A diverse palette of stone played an integral part in transforming a vacant space into an Italian-style villa for the opening of Fiola da Fabio Trabocchi — a new restaurant in Washington, DC. With the location having previously housed several failed restaurant concepts in a short span of time, it was important that the new design be fresh and inviting. The mix of stone mosaics and rough-cut stone proves just the right combination to entice patrons.

“We knew that we were in for a challenge when our clients chose a ‘cursed’ space for their new restaurant,” said architect Griz Dwight of GrizForm Design Architects in Washington, DC. “The location had housed five different restaurant concepts in the past 10 years — with the space sitting vacant the last two of those years. Even more challenging was the fact that four of the five unsuccessful restaurants were Italian in concept — the same type of cooking that our clients planned on serving. In short, they chose a restaurant graveyard, and a good portion of our budget needed to go towards an exorcism.”

Dwight went on to explain that layer upon layer was removed during the demolition process. “Removal of the wood floor from the six-month-lasting French place revealed the Saltillo tile from one of the Italian concepts, and removal of that led to carpet remnants, and so it went until the space was clean,” he said. “The space was totally gutted. We wanted to erase what was there.”

Once the building’s bones were revealed, the architect was able to determine the problems of the 3,900-square-foot space. “It was constructed with three slightly different floor levels and each previous restaurant had accentuated this by closing off each level from the others,” explained Dwight. “Thus, the previous designs were a series of individual boxes, which shut down views, caused service problems and generally made the space unpleasant to be in.”

To rectify the problem, the bar was stationed at the highest level. “It was set up as a ‘see and be seen’ platform,” said the architect. “The lowest portion was built up to create a dining room, which is one level. Now, the energy of the bar can flow into the dining room and there are no more awkward level changes.”

Conceiving the design concept

The design concept was influenced by the cooking of Chef Fabio Trabocchi. “Design-wise, we wanted to very abstractly create an Italian villa — in all aspects,” explained Dwight. “We wanted to have the luxurious front of the house; the outside a little more al fresco; a lavish dining space; glamorous mosaics and crumbling stone to represent ‘old.’ Conceptually, that’s how we got the idea. We chose to work the finish selections around Chef Trabocchi’s menu, which balances both rustic and luxurious Italian ingredients.

“Golden onyx mosaic floors, spiral glass chandeliers and glossy rosewood walls and ceilings evoke the grandeur of an Italian villa, while the bar’s distressed copper panels, live-edge wood drink rails, stone walls with arched views of the kitchen and leafy glass columns speak of the Italian landscape,” the architect went on to say. “Together, these elements create a dining experience which ties to the menu’s comfortable opulence.”

An elegant and radiant look is created with onyx mosaics — supplied by Mosaic Tile Co. — employed as flooring throughout the restaurant. “Part of the idea to use mosaics was to bring a hint of richness,” said Dwight. “Using mosaics on a small-scale space like this makes it feel more expensive. There is a nice texture to it — both visually and physically. The tiles are all different levels, so they all catch the light differently, which makes them sparkle. [Also], they are not slippery when walking over them.”

According to the architect, installing the mosaic floor posed some challenge. “The small stone caused the biggest problems,” he said. “We had a sample in the office that we were showing the client. We didn’t realize how much light and glow comes through the tile. Originally, we wanted a darker grout. Floors get dirty, so we thought we would design it to be dirty so it wouldn’t look dirty. Thankfully, the owner and I were on site when the tile contractor was putting the dark grout [on the floor]. When we saw how it looked, we had to stop him and say to use a white grout.”

Further contributing to the overall rustic elegance of the dining space are stone walls comprised of rough-cut pieces of limestone, which was supplied by Charles Luck Stone Center in Manakin, VA. “They make a nice product,” said Dwight. “It’s natural stone, but pre-cut. It has the depth and richness of stacked stone. It looks like a complicated wall, without being complicated.”

Additionally, limestone — also supplied by Charles Luck Stone Center — was used for the bar top. “It’s a little risky to use a lighter more porous stone in a commercial space, but there are some great commercial sealers out there now,” explained the architect. “Also, we talked with the client, and they are willing to allow it to get stained — it adds to the patina. The limestone really gives the bar top a rustic edge.”

Taking a total of 12 weeks for construction, Fiola da Fabio Trabocchi opened its doors on April 4, 2011. “Restaurants usually want to open as quickly as possible,” said Dwight. “We were very happy with how it turned out. Everyone loves it.”       

Fiola da Fabio Trabocchi

Washington, DC

Architect: GrizForm Design Architects, Washington, DC

Stone Suppliers: Mosaic Tile Co. (mosaics), Charles Luck Stone Center, Manakin, VA (limestone)