Meet architect Stephen Francis Jones. When celebrity chef David LeFevre, formerly of The Water Grill in downtown Los Angeles, thought up the challenging design of creating a space for his hip new eatery Manhattan Beach Post, he sought out SFJones Architects.
Now in its fifteenth year, SFJones Architects has been a major player in restaurant innovation in Southern California and across the country. With a track record that includes the stylish Spago Beverly Hills, the retro-chic Lucky Strike Lanes and the exclusive Century Plaza Hotel and Spa, SFJones is renowned among Los Angeles architecture firms for designing spectacular entertainment and dining destinations that radiate fresh, balanced aesthetics, making bold statements for national and international companies.
Whether creating an instantly-recognizable identity for national restaurants or cutting-edge quarters for a high-end dining destination, Jones creates dynamic environments for dining, relaxation, business and pleasure.
Stephen talked to us about his work, and architecture in the City of Angels.
Why did you decide to study architecture?
I wanted to be an architect since I was in 7th grade. At first it was because drafting came easy to me and my ability to think three dimensionally gave me the ability to get easy A's. My father and I used to rebuild car engines for ourselves and it was always my fascination to take things apart and put them back together. I also was good a freehand sketching which proved useful to express my ideas to others.
What buildings and architects influenced you early on, and how have your influences changed over the years?
Since I grew up in Orlando Florida, and Disney World was my point of reference to the built environment, I was influenced after college with the architecture of Boston and moved there so that I could experience the "real" architecture and not the fantasy that was Disney. I later moved to Barcelona and studied Italian Hill towns which really influenced my formal understanding of the classical Architectural foundations. Over the years, I have continued to travel around the world with projects in Asia and Africa my architectural influences are always evolving.
You have worked on a lot of really interesting projects. What is one of your favourites and why?
My favorite project is a restaurant I designed in my home town of Manhattan Beach, Ca. This project was given to me with the mandate to create a design that had soul and connected with the community. For me I was in a unique position that being part of the beach town community, I knew what the community had that strongly tied it together and that was the beach. I was able to photograph iconic things like the markings on the lifeguard stands and volleyball post and replicate them in the wood cladding in side the restaurant to make the community connection.
You do smaller buildings now, but you started with skyscrapers, correct? Do you remember the moment when you decided to make a change to designing more intimate and personal buildings?
I was working for a large company called RTKL in Los Angeles working on a high rise, when my boss came in and told me to copy the design of a new York building after working on many fenestration studies of the building skin which he dismissed. It did help that I was reading "The Fountainhead", but I stood up to him and told him that I didn't agree with his design approach. After that one of my architecture friends told me about their firm who specialized in restaurants and I was hooked. I loved the fast pace and the quick build time (compared to high rises) and better yet, I liked the energy of opening and being able to visit my work.
After studying at UCLA, why did you stay in Los Angeles? What is it about being in Los Angeles that is beneficial for your career?
I stayed in LA primarily because my new wife had just landed a good job and wanted to finish working on a project before we were going to move to San Francisco bay area. I got a interim job with the Wolfgang Puck Food Company as their in house architect. As I started to build my relationship with Wolfgang and his then wife Barbara Lazaroff, began to see the opportunity to fulfill my lifetime dream of starting my own practice. Fortunately when the opportunity presented itself for me to design the new Spago in Beverly Hills, I jumped at it and started SFJones Architects.
Los Angeles is often seen as a being on the cutting edge. Does this apply to architecture as well? Why or why not?
I think that every large metropolitan city has it's own mojo and LA is no different. What is different is the accepting society to any and everything. That's why there is not as a cohesive architectural fabric like Boston or San Francisco. It allows you to take chances in your design and for that it allows you to be cutting edge.
What is it about Los Angeles that sets it apart from other cities you've lived in?
When I hear people criticize Los Angles as being too big and lacking of a center and genius loci, I often say that LA is a lot of beautify spaces separated by unpleasant. I live in Manhattan Beach which is a small beach town community where you know your neighbors and can be completely different than living the metropolitan life of downtown. Both are exciting places to live and how many other cities can offer you the diversity of what this city has.
What's are three awesome buildings people should check out in Los Angeles?
My three favorite buildings in LA are of course Disney Concert Hall, the Bradbury Building Downtown, and some of the Green and Green Craftsman houses of Pasadena.