Vandaag (New York City): An architect brings a vintage Dutch modern sensibility to an East Village storefront

Architect Eric Mailaender designed Vandaag to have the transportive feel of  a mid-century modern Northern European eatery.  Photo courtesy of Resistance

Closed effective 5/29/12

Architect Eric Mailaender understands that Vandaag might not be everybody’s cup of Dutch cocoa when it comes to design.

The Dutch/Northern European contemporary East Village storefront is “surprisingly open and spare” compared to New York’s traditional table-upon-table restaurants, says Mailaender, owner of the Brooklyn-based firm Resistance.

And some find its “vintage modernist” design “refreshing,” while others say, “Hmmm.  That’s weird,” according to Mailaender.

Mailaender acknowledges that the restaurant’s unconventional design isn’t for everybody.  Photo courtesy of Eric Mailaender

I, of course, am in the former camp, and fully disagree with that one hater on Yelp who claimed that the 80-seat restaurant resembled an airport terminal.

Yes, its large rectangular space is modern and open, but it’s neither utilitarian nor impersonal.  And Mailaender says he worked hard to achieve balance in this project, which initially started out as a beer hall and ultimately morphed into a restaurant.

“It’s not trying to be warm and fuzzy, but we didn’t want it to be stark and cold, either,” says Mailaender of the 18-month-old eatery.

Additionally, Mailaender and owner Brendan Spiro wanted the space to connect with the menu — but in a very subtle way.

So there are Dutch/Northern European “references and visual cues” throughout the space — such as a display of iconic Delft miniature houses or splashes of orange, the Netherlands’ national color, Mailaender says.  “But there’s nothing that screams, ‘Oh, it’s a Dutch restaurant.’”

The former home of a raucous bar, the space was completely gutted, and Mailaender added exterior details such as an entry vestibule.  Photo courtesy of Resistance

The space, which formerly housed an “obnoxious post-fraternity boy bar,” required a total gut job before Mailaender could imbue it with a mid-century, Northern European sensibility.  Mailaender, who prefers to work with existing and available materials, went all the way down to the building’s concrete slab flooring and brick walls.  The concrete was then grounded and polished.  The bricks were patched and painted a soft putty gray to add additional lightness to the gloriously window-filled room.

As a contrast to the hard flooring, Mailaender specified a strip-wood ceiling, which he stained a rich, dark espresso.  “We really needed to have the warmth of the wood ceiling,” Mailaender says.

The architect cut out a series of circles in the wood ceiling, added white recesses, ceramic bulb holders and silver-dipped bulbs.  “Basically,” he says, “I made a light fixture out of a void.”

Throughout Vandaag, the duality of “slick and hard versus things that are warmer and more organic” is apparent,  Mailaender says.

Through its materials, the room strikes a balance between the sleek/hard and warm/organic, Mailaender says.  Photo courtesy of Resistance

So silver table bases were topped with white metal frames and then blanketed with a thin layer of honey-colored teak veneer.  The tables were paired with two types of vintage Haywood-Wakefield mid-century modern chairs that Mailaender found on eBay.  And they also were matched with either black slat-wood benches or cushy button-tufted black vinyl banquettes and curved booths.

The warm, soft materials, such as wood and upholstery, “add a touch of needed relief against the openness and austerity,” Mailaender says.

The architect also incorporated colorful elements that soften up the room.  A large wall at the eatery’s front is covered in a graphic-patterned “tile” mosaic comprised of salvaged mid-century mustard-and-cream-glazed bricks.

Color — blue, mustard-gold and orange  — softens up the minimalist storefront.  Photo courtesy of Resistance

A series of totally mod orange wire chandeliers crafted from welded and spray-painted lampshade skeletons runs the length of the room.  And a whimsical Dutch-made orange bicycle brought in by Spiro moves around the space and provides a playful decorative element.

Mailaender also uses a heavy splash of watery blue.  The color defines Vandaag’s bar area, which fills the center of the restaurant’s north wall.  The Dutch-manufactured paint that coats the bar’s steel beam shelves and its vertical beer tap tower adds a “contrast and pop, but there is something soft and pretty about it,” the architect says.

The color works particularly well with the angled zinc-topped bar and its putty-gray-glazed brick base.  And retro-looking metal science lab stools — topped with felt pads — add yet one more touch of hipness to the bar space.

Other cool, notable features include the minimal art objects sprinkled around the space.

Art, including this faux-vintage travel poster, adds a playfulness to Vandaag.  Photo courtesy of Resistance

By the bar, for example, there’s a homey arrangement of funky graphic plates procured by Spiro.  And in the rear, a teak panel serves as a background for Danish modern poster art.

And then there’s the large faux-vintage travel poster that Mailaender commissioned.  The black-and-white stock image shows a man on a bike with the colorful words “Bezoek Holland Vandaag,” or “Visit Holland Today,” emblazoned on it.

The artist, in a quirky twist, blacked the cyclist’s eyes out.

Surely, silly Yelper, not the kind of poster one would find in an airport terminal.

103 Second Avenue
New York, New York 10003

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