Profile: Adam D Tihany

The work of this veteran restaurant designer can be sampled in major cities across the globe, and in 2010 he is returning to London to create venues for two Michelin-starred chefs. Kerstin Kühn talks to the ’factotum’ who never repeats himself

Adam D Tihany describes himself as a custom tailor. The US-based restaurant, bar and hotel designer has worked with some of the biggest names in hospitality over the past 30 years. Among them are Thomas Keller, Jean Georges Vongerichten and the One & Only group of hotels – deities the likes of whom most designers would give a limb just to pitch to. But not Tihany, who turns down dozens more requests than the eight to ten projects he undertakes a year.

’We tend to be exclusive, not because we are snobs, but because the kind of work we do is exclusive,’ he explains in a thick Italian-Israeli accent over a cappuccino ordered with ’extra hot’ milk. ’Think of me as a custom tailor. Each suit I design is different – I never repeat anything and I never sell anybody else’s work.’

Born in Transylvania in 1948, Tihany moved to Israel when he was young and earned his architectural degree from the Politecnico di Milano School of Architecture and Design in Italy. He moved to New York in 1976 to become design director of Unigram, and set up his own studio in 1978. While his Italian education, which still influences him, made him a multidisciplinary designer (a ’factotum’ in his own words) the US market was ’terrified’ of his broad range of skills. ’Despite my resistance, I had to pigeonhole myself,’ he recalls. So after developing the first Grand Café in New York in 1980, for which he ’designed absolutely everything from the interiors to the china and staff uniforms’, he labelled himself as the very first pure restaurant designer.

Today, Tihany Design covers all aspects of hospitality design, with its portfolio encompassing more than 300 luxury restaurants and boutique hotels around the world. However, Tihany runs a relatively small organisation – an office of just 12 designers in New York and one of four designers in Rome. Every decision made on a design passes his desk and he still goes to every pitch. ’I’m in this business because I like designing. If you hire Tihany Design, you get me. I see everything, I design everything, I control everything.’

Tihany’s work can be seen in Hong Kong, South Korea, South Africa, Switzerland, Italy and across the US. In London, only three properties have so far secured his services/ four-storey private club Monte’s; Italian restaurant Apsleys at The Lanesborough hotel; and Foliage at the Mandarin Oriental hotel. The latter has recently called him back to design the spaces to be occupied by the first London restaurants of high-profile, multi-Michelin-starred chef-restaurateurs Daniel Boulud and Heston Blumenthal.

The two restaurants will be dramatically different. While French-born US chef Boulud’s will be an intimate bistro, reflecting a sense of a sprawling wine cellar, Blumenthal’s British brasserie will be much more grand, housed in the mammoth space currently occupied by the hotel’s Park and Foliage restaurants.

Bar Boulud, set to launch in mid-May, will pay homage to French wine-making culture. Divided into three separate areas – a lounge bar, main restaurant and private dining space – it will feature red leather banquettes and chairs, and an open kitchen in the main dining room, as well as a zinc-topped bar with a cork panel coating next to a glass-enclosed wine cellar and barrel-inspired lights. ’It will whisper wine, but won’t be in your face,’ Tihany explains.

Meanwhile, Blumenthal’s yet-to-be-named restaurant, set to open in November, will focus on contemporary British food based on 16th-century concepts. Tihany says his interiors will reflect the chef’s modern take on tradition. ’It will be relatively classic – wooden floors and coffered ceilings – but it’ll have some quirkiness to it too, to give a sense of Blumenthal’s creative way of thinking,’ Tihany hints.

He says he enjoys working in London because, like New York, it is at the forefront of restaurants, food culture and design, and his experience of working here has been great. ’Contractors and craftsmen and everyone who contributes to a project are very good in the UK,’ he enthuses. ’There is a lot of respect for tradition and attention to detail, and people take pride in doing things well.’

He’s a big admirer of Sir Terence Conran’s work and says the most exciting restaurant he recalls visiting was Bibendum. ’It was amazing, totally right on the spot,’ he says. ’Conran hit this very fine tone of style that worked so well in London. He set the standard for a long time’ – the same sentiments the industry reserves for Tihany.

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