on paper rather than just walking into the building and thinking it was a train wreck,” Sutton said.
The existing walls proved to be ideal for the intimate dining spaces the owners wanted.
“The spaces opened and flowed into one another,” he said. “Over our bar is a space where a payroll safe used to be. That section now holds seating for 20 people. Initially, there was a floor that separated the upper and lower levels. We opened it up, and though we lost some seating space, we do have a mezzanine for seating that opens to the rest of the restaurant.”
FoodWorks seats nearly 220 people inside and an additional 20 on the outdoor patio. Sutton said having the restaurant housed in an existing structure is part of its charm.
“Old buildings are really cool, and I like to see them renovated and used, but I haven’t seen a space that’s set up like ours,” he said.
Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...