Craig Bayens’ furniture workshop — an old Russell firehouse that’s been decorated with rows of taxidermied animal heads and a framed carpet with Jesus’ face on it — is the starting point for much of the design you see at area restaurants like Taco Luchador and Mussel and Burger Bar.
“I’d like to say I’m the resident furniture-maker for the Olé Restaurant Group,” Bayens said. “Me and Fernando Martinez met years ago, right after he’d opened Mussel and Burger Bar, and ever since then, I’ve been doing all of his restaurants. He comes up with initial concepts, like what he wants things to look like, and then I put my two cents in.”
And, Bayens said, over the years Martinez’s passion for food and his passion for materials and design has led to some restaurant concepts filled with special details that many customers might miss.
“You know, we opened Artesano in Westport Village; it’s a Spanish-themed restaurant, so I was like, why don’t we use Spanish mahogany?” Bayens said. “It’s a detail that everybody that I’d say 99 percent of people are going to pass up, but it’s something he and I know, and it makes it that much more special.”
He continued: “When we opened Red Barn Kitchen on Lyndon Lane — it’s now back to Joe’s Older Than Dirt — but it was a barbecue place, so I was like, ‘Why don’t we use hickory for the tables, the same wood we’re using to barbecue with?’”
But, Bayens said, it’s not just about aesthetics; his work has to be functional, too.
And showcasing pieces that meld both form and function was one of the reasons he helped found the Louisville Area Furniture Society (LAFS) in early 2015.
“I started out my career doing a lot of art fairs and art shows, but then I had this idea to start a strictly contemporary furniture show for local builders in order to showcase what we are designing,” Bayens said. “A lot of the times, when we build pieces, we’re approached by art galleries, and they have good intentions, but what happens is they just end up putting merchandise on our tables and they fade into the background.”
The LAFS now has about 10 members, and they are in the midst of their annual showcase. And, like Bayens’ work, you’ve probably seen the members’ designs in other area businesses.
Billie Bradford is the owner of Bradford Fine Furniture in the Portland neighborhood and an LAFS member.
“I built the stuff for the new Quills Coffee shops, Sunergos Coffee shops, a restaurant called Roc and Louvino,” Bradford said. “And in all those cases, the aesthetic has to match the function. Most good design is first functional.”
The LAFS showcase, Functional Design, is on view at garner narrative through Sept. 30.
Featured designers include: Lon Amerman, Craig Bayens, Dave Bibelhauser, Billie Bradford, Kurt Hampe, Brandon Harder, Matt Little and Keith Stone.
More information can be found here.