Friday, June 14, 2024 Jun 14, 2024
73° F Dallas, TX


Three restaurants by Paul Draper titillate our appetites with a visual feast

If you’ve queued up with the tony contingent table-hopping at Sfuzzi, dined or danced the night away at San Simeon, or been a guest at the Crescent Club, you’ve been surrounded by the design expertise of Paul Draper, interior architect and local talent. All three top Dallas’s best-dressed list: sleek, functional, fun to be seen in, and full of all the right stuff. Here, dining out is far more than foraging for food, it’s culture. Proof? On the social calendar, quaffing an aperitif at San Simeon will nudge out soup and salad at DMA’s gallery buffet, even on navy bean soup day.

It’s dining as emotional challenge, as total sensory experience: lacking mountains to climb, seashores to explore, and decent rivers to raft, we who dwell in Dallas are compelled, irresistibly drawn in to dine. We want it to make us feel good, feel even better. And Paul Draper & Associates is conceptualizing and delineating the kind of atmospheric, architectural backdrop that feels just right.

Sfuzzi, Draper’s third triumph for Crillon Management (San Simeon and Petaluma came first) makes a non-architectural architectural statement about Dallas. It doesn’t tell us where Dallas has been: we’ve all been to Six Flags by now. It doesn’t contemplate where the city seems to be going stylistically: we know all we need to know about reflective glass. What it does is cocoon us in the urban archeology we always wished we had. Squint a bit-or have one or two of Sfuzzi’s frozen bellinis-and the neo-Italianate faux architecture and frescoes could be on a side street in Milano. But settle in for a minute, and the weathered Pegasus border begins to feel like a point of reference. This is Dallas, but better.

Sfuzzi is wall-to-wall humanity at lunch and provides more than the daily requirement of body contact evenings for dinner. It’s chic, comfortable, and full of hard, tactile surfaces. To survive, we get brutally loud and terminally pretty.

Draper selected earthy textures: the weathered brick, the metal in Philippe Starck’s artful bar stools and the suspended lighting system, the natural wood chairs and French doors that will allow dining to spill toward the street this spring. Each details a functional sleekness that pleases the senses. Draper specified a live performance of the culinary arts, and the restaurant kitchen became an archaeological excavation point. Exposing the streamlined stainless steel foodworks, he allowed kitchen energy to mix with the human kinetics and gained the symbolic comfort of a modern heart and hearth. We see, we smell, we eat, we smile.

The design scheme for San Simeon called for a more formal approach, a dressier tone, and a spacious, welcoming ambience. Situated on McKinney’s burgeoning restaurant row, San Simeon sits at street level in an urban, commercial box. Draper turned the restaurant in upon itself, focusing attention on his strikingly beautiful, airy interior. The result is an urban oasis, a watercolor landscape in softened neutrals.

Paul Draper lived and studied in Japan for several years, and the serene visual concepts of that culture are subtly at home at San Simeon. The intelligent use of light and the quiet color scheme, the selection and placement of furnishings, art, and the necessary restaurant accouterrnents are thoughtfully accomplished.

Draper also worked within and assimilated the culture of contemporary California, another palpable design influence at San Simeon. Borrowing from the sun-washed interiors of the West Coast, he details a predilection for light-washed woods in wall, floor, and furnishings surfaces. Combining the pale neutrals of the rough-hewn stone architectural details and mottled painted walls. and layering subtle shades of gray to green, Draper provides us a fresh change from the stucco and earthy Southwestern hues that color too many city menus.

His intelligent use of light, both natural window light and the computerized system of ambient lighting, subtly helps day evolve into evening. Draper has studied well and brought the brightest visions of his own experience together in a beautiful hybrid.

Paul Draper is one of a growing number of young designers who lives rather than simply does design. His design partner is Melin-da Draper, his wife. Mental calisthenics, research, and design for the firm’s projects go on continually, though no workaholic psychoses are in evidence. The Drapers simply consider their profession a pleasurable part of their lives, and prefer doing it together, at home. The firm’s design studio is in their multilevel house in East Dallas. Freelance production staff is brought on-team as needed. Show-and-tell for Sfuzzi (and the new Sfuzzi that will appear in Manhattan this year) and San Simeon took place on their dining/conference table.

The two met six years ago when Melinda was a designer at Shepherd & Partners and Paul was collaborating on The Crescent. They merged professionally and married two years ago. When asked how they do it, they say they’re best friends. Does their work ever consume them? Yes. Their answer? Go fish. They’ve angled their way to Canada and back, targeting the bass in Lake Fork in East Texas when the schedule says quick fix.