James Beard Award winning chef Renee Erickson and partners launched their latest restaurant, Willmott’s Ghost, which occupies the ground floor of The Spheres (2100 6th Ave, Seattle, WA 98121), last month. Architecture is by Heliotrope Architects, interior design is by Price Erickson, and construction is by Dovetail. The Spheres are the centerpiece of Amazon’s Seattle campus: glass-enclosed domes containing workplaces and cloud forest conservatories with thousands of flora from throughout the world.
Willmott’s Ghost serves Roman-style pizza al taglio and Italian aperitivo cocktails. A theatre of cooking infuses the atmosphere, with chefs visible in the open kitchen, and the mise en place on full display. One of only three spaces in The Spheres open to the public, the Italian eatery is 1,900 square feet and seats around 50 people. With a three-story jungle above, the restaurant takes its namesake from a thistle-like flower christened in honor of Victorian horticulturalist Ellen Ann Willmott.
The architecture and design marry traditional Italian cuisine with a contemporary glass and steel structure. The design team drew inspiration from the unique geometry of the building, as well as bright, airy environments of modern art museums and galleries. Enclosed within the spherical envelope, the area housing the restaurant proved an incredible - and inspiring - challenge, as much of the architecture is dictated by curves. Curved leather banquettes and booths hug the glass perimeter. Curved walls clad in painted wood pickets, inspired by the knurling on the sides of coins, define the dining room, and curved bars with Italian marble counter tops fill the space.
Italian food and culture influence the material palette – a margherita pizza or the Italian flag translates into softer pastel hues of white marble, pink tile, and mint and forest greens. White oak chairs, table tops, and bar stools provide a warmth that pair with brass accents and hardware. Custom curved liquor racks are fabricated out of solid brass, as is a custom brass sink and mirror in a uniquely located restroom at the edge of the building’s curved glass facade. The pink Moroccan tiles are a custom color from Ann Sacks. Original artwork by Ellen Lesperance is illuminated by brass light fixtures.
Jeremy Price of Price Erickson explains that, “We made craft the main ingredient of the restaurant buildout,” which was complicated to construct due to the curved nature of the building and the sophisticated mechanical system above and below the restaurant, which runs The Spheres complex and keeps the plants alive. The faceted glass spherical building did not provide a lot of room to maneuver or load in large gas fired pizza ovens. “It was like building a ship in a bottle,” says Mike Mora, principal at Heliotrope Architects.
The resulting architecture and interior design evoke classical themes written in a contemporary language. Timeless materials of marble, tile, and brass form organic curving counter tops, rounded walls, and radiused shelves. At Willmott’s Ghost, the food and architecture meet in a space that honors the culinary traditions of Italy yet reflects the modern structure in which it sits.