Gardner was a seasonally-oriented restaurant inspired partially by culinary and cultural trends in Scandinavia. The simple, refined restaurant transformed the institutional shell of a 1960s post-office into a cohesive environment, and stands as a testament to the power of rigorous design.
Working with a restrained palette, the design introduced subtle interventions to facilitate a singular dining experience in a setting characterized by dramatic natural lighting against muted tones. The ultimate affect was neither modern nor traditional, but instead elemental and timeless.
Food emerged from a tall, narrow opening that provided controlled views into the kitchen. Service islands ran longitudinally through the room, allowing servers to attend the handcrafted tables without leaving the space. A wood-clad linear skylight brought natural light into the space while simultaneously concealing the expansive mechanical equipment loft.
These elements coalesced to produce a space that was unlike Austin in its restraint, with the individual elements —the furniture, artwork, graphics, flatware, lighting, servers, and the food—acting as complementary components to create a cohesive experience.
In 2016, Gardner’s proprietors reluctantly acknowledged that the elegant dining experience was out of step with its East Austin locale and modified the space and concept, and rebranded the restaurant as Chicon. While it offers a different experience, much of the original design remains legible.