If you have a finger on the pulse of Boston’s bar and restaurant openings, chances are you’re familiar with the design chops of Hacin + Associates (H+A). The firm has left an indelible mark on the city’s hospitality scene. Consider the light-filled New American spot Black Lamb in Boston’s South End, which incorporates wood, copper, and leather finishes to strike a delicate balance between cozy and bright. But the firm also has a knack for transforming windowless or subterranean spaces into effervescent environments that locals and visitors are drawn to such as the tropical-imbued cocktail lounge Shore Leave and Next Door, a speakeasy raw bar in East Boston.
“We love to tell a cohesive story and create a fully embodied experience through architecture, interior design, and visual identity,” says Emily Neumann, a visual design associate at H+A. “Even if it’s an established brand, expressing that identity in fresh ways gives our interdisciplinary team opportunities to be inventive, artful, and intentional,” she says.
Surface spoke with the creatives behind H+A about Next Door, Shore Leave, and Black Lamb, three of the firm’s most talked-about hospitality projects, the rich diversity of Boston’s dining scene, and steering clear of design clichés.
What makes a Boston hospitality venue different than other cities?
David Hacin, President and Creative Director: Boston is very unique with its own complexity. The four seasons and their associated traditions mean that spaces need to be flexible, whether indoors and cozy or outdoors and a celebration of warmer weather.
A lot of our hospitality spaces are quirky and intimate, and we see atypical environments as an opportunity to utilize design concepts that feel one-of-a-kind. Boston is also a city of neighborhoods that each have their own identity and personality and it’s important to understand the nuances between these areas to maintain authenticity. From an old storefront to a repurposed restaurant to the basement of a CVS, we love the challenge of figuring a space out and turning its existing constraints into distinctive character.
How do the neighborhood surroundings influence the vision for your projects?
Dorothy Deák, Associate, Interior Design: At Black Lamb, for example, the menu’s direction is American brasserie. We rooted the vision in the South End where the restaurant is located, and drew inspiration from the nearby historic homes. We found warmth, beauty, and comfort in dark wood tones and leather, and paired them with tile, mirrors, and green accents derived from historic patinaed copper details, as well as the infamous ‘arsenic green’ used in Victorian fabrics.
Hacin: Though each project is distinct, they all share the common aim of bringing people together, whether that be in the South End, where Black Lamb is located, Next Door’s neighborhood of East Boston, or any of the other neighborhoods we work in. Both ownership groups are comprised of young, visionary restaurateurs who care about creating meaningful spaces that resonated with local audiences. An experience of discovery and sense of place anchors their identities.
How do you avoid design cliches even when using common themes such as tropical or speakeasy motifs?
Matt Arnold, Associate, Architecture: We did a substantial amount of research into precedents for these types of establishments to learn more about the categories and to also help us avoid veering into cliches. With Shore Leave, we wanted to make sure the space never came off as kitschy. Some members of Traveler Street Hospitality (the owners of Shore Leave) toured other tropical bars across the country to learn and become inspired, bringing those experiences back to the design process.
Matt Arnold, Associate, Architecture (continued): When looking for inspiration for Next Door, we looked to turn-of-the-century speakeasies for insight. Many that we found were underground, so we incorporated a barrel-vaulted ceiling shape to make the space feel immersive and subterranean, as if you were in a cellar or hideaway.