When the new Love Lane Market opens its doors later this spring, shoppers will experience the work of a world-class restaurant designer who just happens to live in Laurel.
Architect Chris Smith has been living in Laurel full-time for five years, but this is his first commercial project on the East End. With two children in school at Cutchogue East and four other restaurant projects currently simmering in Malaysia, California, Florida and Honolulu, it’s working close to home that he finds most inspiring.
Mr. Smith is a regular at Love Lane Kitchen, and when he heard last fall that owners Michael and Patty Avella planned to acquire the market next door, he let the cat out of the bag that he was a pro at designing just such spaces. They quickly signed him on to design the new space.
A 1984 graduate of Syracuse University’s School of Architecture, Mr. Smith worked as a design director at The Blackwell Group in the 1980s. He led the effort to design Nobu New York and several Planet Hollywood restaurants before starting his own firm, CMS Architecture & Design, in 1993.
His firm also created the concept for the Dylan Prime bistro in New York, the Japanese restaurant Haru with three locations in New York City and one in Philadelphia, and sushi restaurant Doraku, which has several locations in Florida and Hawaii.
But the East End has always been close to Mr. Smith’s heart. He frequently visited his mother’s house in Laurel with his family, and when she died several years ago he moved into her former home.
“I got to know Mike Avella, and once he said he was interested in buying the old market we walked through the space,” Mr. Smith said while walking through the space last Thursday morning. “I told him what I thought of it. My first impression was that we needed to gut the whole thing. The interior was 50 years old and dark and dank. It needed a new change, a new concept.”
The former Village Market building dates back to the 1920s. The appliances and refrigerator cases had been updated, but Mr. Avella and Mr. Smith worked on a whole new idea.
The reworked space, with construction by Gabrielsen Builders, makes use of industrial design elements, including three peaked leaded glass skylights that direct light onto a large new central refrigerated case and front windows designed with thick panes of clear, random colored panes dispersed throughout.
“I went to Catholic school and the windows in the school always looked like that,” he said. “Someone would break a window and they’d replace it with a different color.”
The panes he’s using in the market’s facade were reclaimed from a 1920s industrial building he found in a salvage yard in Pennsylvania.
Wide beams of long-leaf yellow pine from a barn in Connecticut, re-milled at Riverhead Building Supply, wrap half the retail space from floor to ceiling. Near the newly designed automatic entrance doors, subway tile graces a bank of refrigerator cases retained from the original market. A tin ceiling and a colorful blend of patterned cement floor tiles to greet shoppers as they enter the store complete the experience.
“The vision for the whole concept is to create a real marketplace that’s light and airy. The food is very visible, very appealing,” he said, adding that the natural light entering the building through the skylights is key to the change.
“It’s like a gallery, lighted from above,” he said. “It has an open-air market feeling.”
Several new entrances have been added to the building. A side door opens on to the courtyard and alley between the Market and the Kitchen next door, and a rear door gives onto the parking lot behind. Alongside the alley there’s a new window just four feet above the ground, with a doughnut machine slated to fill the space.
“We put it in at kid height so they can peek in there and watch the doughnuts being made,” said Mr. Smith.
The kitchen in the redesigned building will be smaller, but chefs will be working out on the sales floor, making gourmet pizza at a wood-burning pizza oven and stir-frying Asian dishes at two wok stations.
“It’s almost display cooking,” Mr. Smith said. “Especially with the advent of the Food Channel, everyone sort of expects to see how everything’s prepared.”
He’s currently designing a restaurant in New York for celebrity chef Todd English where the chefs will work at a grill in the middle of the dining room.
“It’s exciting, especially when there are flames involved,” he said.
If all goes according to plan, Love Lane Market will open in about two months. No doubt Mr. Smith will be a regular once again, sipping coffee with the old-timers as they watch the morning traffic go by from the long table behind the old building’s new facade.