Between them chefs Jody Williams and Rita Sodi own five restaurants, all within blocks of each other in NYC’s West Village. The couple’s interests extend beyond the culinary—in addition to getting every bite just right (their trattoria Via Carota is the Remodelista go-to for celebrations of every sort), they create immersive experiences in which design plays a key role. Everything is considered in a Rita and Jody establishment down to the rolling trash bins hidden behind the bar and the sleeve length on the waitstaff’s jackets.
Their latest joint venture, The Commerce Inn, on a landmark Greenwich Village block across from the Cherry Lane Theatre, is a bar and restaurant that takes inspiration from Shaker design and early American taverns. To create what they envisioned, the two chefs spent years immersing themselves in early American cookery and Shaker ways (“they were impressively egalitarian and sustainability minded,” says Jody). They then recruited a large creative team—including architect and Shaker aficionado Ben Bischoff of Made; architect Richard Lewis, who designed Via Carota; and designer/builder Michael Smart of Urban Aesthetics—to consider every inch.
Matthew Williams, principal photographer of our new book Remodelista: The Low-Impact Home, and I spent a recent day at The Commerce Inn as delivery people buzzed, team members got to work, and Jody and Rita warmly checked in with everyone. It felt like pre-showtime for a Broadway production, and every person involved, even every thing, seemed proud to be there. Here’s what we took away.
If you’re surprised you’ve never heard of The Commerce Inn that may be because Jody and Rita want it to remain a true gathering place for the neighborhood. On the menu: milk punch, oysters (raw, pickled, and fried), smoked cod cakes, roasted marrow with mushrooms, and spoon bread.
Jody and Rita don’t like starting with plans, explains Bischoff, they like to describe what they’re after and to see the possibilities: “We produced limitless full-scale mockups with utility knives and boards, locating the shelves, sizing the drawers, and figuring out the furniture as we talked.” Everything was custom built à la the Shakers: for ease of use, durability, and to impart a sense of calmness and community.
Although based on Shaker precedents, the furniture—chairs by Sawyer Made and tables by Tony Visco of Ivory Build in Brooklyn—Bischoff notes, was reengineered to work in a much-used space: the tables have stabilizing steel rods running through their bases and the spindle seats have “the natural give and flexibility a Shaker chair should have, but the legs are slightly thicker to be more durable.”
“Jody and Rita have a real rigor and authenticity to how they approach cooking and entertaining,” says Bischoff. “They wanted things built from real wood and constructed in the manner the items were originally made. There’s no MDF or snap-together drawer parts. All the chairs are pegged and pinned together, not glued and screwed.”
2. Add a Curve for a Sense of Community
3. Use Salvaged Materials Whenever Possible
“The floor came out of an old depot and was completely covered in soot and smelled like a garage, but it cleaned up well,” says Jody.
4. Design Doesn’t Have to Be Old to Look Old
Smart has tales to tell about every detail: “For the mirror behind the bar, I purchased new, low-iron mirror, removed the backing, applied a chemical treatment to age it, then applied a new backing. For the drawer pulls and bar taps, we turned the original in wood, made a silicone mold, and had a foundry cast them in bronze using the lost wax technique.”
5. Hang All of Your Everyday Tools
Looking for your own peg rails? Browse the Remodelista archive for a trove of ideas.
6. In Tight Spaces Consider a Booth for Two
7. Open Storage Lends Accessibility—and Visual Interest
8. Every Detail Matters.
For historic Shaker design, see In the Dwelling House: 16 Design Ideas to Steal from the Shakers.
Here are some notable new examples of Shaker-inspired designs: