Award-winning Commercial Exterior
This was an unusual project for Cabinetry & Construction, Inc. We rarely do commercial projects, but this restaurant is owned by friends, and it is located smack in the middle of one of our favorite neighborhoods. It won two awards for Best Commercial Exterior: the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI)'s regional Contractor of the Year (CotY), and the national Silver Best of the Best from Professional Remodeler magazine. Caliente is a neighborhood restaurant in the museum district of downtown Richmond, Virginia. This 1920's building is in a historical district where the buildings are mostly row houses from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. When the proprietors acquired the building at Sheppard and Park, they established their restaurant with internal seating only. They enlisted our help to meet several goals: 1. Outdoor Seating: The owners wanted to add an outdoor seating area. They had selected this location in large part because it allowed for that possibility. The expansion added tables and increased their revenue-producing footprint. It also enhanced the ambience and competitiveness of the business because there were no outdoor dining facilities in the immediate area. 2. Facelift: As the "before" pictures indicate, the building was in desperate need of a facelift, appearing tired and uninteresting. With this renovation we sought to upgrade the quality of the construction as well as the aesthetics of the building. 3. Visibility: The restaurant is in a small commercial enclave surrounded by residential areas on all sides. There are three competing restaurants at this intersection. Caliente wanted to increase its visibility in the neighborhood and stand out among its peers. Similarly, the owners had plans to launch a significant investment in advertising to bring patrons to the restaurant from other neighborhoods. They planned to feature pictures of the restaurant in their campaign and wanted to realize the highest return on that investment. 4. Branding: The restaurant features a Southwest theme with a corresponding menu and interior motif. The owners wanted to extend that identity to the exterior. We sought to meet these needs through a number of strategies: Overall approach: Cabinetry & Construction, Inc. specializes in the renovation of older structures. While addressing the business needs of our clients we were sensitive to making changes that work in concert with the original design of the building. We worked closely with the clients to ensure that our changes worked with the neighborhood, while also achieving a festive but solid look. We wanted there to be a sense of permanent improvement. We especially wanted to avoid having the result look like a temporary, beach patio. Enhanced functionality: The need for outdoor dining was addressed by completely renovating the front of the building and adding a 24-by-15 foot covered patio that seats 30. An entirely new concrete floor was poured and a two-color acid stain was applied to complement the terra cotta colored tile floor inside. The patio was enclosed by a brick and stucco wall with custom designed pillars and caps. An architecturally inappropriate and unsightly metal overhang was removed and a two-toned awning was selected to add punch and complement the color scheme, as well as to provide an all weather environment. A pressure treated, ergonomically comfortable bench was installed inside the perimeter of the new wall to provide permanent seating, reducing the number of chairs to oversee and protect. Use of Color: The building was repainted using a carefully crafted color palette. The signature color is reminiscent of a warm Southwestern sunburnt brick. This red was highlighted, complemented and kept in check with three pleasing shades of green, an almost black used on the shutters and iron work, a sage green on the caps of the pillars and a natural stone style verde on the acid stained floor. The other color used on the floor was a warm terra cotta, a shade used throughout the interior. Finally, the overall color scheme was enlivened and complemented by the trim color of soft ivory found on the mouldings and in the striped awning. Upgraded materials: In addition to removing the metal overhang and replacing it with the more attractive and functional awning, we improved several other areas. On the side and front of the building unsightly aluminum window panels were covered with an architectural solution: panels created with PVC mouldings, which stand up to the weather and hold paint more successfully. Pillars were created to hold the awning using stucco to blend with other uses of stucco on the building. The caps of the pillars were custom-molded of concrete then acid stained to make them attractive and durable. The "cast iron" supports mounted on top of the pillars fit with similar cast iron treatments found throughout historical districts in Richmond, once a major center for iron works. In addition to fitting particularly well with the neighborhood and the city's heritage, they were crafted of aluminum to make them durable and low maintenance. Mouldings around the doors and windows were carefully preserved to enhance historic elements of the building and attractive shutters were added to upper windows. Repairs: Several areas received general repairs as part of the renovation. While not visible to patrons, the decaying exterior door to the kitchen at the rear of the restaurant was replaced. The patio is separated from the adjoining property by a retaining wall. Special care was taken to ensure the integrity of that wall and to work the drainage and other aspects of the patio into the wall. To improve the safety of the patio, the top finish of the concrete uses an approach that resembles chiseled stone, which also provides sufficient texture to keep the patio from being slippery when wet. Special features: Caliente's previous sign was small and illegible. New signage was designed that is bold, stylish and that works with the identity and branding of the restaurant. Special care was taken with regard to illumination of the sign, making it equally pleasing and legible at night. Lighting in general was kept subdued and to a minimum. Unique and interesting carnival lights were recommended to complement the retro, early-twentieth century feel and hung just under the awning to provide a festive supplement to tabletop candlelight. Obstacles to overcome and challenges to solve: Caliente is located in an area ripe for investment and renewal. While it borders some of the city's most popular and upscale urban areas, this particular section was still somewhat rundown and plagued with a disproportionate amount of crime. Caliente's renovation was an important and courageous move by its owners to begin the transformation of this area. Interestingly, the changes proposed by the owners were initially met with a certain amount of skepticism and resistance from the neighborhood. Residents living in the area were concerned that an outdoor dining area would result in more of an outdoor bar than restaurant, increasing crime and resulting in late night noise. Rezoning was required and the owners had to be tenacious in selling their ideas and seeking the required approvals and variances. Cabinetry & Construction provided support in this area as well, enlisting support from prior customers, writing to City Council and offering to testify. Eventually, when the owners shared their plans with neighborhood, residents realized that the changes would bring a much needed lifestyle improvement to their community and work to enhance it, both visually and functionally. In fact the presence of people on the patio eating at night has actually reduced crime and enticed some of the neighboring businesses to consider similar facelifts. In short, as an article from the Richmond Times Dispatch indicates, "Caliente represents the implementation of a bold vision, executed with skill and taste." What was once a bland corner building is now a neighborhood landmark and torchbearer for change. It is a great example of going from tired vanilla to zesty salsa.