Many chef-owners come into their first restaurants with every detail planned out. But Bondir’s Jason Bond did just the opposite.
“The overall aesthetic was that we wanted it to be comfortable and relaxed,” says Bond, who opened his critically acclaimed Boston-area eatery in November 2010. But when he took over a highly affordable, but terribly dingy, 900-square-foot space in Cambridge’s Area 4 section, he had decided little else.
“We didn’t have a clear vision going into it,” Bond says. “We got the keys and we said, ‘What are we going to do with it?’”
For decades, the tiny room housed a dark and run-down Portuguese restaurant. With help from family, friends and a handful of professional subcontractors, Bond gutted much of the place himself, and then built it back up again. Some things, such as the glazed brick fireplace in the front waiting room/lounge nook, were left untouched because the chef liked them. Others, including the dining room’s wainscoting and its terracotta tile floor, remained because of budgetary limitations.
Once the worst elements — from an unsightly bar to a hideous drop ceiling — were gone, Bond and company began adding flourishes and touches to rejuvenate the room.
“The more we removed, the better it started to look,” Bond says.
Throughout the renovation, Bond kept a solid grip on the purse strings. Most of his design decisions were based on cost, he says.
“The budget was very, very, very, very tight,” agrees designer, Michele Kennedy, who consulted on the project.
With no money for new tables and chairs, for example, Bond reused those left behind by the former tenant. The bottoms of the simple wood café chairs were reupholstered — some in cream vinyl, others in a sweet aviary print sussed out by Kennedy. The tables were covered with padding and then topped with linens to give them a “fine-dining” look.
Many design choices were simply spontaneous, Bond says.
“I couldn’t afford 20 new chairs, but I found the wooden [church benches], and all of sudden, we had banquettes,” says Bond, who salvaged the pews from a 19th century Episcopalian church.
The sturdy pews now serve as seating in both the dining room and the cozy nook, where they are paired with tree trunk tables crafted by a Pennsylvania artisan. Bond, who found the natural tables online, liked their “real simplicity.”
The restaurant continued to take form as Bond and his design-minded girlfriend, Monica Higgins, brought in pieces that they found on numerous outings. A beautiful rustic copper-topped farm table — which doubles as a service station and eating area — and the mahogany bench that wraps around it, for example, were purchased from an antique shop and at auction respectively.
“I showed up one day, and he had the table there,” Kennedy recalls.
Bond and Higgins also used odds and ends they discovered in the garage-attic at Higgins’ father’s house. “Her dad collected interesting things throughout his career,” says Bond of the former professional carpenter.
The two left the attic with a treasure trove of materials, including thick cedar wood remnants that were crafted into rough-hewn shelving, and a half of an antique wood door that now cleverly separates the restaurant’s entry from the dining room.
The couple also had “collected things for years and years, hoping to put them someplace one day,” the chef says. And today that place is Bondir, where their numerous finds — vases, colorful dish sets, lace dollies, vintage glassware — accessorize the 26-seat eatery.
“We wanted to include things that had context and that meant something to us,” Bond says.
One piece with a particularly interesting backstory is the large pencil drawing of a pig that graces the dining room’s back wall.
The artwork is a blown-up sketch of the chef’s prized piglet, Black, drawn by Bond’s grandfather. Black and sibling Tan were the first Mangalitsa breed pigs in New England, according to Bond. [With a chef as their owner, you know the fates of Black and Tan.]
Having spent his childhood in Wyoming and Kansas, Bond said it was natural that his restaurant would have some “cabin-in the-woods/grandma’s-house” character. “But I didn’t want to overdo it.” So he also incorporated contemporary features, such as the simple pendant fixtures that hang above the dining tables, and the big stainless-steel espresso machine next to the fireplace.
“I definitely wanted a balance of old and modern,” Bond says.
Kennedy’s main objective was to lighten and cheer up the depressingly dark restaurant.
“I was trying to get as much brightness as possible without it being cold,” she says.
And her color selections — cream, terracotta and asparagus green — clearly worked wonders, as demonstrated by before-and-after photos of the room.
“The vibe of the restaurant fits Jason’s personality and his food,” Kennedy says. “It’s simple. It’s charming. It’s inviting.
“And even though it’s simple, it’s fresh.”
Cambridge, MA 02139