The 2021 Restaurant Aesthetic: A Journey into Optimism, Nostalgia, and Escapism

New restaurants are revolutionizing their interior design by taking their decor on a vacation. Step into the world of Little Palm in Charleston, where pink palm-frond wallpaper and turquoise tile transport you to a tropical...

New restaurants are revolutionizing their interior design by taking their decor on a vacation. Step into the world of Little Palm in Charleston, where pink palm-frond wallpaper and turquoise tile transport you to a tropical paradise. At Strawberry Moon in Miami, midcentury resort destinations like Havana and Acapulco come to life with a pink scalloped bar and pink-and-white-striped curtains. This trend isn't limited to warm-weather locales; even Brooklyn and Williamsburg offer Mediterranean-meets-industrial vibes and bamboo bars that transport diners to exotic destinations.

Image Image: ZZ’s Sushi Bar in Miami by Giovanny Gutierrez/Chat Chow TV

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the design of restaurants has undergone a significant transformation. From touchless technologies to outdoor dining, the forecasts all point to changes in layout and operations. As new bars and restaurants have started to reopen, we can finally witness how the time spent at home has influenced restaurant interiors. And one trend has emerged as clear as day: nostalgia-laced vacation decor.

If you pay attention to the recent restaurant openings, you'll notice glimpses of bygone eras, particularly the 1920s and '50s, when America celebrated after wars and pandemics. H.Wood Group is set to open a 1920s-themed supper club in Las Vegas, Delilah, inspired by the earliest supper clubs of the 1950s Las Vegas scene. ZZ's Sushi Bar, also in Miami, oozes midcentury charm with its palm-frond lights, bentwood banquettes, and clamshell-shaped dining chairs.

According to Todd-Avery Lenahan, president and chief creative officer of Wynn Design & Development, this longing for a sense of history has been growing for years. Millennials, in particular, have grown weary of the trendy and disposable designs forced upon consumers today. They crave designs that tell a captivating story and exude permanence, especially in these turbulent times.

Design trends often cycle between embracing and rejecting the impact of modernism. The millennial style, known for its clean yet quirky aesthetic, has dominated everything from dishware to personal care products. However, the pandemic has brought about a shift in preferences. Diners now desire more layered and nuanced experiences, going beyond the pale pinks and blond woods of the pre-pandemic era. They seek history with a twist, a touch of humor, and a sense of a glamorous time that never truly existed.

The Panorama Room in the Graduate Hotel on Roosevelt Island in New York City perfectly exemplifies this blending of past and future. Inspired by the Futurism movement of the early 20th century, the room features chrome and glass elements reminiscent of the Machine Age, combined with retro velvet booths. The overall effect transports guests to a not-too-distant future while summoning a feeling of escapism.

The nostalgia doesn't stop at the early 20th century; there's also a resurgence of the 1980s aesthetic but with a Miami Vice twist. Designs inspired by the Ettore Sottsass movement are being replaced with a more glamorous and fun interpretation. This era appeals to not only Gen Z but also older millennials who find comfort in revisiting their childhood memories. The resurgence of '80s and '90s fashion trends further complements these restaurant designs.

Another noticeable shift is the departure from the minimalist white interiors and sleek black boxes that were popular in the past decade. In 2021, restaurants are embracing vibrant colors, particularly turquoise, orange, and the ever-present pink. The intensity of colors has been dialed up, bringing a sense of joy and playfulness to dining spaces.

Image Image: ZZ’s Sushi Bar in Miami by Giovanny Gutierrez/Chat Chow TV

Ultimately, these style trends convey a common theme: optimism. The new wave of restaurant aesthetics is unapologetically joyful, featuring playful wallpapers, cheerful lighting, and peppy stripes. In a post-pandemic world, diners seek more than just a break from the daily grind. They long for a Wes Anderson-inspired Boca Raton beach club experience where they can put their troubles aside and rebuild their world piece by piece. These happy places, designed to make you smile, are the perfect backdrop for your first meals out in a long time.

Describing this design direction as purely aesthetic doesn't do it justice. These spaces are incredibly optimistic, celebrating togetherness and providing a much-needed sense of rarity. As we continue to navigate the uncertain times ahead, dining in these spaces offers a glimmer of hope and an invitation to collectively embrace the future.

Correction, July 27, 2021: This article was corrected to show that Marc Rose and Med Abrous are restaurateurs and that Parts and Labor Design designed the Panorama Room.

Laura Fenton, the author of The Little Book of Living Small, has had her writing published in esteemed publications such as Better Homes & Gardens, Curbed, New York magazine, and Real Simple. She resides in Jackson Heights, Queens.

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