A/D/O by MINI | Rule of Thirds: Intersecting Food and Design

Journal

Rule of Thirds: Intersecting Food and Design

A new Japanese-influenced restaurant, Rule of Thirds, is now open at A/D/O in Brooklyn. We speak to the creative team about how collaboration has produced a dining experience befitting a design destination.

Too many cooks spoil the broth, or so the saying goes. But the miso soup and all of the other Japanese-influenced dishes on the menu at Rule of Thirds have only been enriched by the collaborative efforts of designers and artists from multiple fields.

The creative team assembled by the restaurant’s co-founders, George Padilla and JT Vuong, through past projects (like Williamsburg favorite Okonomi) and personal connections, has resulted in a harmonious blend of individual styles and craft techniques. Together with Sunday Hospitality Group, they’ve managed to create a cohesive, unique aesthetic that is as enticing as the menu.

“When we were thinking about tying together multiple design partners, it was really important for JT and me to assemble a creative team that knew us from Okonomi and shared our love for Sunday in Brooklyn,” Padilla told The Journal, ahead of Rule of Thirds’ official opening on Saturday, February 22, 2020. “Every neighbor we worked with contributed to our vision and was excited for what this restaurant could be. Rule of Thirds is as much their passion project as it is ours.”

The restaurant’s name is taken from a theory of photography, which dictates that the most impactful compositions occur by aligning subjects with the intersections of lines that divide an image into thirds – horizontally and vertically. Padilla gets out his iPhone to demonstrate the grid lines that the camera mode provides for this very purpose. The references to intersection and composition are carried through the cooking, the cocktails, and the creative input of all involved in Rule of Thirds.

While none of the team members are Japanese, all have a deep appreciation for the country’s food and design heritage. Vuong has long studied the Japanese influence on the cuisine of his native Taiwan, while Padilla has earned a WSET Level 3 Sake qualification. Together with the Sunday founders – Todd Enany, Adam Landsman and Jaime Young – they traveled to Japan in July 2019 on a research trip, and came back full of ideas for ways to pay homage to the culture and cuisine without creating a direct pastiche. “We were very intentional not to misrepresent ourselves,” Padilla said. “It is really meant to be a celebration.”

The food at Rule of Thirds follows the concept of mottainai, which revolves around mindfulness, gratitude and intention. This is expressed through producing minimal waste and sourcing ingredients locally – ideas that also extend to many of the design elements in the restaurant. The majority of the materials were chosen for their proximity to New York City, and much of the craft and production occurred within walking distance of A/D/O in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

The venue’s previous restaurant, Scandi-influenced Norman, occupied the majority of frontage on Norman Avenue. But when first embarking on the new project, the decision to move the eating area to the back of the building became obvious almost immediately, according to Padilla.

“It was quickly apparent that we needed to move out of the old Norman space,” he said. “When we did the Provisions by Sunday pop-up [in Summer 2019], we saw how people were entering the building for all of the different, amazing reasons to come to A/D/O. We're really lucky that A/D/O was open to us reimagining the layout and the floorplan.”

Changing the layout has freed up the front of the building to become a dedicated events space, which can be hired out through Rule of Thirds for private functions – from intimate dinners to large-scale presentations. Meanwhile, the restaurant entrance was moved to Banker Street, creating a route in through the A/D/O courtyard – usually activated with a roster of exhibitions and installations.

With the location agreed, the team looked to Loren Daye of Studio Love is Enough, a long-time acquaintance of Padilla’s, to imagine the interiors. Her original idea was to create a pavilion within the high-ceilinged industrial space, which evolved into a “set” of sorts – with half-height partition walls lined with banquette seating and booths that demarcate the dining area within the larger volume. “What we've arrived at is a very clearly defined restaurant that has little cozy pockets of intimacy carved out,” Padilla said.

Wood paneling that nods to shoji screens runs the length of the full-height wall behind the bar, above a window that allows diners a sneak peak of activities in the kitchen. The bar itself gestures outward into the space, mimicking the angular elements created by nArchitects during the conversion of the warehouse building in 2016. Topped with a dark walnut counter, the bar is wrapped in jade-colored encaustic tiles that were installed without grouting to avoid too much rigid geometry in the space, while a linear walnut lighting fixture is suspended above.

“NArchitects, who did the original design of the building, worked with a lot of strong angles,” said Daye. “These were angles that responded directly to site conditions so their approach was very sensitive and thoughtful. As a result, it was a massive challenge to essentially divide space and create a new flow of energy by activating the back garden entry. It felt like a really transforming move though – like creating an alter ego within the building.”

