The client named the restaurant Tomo after his grandmother, Tomoko, and the Japanese “tomodachi”, meaning ‘friend’. Friendship and familial connection is a throughline in how the restaurant approaches both its service and its place in a developing area south of Seattle.
Wood is a centerpiece of the space–referencing shou sugi ban, much of the interior wood has been stained a deep ebony. Oak shingles arranged like scales clad a wall running the length of the space, and contrast the strict geometry of the vertical ash slats that wrap the opposing walls. The mingling of wood throughout the space creates an understated, monochrome texture–the architecture aims to be demure and humble, letting the food be the center of the experience.
The space is narrow and deep, posing a risk of feeling cold, tight and confining. Code restrictions meant fixed walls, plumbing and bathrooms. The brief was to create something handcrafted in a short amount of time, using a modest budget, offering room for as many guests as possible, while ensuring each seat felt like the best one in the house.
Nearly all of the lighting was directly integrated into the architectural elements–the wall panels, the bench seating, the bar shelves–the lighting is felt but not seen. The exception is an 80-foot linear fixture that traces the entire length of the restaurant. Narrow and inviting, the experience references an evening in one the endless alleyways of Japanese cities. The small space doesn’t feel cluttered, it feels purposeful: the plates of food, the guests–they provide the rest.
Nearly every piece of the interior is local–the craftsmanship, the wood–bringing down the carbon footprint of the project, and amplifying the upfront, local economic impact of the project. The 80’ light fixture, pendant lighting, bench seating, chairs, bar stools, tabletops, slatted wall panels and shake cladding was custom designed and fabricated just five miles away by the team. Each piece of furniture was finished with a zero-VOC, waterborne topcoat. The team chose to be effective where it could, given cost–for example, the kitchen cladding, outdoor tables and barback is FSC-certified Richlite, which is made in Tacoma and exceptionally durable.
The cost per square feet of this project is, conservatively, 35 percent below the benchmark–that’s largely due to the team’s ability to help simple, touchable materials feel chic by applying a monochrome palette. The team chose their moves, like simply polishing existing concrete floors, and investing in finishes that feel complex but are efficient to install, lowering construction cost. The team approached the project as a design/build project, fabricating a lot of the primary design elements like fixtures and furnishings, cutting out suppliers and shortening the timeline significantly.
The client chose this neighborhood very deliberately. White Center has been on a slower path to becoming inviting to visitors. The client wants to help speed this trajectory with a space to enjoy great food without the trappings or stiffness of traditional fine dining. With the design, the team responded by creating a space remarkable enough to feel like a destination–a place worth traveling to, for both food and ambiance. Since opening, the restaurant has immediately begun outperforming their projections, with a booked out calendar bringing hundreds of people to the neighborhood every single evening, and a rolling waitlist topping a thousand eager diners.
Design Collaborators: Jessica Powers, Brady Williams.
GC: Shawn Landis
Furniture: Fin Design Studio
Interior Lighting: Custom, Graypants team
Chairs and tables: Fin Design Studio