Brian Miller and Lauren Winter are partners at Edit, one of the most provocative design firms you’ve probably never heard of, as it has no central office or a Web site. Despite its relative anonymity, the firm is behind some of the most visually interesting restaurants in Washington.
The lanky, blond Miller, 34, and the stylish Winter, 35, discussed their business over cocktails on a very bright afternoon in a very dark Gibson. Miller was sitting facing the door to watch the flow of incoming customers, while Lauren arrived later in a flowy, black dress, ordering a non-alcoholic drink on the fly.
The longtime friends from Savannah College of Art and Design started Edit three years ago when Winter lost her job at a design firm and Miller asked if she wanted to start a business. Both had worked in architectural jobs for several years and have ties to the local restaurant industry. They're friends with Eric Hilton, owner of Eighteenth Street Lounge, the Gibson, Marvin, Dickson Wine Bar, and American Ice Company. Winter used to work at his Eighteenth Street Lounge in the ’90s and is now at U Street Music Hall on weekends. She's married to Proof and Estadio sommelier Sebastian Zutant, and they're expecting their first child within the month.
Edit's interiors run the gamut from the stylish noir of the Gibson to the minimalism of Dickson to the clean lines and brightness of Ba Bay. They're also working on the soon-to-open Rogue 24 from chef R.J. Cooper, Corduroy owner Tom Powers’s Velour, and a slew of other projects currently under wraps.
Daisuke Utagawa, owner of Sushi-Ko, likes the partners' work so much that he has commissioned them to build a freestanding izakaya in the middle of DC's Chinatown in one of the neighborhood's last open lots. “It’s so rare to design a restaurant from the building up,” says Miller. Many urban building projects involve a construction company, a developer, an architect, and an interior designer. In this case, Miller and Winter will wear several hats for the project, designing the building as well as the interior.
As inspiration for the izakaya—to be called Daikaya—Miller accompanied Utagawa to Tokyo in October for a design-and-dining tour. “I took over 2,000 photos,” says Miller. The restaurant is a joint venture between Utagawa and Yama Jewayni, an investor in Eighteenth Street Lounge. Construction is expected to begin later this summer.
Beyond international jaunts to Tokyo, how do the partners find inspiration? “Each other,” says Winter.
“True,” says Miller. “Sometimes she e-mails me at 4 AM with photos of lighting that’s perfect for a project we’re working on.” Otherwise, they’re inspired by movements in the art world, places in history, an era, or most recently, 100-year-old photos of Washington.
Edit also pulls ideas from local shops, including the Brass Knob Back Doors Warehouse, Miss Pixie’s, Good Wood, Community Forklift, and Baltimore’s Second Chance. “Right now we’re looking for old cabinetry and fireplace mantels,” says Miller. “Second Chance is great for that.
Also an idea fountain for Edit: American Ice Company partner Joe Reza, who conceived of that Shaw bar/restaurant and designed and upholstered its furniture. (Reza started out as a furniture designer and carpenter.)
But not all inspiration is about their personal tastes. “We listen to our clients and massage a concept they have,” says Winter. “We talk about the time of day it will be open, the clientele, the space, and we meet somewhere in the middle.”
In the case of Rogue 24, they listened to Cooper’s preference for a “theater” kitchen combined with a warehouse space in Shaw’s Blagden Alley.
“The space doesn’t really need much,” says Winter. “It’s about highlighting what’s there and keeping the focus on the kitchen."
Business has been so good that neither Miller or Winter has time for a kitchen at home. “What’s the saying, ‘A cobbler’s children are always barefoot?’ ” says Miller, whose home in DC's Dupont Circle he describes as minimalist. Winter says she and Zutant tore out their kitchen three years ago in their Bloomingdale townhouse and are just getting around to putting one back in: “We’ve had a sink lying in the corner for as long as I can remember.”
Their priority, at least for now, is to nourish design for the city's burgeoning restaurant scene, which they agree has room for growth. Miller hopes to see more neighborhood restaurants, such as the Passenger and Room 11. “It’s about stitching neighborhoods together,” he says. Restaurant by restaurant, Miller and Winter are designing a more aesthetically dynamic Washington.
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