Pale green Maharam fabric was chosen for the back cushions of the Douglas fir banquettes, helping to visually tie the space together. “We all kept returning to pale green – mint, fern, citron,” Daye said. “Tiny moments are created in the contrast and juxtaposition of soft jade velvet and thick, dry, chunky plasterwork. We love that tension between the refined and the coarse.”

Among the focal points in the restaurant is a large sake display case, created from a bespoke deli cabinet. Positioned to face the entry doors, the glass vitrine shows off the wide selection of green and brown liquor bottles, which match perfectly with the hues found throughout the interior.

Gregory Beson – whose work coincidentally features as part of the current Glow Up lighting exhibition in the A/D/O courtyard – was behind many different design elements in the space. What began as a conversation about water cups and chopstick holders “ballooned” to encompass building a statement, flexible wooden table for the entrance. The walnut table, crafted nearby using Japanese woodworking techniques, has two satellite surfaces that can be arranged as needed to help guide “the energy in the space.” This flexibility allows the tables to be condensed for smaller numbers, or separated to accommodate bigger parties.

Beson’s involvement doesn’t stop there. He also designed the bento boxes, while his pendant lights – formed from curved sheets of metal mesh – nod to the water rituals typically used in Japanese hospitality. The designer, who fabricated most of his pieces in Greenpoint, is also working on more products for the restaurant that will be incorporated into service in the near future.

From the get-go, Vuong’s colorful and creative dishes are served on ceramics by Greenpoint-based Erin Louise Clancy, whose hand-thrown and hand-finished pieces add character to the menu items through their small quirks and imperfections.

“The ceramics are custom to what JT was looking for to complement food and the menu,” said Clancy, whose introduction to the project was through working with the Sunday team on restaurants at the Ace Hotel in Los Angeles. The Rule of Thirds project came together concurrently with the Ace, so Clancy – who also knew Padilla and Vuong from the NYC restaurant scene – began working on ideas for both.

“All the work that I do is all hand-thrown, hand-glazed, and if there’s any decoration it’s all hand-painted,” Clancy continued. “The Rule of Thirds team had some parameters in terms of shape and style, but they’ve really embraced the variation of the pieces, which has been really fun.”

Anyone wanting to sample from the robust selection of sake, which Padilla has curated, must first choose their cup from the diverse collection handmade by sisters Carly and Alana Miller of Felicitas. Bowls and sake carafes were custom-made by Soto Ceramics, adding to the variation of styles that together feels collected rather than designed. All of the designs are complemented by plants supplied by Tula House, just a couple of blocks away.

Photos by Eun Hee Kwon.

For graphics, the team turned to local studio Isometric, which previously worked on the website and visual identity for Okonomi but also have experience in interior and exhibition design. As they told The Journal last year, Isometric co-founders Andy Chen and Waqas Jawaid created an “illustration style that was reminiscent of Asia, but not a direct mimetic copy” for the Rule of Thirds identity. Their visuals include a motif of a circle missing a segment and an illustrated cast of characters to adorn the menus, packaging, signage, website and more. 

The illustrations take on a much larger scale as part of a mural painted that covers the  Banker Street entrance to the restaurant. Additional signage by Noble Signs, which incorporates Isometric’s visual identity, points visitors in the right direction.

Photo by Eun Hee Kwon.

All of the designers involved in Rule of Thirds praised the collaborative nature of this project, and the ease and enjoyment of working with Padilla, Vuong and the rest of the team.

“Many voices make compositions, and create energy and friction between ideas,” said Daye. “It's the most satisfying method of working – unifying solidly on the vision but then letting the kit of parts unfold.”

“They’re so supportive of artists. It’s been one of the best projects I've ever worked on in terms of collaboration,” added Clancy. “All the design pieces work together with one another, which is going to be great to see with the food.”

Padilla concluded: “Once open, this restaurant should be a platform for these collaborations to happen. We should constantly be trying to lift all boats, and prop up all of our friends and neighbors.”

Just like a perfectly composed photograph, the restaurant’s best moments have been born out of the intersections of concept, food, and all areas of design. Stop by to see for yourself, try that miso, and indulge in so much more.

Dinner reservations for Rule of Thirds are now open via Resy.

Event-space bookings can be made through thirdsbk.com.

For opening hours and more information, visit a-d-o.com/rule-of-thirds.

Text by Dan Howarth.

Photography by Gary Landsman, unless specified otherwise.

A global community of creators empowered by MINI to boldly explore the future of design.