Before and After at The Albright: From Old To New

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Name: Albright Restaurant
Location: Santa Monica, California

I'm sure that, if I'd gone to architecture school, I would've ended up as a preservation architect, carving new spaces out of old ones and creating a seamless transition between then and now. So it's no surprise that I was curious, when I discovered that Santa Monica Pier Seafood, one of the older (and better) fish shacks on this wooden wharf, had undergone an update, to find out a little bit more.

The 35 year old ramshackle restaurant had passed from Hae Ju Kim to her daughter Yunnie Kim Morena. Morena, who operated Fred Segal Couture for over 10 years, has made over the space with help from architect David Alvarez of Studio Alvarez. I sat down with him to chat about it (and to glean a little inspiration as I start to think about some changes I'll be making to my rental kitchen).

What did you think when you first saw the space?
I had been there many times, given my friendship with the client, so I was familiar with the space. However, when we started talking about the project there was a shift and I started to see the space with fresh eyes. What was clear was that Santa Monica Pier Seafood The Albright had something few places still maintain: authenticity.

What did Yunnie tell you that she wanted?
Well, of course she wanted to keep the cost down. And she didn't want to make drastic changes; there's a lot of sentiment tied up with the space. So we concentrated on small things — like finishes and paints — that would have big impact. Color, tiles, etc.

What was your inspiration for the design?
As a native New Yorker I couldn't help but be inspired by some of my favorite seafood spots in the coastal towns of New England. Our goal was to combine that sensibility with the restaurant's Santa Monica heritage: a place where people could feel like they could park their board after a paddle or come by in the evening for a memorable dinner on the pier.

Can you describe the space?
It's a simple, clean, white-tiled interior, with a sand-colored concrete floor. There are accents of ocean-hued turquoise that complement the smooth, wooden communal table-and-bench seating, that we stained dark. We hung strings of soft clear lights, to emphasize the warm seaside setting. There is also re-designed signage that reflects the re-imagined identity of The Albright; it was hand-drawn by family friend Bobby Hundreds, co-founder of The Hundreds. And then there's the new name, which refers to the nautical albright knot and symbolizes the tying together of two generations.

What is the most significant change?
The overall vibe of the space. It feels news and fresh but still true to its roots.

What are you most proud of?
The seamless transition between old and new.

What was the biggest challenge?
Reusing, reconditioning and redesigning the existing space to create one unified feel.

What do people say?
The regulars still feel at home and continue to enjoy their favorite dishes, while the updated look and menu is adding new members to The Albright family every day.

Floor inlay (detail)
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Can you tell us about the details (tiles, tables, chairs, benches, lighting, etc)?
In an effort to keep the restaurant's salty, functional, authentic feel, we decided that all finishes and fixtures would be reconditioned or remade. If you look closely, there's very little that's "new".

Yum!
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Thanks, The Albright!

(Image credits: Abby Stone; The Albright)