The inside design scoop on Audrey, Sean Brock’s stylish Nashville restaurant
One of the American south’s most anticipated restaurants, the designer behind Sean Brock’s Audrey shares inspiration, advice, and insight.
When a prestigious chef announces plans to open a 10,000 sq ft restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee that blends his love of Japanese design with his southern heritage, people take notice.
Sean Brock’s hugely anticipated Audrey opened in October 2021 to much acclaim. In addition to the artfully created menu, much of the attention centered on the building’s design. Katie Vance is a partner and chief creative officer at Powell – an award-winning architecture, interior, and construction firm based in Nashville, Tennessee, who spearheaded the design of the 10,000 sq ft restaurant. Katie closely collaborated with head chef Sean Brock to deliver the visually stunning space as a homage to Sean’s grandmother.
How has the Audrey project differed from others you have worked on? How did you approach this differently from previous projects?
This project was expansive – two different restaurants, a bar, a research and development lab, a wellness room, and a podcast studio, to name a few of the spaces. Each needed to be conceptualized differently and strategically designed for its own functionality and aesthetic.
The walls of Audrey feature several prominent art pieces by local creatives. How important was this to the project's vision and how has this influenced the ambience of the restaurant/ bar area?
Handmade materials and artwork play a huge role in the design. From tile to light fixtures to wallpaper, furniture, and art. The handmade pieces (most are from local makers) are used throughout the space to infuse hand-hewn character and personality into the restaurant. We wanted real materials made with thoughtful care and an artful precision – paralleling the food program that Sean created for Audrey; this contributes to the ambience by providing a sense of humanity in each space and contributes to the overall warmth of the restaurant.
Is there any advice you would give on how to incorporate different artworks into a space?
Have fun with it – be ready to mix and match mediums and sizes! We hung over 250 pieces of art. We grouped areas by artist and really connected each with complementary colours and textures. Photography, textiles, paintings, and drawings were all used in the space.
You've discussed creating a 'full sensory experience' at Audrey. Can you expand on that?
We wanted to create a space that leaves a lasting memory with the guest and is a full sensory experience from the moment you enter the building till you pay your check. Every sense is engaged – from what you taste, see, smell, hear and feel. Guests see the artful and inviting restaurant space, they smell fresh firewood cut for the hearth in the vestibule, they hear music hand-selected by Sean of his favourite artists and they feel the soft chenille upholstery, the white oak tables and the handmade ceramic pottery. Guests should feel immersed in experiencing the southern landscape through Sean Brock's lens.
Audrey draws on Sean Brock's appreciation for Japanese design and architecture. Are there any specific artists, architects or creatives that you were inspired by?
George Nakashima comes to mind; he created the Straight Chair which we used in the dining room at Audrey. The Straight Chair is a mix of Eastern and Western aesthetics and is a modern interpretation of the traditional Windsor chair that is heavily used in southern interiors. While Nakashima was born in the US, he studied Japanese architecture and traditional Japanese woodworking. As for the architecture, the Japanese technique of Shou sugi ban (burnt wood) was employed as the largest part of the exterior finish palette. Shou sugi ban originated in Japan in the 18th century as a way to make cedar shingles waterproof – the technique involves charring the wood surface to a deep charcoal black.