The French Laundry
Snøhetta, Envelope A+D, Harrison & Koellner
The French Laundry—the Napa Valley restaurant in Yountville, California, known for nine-course dinners that change daily—is getting a makeover. Chef Thomas Keller has teamed up with design partnership Snøhetta (lead design architect and landscape architect), Envelope A+D (executive architect), and Harrison & Koellner (kitchen designer) to bring a new interpretation to the globally famous restaurant. Having just celebrated a 20th anniversary last year, the restaurant is undergoing a renovation to expand its courtyard and will feature a new kitchen and kitchen annex. The original two-story restaurant with several dining areas will remain untouched.
The French Laundry, which is on the National Historic Register, was originally a saloon built by a Scottish stonemason at the turn of the 20th century and later housed a French steam laundry in the 1920s. In the 1970s the mayor of Yountville converted the building into a restaurant and sold it to Chef Keller in 1994.
The new design seeks to create a more immersive experience for guests while adding much-needed expanded spaces for the culinary, service teams, and the extensive wine collection.
The landscape design reworks how guests enter the restaurant and enlarges the garden. The new courtyard and approach features elements like integrated grass pavers, a stone basalt wall, wood lattice fencing, and steel-bordered beds. Ornamental plantings like blooming almond trees help bring contrast to the neutral color scheme. And cutouts in the stone wall serve as windows, giving visitors and passerby a peak into the garden and restaurant beyond.
A new kitchen annex on the property will house a wine cellar with room for over 14,000 bottles of wine, and other spaces like dry goods storage and areas for kitchen prep. The new kitchen is 25 percent larger than the existing one, and closely integrated into its site. Chef Keller imagined it being like the Louvre Pyramid by I. M. Pei that boldly links the new with the old. “A printed glass wall forms the primary facade of the kitchen facing the garden where guests arrive,” said Craig Dykers, principal and founding partner of Snøhetta. “The pattern on the glass is an interpretation of the movement of the chef’s hands while at work. It is presented in shades of green so that the image becomes an extension of the surrounding garden.”
The kitchen itself is outfitted with a high-performance, sensor-controlled ventilation system integrated within a custom ceiling fabricated by Kreysler & Associates. “Inside the kitchen is a softly undulating ceiling that mimics the feeling of a tablecloth being lifted over a table,” explained Dykers. The form helps to reduce ambient noise, while skylights in the ceiling as well as along the periphery of the kitchen bring in lots of natural light. The white-on-white kitchen also features materials like anti-microbial Dekton Quartz counters and ranges by Hestan Commercial.
After the kitchen demolition closed the restaurant to the public for the first four months of 2015 (with staff temporarily relocated to Ad Lib, a pop-up restaurant in the Napa Valley Silverado Resort and Spa), The French Laundry reopened for business in early April, albeit with the culinary team working out of a temporary kitchen installed in four shipping containers designed by Envelope A+D. The full renovation is expected to be complete by this fall.
“Chef Keller has always wanted this to be among the most advanced kitchens in the world,” said Dykers. “This meant working with atmosphere, technology, and ergonomics. A good kitchen balances intimacy with high-energy.”