This latest entry in our Schoolhouse Spaces series is a twofer. Both launched within the past year in Portland, Oregon, 180 & Chesa are two culinary gems that couldn’t be more different design-wise yet they share the same physical space, DNA and a mutual affinity for Schoolhouse lighting.
The brainchildren of chef José Chesa, 180 – an authentic xurros & xocolata spot – opened first to instant acclaim. Serving up fried-to-order xurros and drinking chocolate in an epically bright and cheery space with only 12 coveted seats. Shortly after and right next door, Chesa revealed his second (and namesake) restaurant to the world. The night to 180’s day, Chesa delivers a grown-up and refined dining experience with a focus on wood-smoked Spanish paellas and an impressive variety of modern-leaning, Catalonian-inspired tapas.
We spoke with José (below, left) and his go-to designer Matthew Peterson (right) about making 180 & Chesa live in harmony while standing on their own, their passion for perfection and what drew them to Schoolhouse for each space.
As a chef and restaurant owner, how much do you obsess over the design of your space verses the menu? Do you start with a specific vision for both or does the design concept flow from the food?
José: "I get pretty obsessed (Ask Matthew)! My mother is a designer, she is in the clothing industry in Barcelona so design definitely has a bigger part on my projects. The space definitely dictates how the menu flows. One has to balance the other and we feel Matthew gets that and does a beautiful job in expressing and materializing it."
What was your intent behind the dual openings of 180 & Chesa - two very unique environments? Do you want people to see them as separate entities or as two sides of the same coin?
José: "Very interesting question... the idea that my wife Cristina and I had was to create a Spanish space that glorifies the traditions and flavors of old Spain. With Chesa, we do that with the charcoal oven and by focusing on dishes I grew up eating, and with 180 is xurros, which I do not think anything can be more Spanish. Chesa &180 are two spaces that can co-exist together."
(The connected space as seen in Chesa looking through to 180)
How much of your own personal style is reflected in either 180 or Chesa? Does one feel more like you than the other? What are some of your favorite design elements from each?
José: "All three of our locations 100% reflect different parts of my personality. Chesa is the father, honoring tradition and those before me, Ataula (in NW Portland) is the son who learned from the father but wants to do his own thing and be modern and explosive at times. 180 is the playful kid, the grandchild. Giggling and smiling with chocolate on his face. My favorite designs from Chesa are the little details in finishes throughout the whole space; that bar takes my breath away every single time I see it. With 180, I have to say I love the lights; for me they really helped tied the whole design together and express our playfulness."
What do you hope people experience in each space – both from a culinary and overall atmospheric perspective?
José: "In all spaces I want people to feel at home, feel like visiting grandma. Ataula, is more bright and modern and we want our guests to feel happy and enjoy the Barcelona-inspired surroundings. 180, smiles all we want in this spaces is to feel like you can sit relax and disconnect in a bright space. Chesa, our aim is for our guest to feel warmth and experience the smoky smell from the charcoal in space that plays along the part with our traditional Spanish cuisine."
Lastly, who (besides you) should we follow on Instagram?
José: "hahaha good one, I have to say my wife @krisstteenna, she truly loves share and explore Portland culinary scene, also, @pujolrestaurant, @jeanfrancoispiege and my friend @carly.e.diaz is incredible documenting and capturing images."
(Below top: Paella from Chesa; Middle: Xurros from 180; Bottom: Designer Matthew Peterson)
180 and Chesa are two very unique spaces. What was the vision for each and how did you work to bring them to life individually?
Matthew: "When we developed the design for the joint space of Chesa and 180 we established some motivating concepts for each operation with reflections upon their integral relationship. During this process we came up with a helpful analogy. Jose and Cristina likened their restaurant Ataula as the manifestation of a young man, of Jose. If it had a personality and an analogous human developmental stage it would be of an energetic young man embarking on his first venture. They wanted Chesa to be in the likeness of the grandfather and 180 to remind us of the grandson. Simply put: 180 is the grandson, Ataula is the son, and Chesa is the grandfather in the hierarchy of their three restaurants. Therefore with 180 we wanted it to be playful, bright, and uplifting. With Chesa we fell into the idea of the grandfather, grounded, established, certain, and simple . That meant darker colors and materials and clean and minimal geometry."
Were you working on both projects in tandem or did you finish 180 and then move on to Chesa? What does a typical timeline look like for a project like this?
Matthew: "We worked on both projects at the same time, finishing 180 about one month before Chesa. All projects have unique parameters that help to define their timelines so it's hard to make an accurate estimation. But somewhere around 6 months from the first conversation about the project's meaning to opening the doors for business is nice to expect going into the process."
When you’re designing a new space, what’s your jumping-off point? What was the collaboration between you and Chef/Owner Jose Chesa like?
Matthew: "Depending upon the type of space and the proposed utility or non-utility of the space makes a difference for me. I'm open to form following function or function following form given the right situation for both approaches. In the case of restaurant design, the thing we're building has to work. So we lay down some basics like what the design means to the client - do they have any cultural or social perspectives that they'd like to be represented in the design, how do they want the working side to relate to the public side, etc. And then we begin to act out how their vision will actually take place in the space. With Jose, Cristina, David, and Emily - we had countless meetings walking through the blank space of Chesa and 180 and mapping out what was to come. We flowed back and forth with our focus, oscillating between the meaning and experience of the spaces and how they were going to function."
What are some of your favorite design elements in 180 verses Chesa?
Matthew: "In 180 I enjoy its compactness and the close intermingling of those cooking and those dining at the counter next to the fryer - a pane of clear glass defining the boundary. In Chesa I enjoy the long leather and walnut banquette that floats off of the hand plastered wall."
"And I'm happy how we worked out the mounting of the light fixtures behind the bar. We built an enclosure that reads as a walnut box beam projected from the solid concrete wall to carry our conduit and house the electrical boxes for the lighting. And we wanted a fully mirrored wall below with shelving... so we hung our shelving from the underside of the box beam in front of the mirror with brass to match the Chapman Wall Sconce fixtures above. It looks simple, but there's a lot happening there. And I can't go without mentioning the walnut window wall that both divides and connects 180 and Chesa."
Why did you look to Schoolhouse for your lighting needs? And what drew you to pick the fixtures you did in particular?
Matthew: "I like Schoolhouse's well crafted clean style with moments of thoughtful articulation. We played with the lighting fixture scheme a lot. In all, we have 8 different Schoolhouse fixtures and some of them in different colors and sizes. It was all about identifying location in the setting with its appropriate personification and utility. The Fullers are fun and geometric - like the multifaceted xurro for example... while the Chapman reminds me of a lab light - perfect for illuminating the back bar with their beakers and solutions. And while we thought about each light in its own place we tried to keep them familial to each other."
Can you share a few of your favorite Portland spots from a design perspective?
Matthew: "I wish I was around town enough to answer this question more thoughtfully. I can say just this - I love Portland because of the care that is apparent in so much that we all do. Whether I'm experiencing delight when witnessing landscape, home, place of business, or manner of being - the design is everywhere. If I have to name a building - in truth my experience visiting the Mt. Angel Library by Alvar Aalto was so moving (I cried) that I can't remember anything else."