LONG BRANCH N.J. London-based designer David Collins combines a casual beach-influenced atmosphere with an upscale, contemporary twist at the French brasserie Avenue in Long Branch, N.J. The project is notable for bringing a new level of sophistication to an area known largely for its casual beachside dinnerhouses.
Avenue, which opened in April of this year, marks Collins' first restaurant venture in the United States. The restaurant is owned by David Barry, his brother Michael Barry and mutual friend Anthony Diaco.
"I met David Barry a couple of years ago when I was in New York on other business," Collins said. "At first I wasn't sure that I wanted to do a restaurant here [in the United States] but then I saw the location and realized that it would be nice to create a restaurant on the Atlantic seaboard that didn't look like a fast-food outlet."
After two years of planning and construction, Avenue is a far cry from any quick-service venue.
The 5,000 square foot beach-front space features a design infused with crushed shells and sand colors, loft-like ceilings, marble tiles and a 25-foot bar, inspired by the hull of a ship, according to Collins. The restaurant seats 150 guests inside and 100 in the outdoor area.
"It was important for me that the sea was the prime element of the design," Collins said. "You usually don't see a combination of the sea and formal dining, but it works here."
"It's elegant yet comfortable," added David Barry.
When developing the look for the restaurant, Collins said that he took some of the classic brasserie elements, such as banquette seating and a dominant bar, and mixed it up with modern accents to add a contemporary feel.
David Barry said the inspiration for the restaurant came primarily form the South of France. "There's a certain quality and level of sophistication to it," he said. "It's a scene without being a scene."
The walls throughout the restaurant are made of sandblasted oak and driftwood paneling that runs horizontally around the room. Two of the main focal points are a large fireplace on one end of the restaurant, and an exposed raw bar on the other.
Collins used periwinkle blue leather that "picked up on the elements of the sea" for the chairs, he said. They are accented by cream-colored banquettes.
"I tried to use colors and finishes that were weathered by the sea," Collins added.
The marble-topped bar is accented with steel plating to achieve a nautical feel. "I didn't want to use a timber handling like in typical French bistros," he added.
The restaurant features indirect lighting at the table level, to create an air of intimacy. The indirect lighting creates a glow at the table and isn't harsh like direct lighting. Collins also used recessed lighting throughout the venue to provide a dramatic feel. In addition, the restaurant features a series of bronze chandeliers, as well as candles in pastel ceramic bowls on tabletops and other spots throughout the space.
Another important aspect of the design for Collins was the floor. "The floor is a key element in the lighting," he said. "I wanted it to be able to subtly reflect the candles in the restaurant." To accomplish this, Collins had the floor made of a mosaic of glistening pearl colored marble tiles that "give the impression of walking on beautiful delicate seashells."
If guests literally want to walk on seashells, they can walk through large glass doors that open to the beach, and a deck with outdoor seating
"One of the biggest challenges in the design of Avenue was making the building work on a number of levels," Collins said. "There are cabanas on the beach, then there's the brasserie level and a pool and bar on the top level. I wanted to make circulation through the building look obvious."
Collins also said that he didn't want the design to target just one daypart. "The restaurant serves food all day," Collins said. "The design had to work for morning coffee to drinks in the evening."
"In the end, I just wanted Avenue to be fun and part of the whole beach experience and part of Long Branch," Collins said.