Blenheim is located in a historic corner building in New York’s West Village, and takes its name from the owners’ 150-acre farm in the Catskills. Much of the menu is cooked with food grown or produced on the farm. The concept was to create a small urban restaurant that would have a strong visual connection to the country and agriculture – a design that would bring the farm to the city in a simple, approachable way. The restaurant has an intentional hand-built look and feel that furthers the concept.
For the design, there was an owner-architect design collaboration with a shared vision. When it came time to give Blenheim a physical identity, owners Morten Sohlberg and Min Ye collaborated closely with Cass Calder Smith, principal of CCS Architecture, who grew up two blocks away. “Our vision for the restaurant is a friendly and inviting space that isn’t trendy. A design that brings the farm to the city in a simple, approachable way,” Morten reflects. As required by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, the existing storefront, which wasn’t historic, was completely replaced to match what was originally there based on old photographs.
The interior architecture balances clean, minimalist lines interrupted by custom and slightly rustic architectural features. Along one side and across the back of the dining room is a sloping wood wall with intermittent mirrors that was site fabricated by carpenters from a variety of wood species and sizes. Opposite this wall is the bar, which has a long marble slab counter that over extends at the entry as a place to display farm fresh fruit and vegetables. As a counterpoint to the sloping wood wall, the finely crafted back bar shelves start near the front and curve into the space as they move through the bar area and then curve back to the wall as they reach the end of the space. Various shelf depths accommodate bottles and selected objects. The ceiling is the overall design element that organizes the plan below. Existing steel beams cross the space and divide the length into approximate thirds. Running lengthwise axially to the steel beams is a continuous hand-hewn beam, which was put together in pieces from four reclaimed barn timbers, sourced by the owner Morten near their farm. This beam becomes a visual link that leads from the entry to the open kitchen. At the rear of the space is a 10-person semi-private dining room with sliding wood and wire-glass barn doors – fondly nicknamed ‘The Tool Shed’.
Many pieces throughout the restaurant were created and sourced by the owners and inspired by the farm. The “The Tool Shed” has 18th century hand tools carefully installed on the walls as sculptural art. The hanging lamps were old milk pails found in the forest among the sugar maples of Blenheim Hill Farm. The previous generation of farmers had used them for target practice, which explains the holes. Morten recognized their unique rustic appeal and repurposed them as unique showpieces that contribute a personal touch to the restaurant’s architecture, much like many other aspects of the design. Other pieces include the moss green cement tables bordered with copper, built like a puzzle to fit the intimate dining room. Chairs are adorned in bright materials, as well as cozy banquettes that look out from floor to ceiling windows.
In search of a unique experience, great attention to detail has been placed in the ambiance of the restaurant. Realizing that most restaurants are too noisy for pleasant conversation, careful attention has been placed in soft acoustics that allows for pleasant conversation. Primary authentic materials include stained walnut shelves and cabinetry, character grade white oak floors, Carrera marble, and blackened steel.
Photography: Melissa Werner, Stephanie Smith