Inspiration: Argentina Meets Austin Cool at El Arbol

Inspiration: Argentina Meets Austin Cool at El Arbol

Misty Adair
Jun 1, 2010

Andrew Sorrell says he wanted to avoid creating a thematic "gaucho bar" even though El Arbol is an Argentinian grill or parilla. Rather, he opted for a more tasteful approach and followed the design cues of the 1960's building that houses the Austin restaurant.

We already profiled the exterior of El Arbol with it's amazing, ancient live oak tree and mid-century mod motel look. The interior is just as intriguing and thoughtfully crafted, thanks to Andrew's attention to detail and Joel Mozersky's fabulous design experience.

The first time we visited El Arbol we were completely drawn into the unusual design details, vintage accessories and "meaty" artwork. Andrew made a point of seeking out paintings and vintage posters that feature horses or cattle in a non-Texan ranch way. These adorn cork walls and hang beside gold lampshades. We like the juxtaposition of mid-century modern pizzazz and South American cowboy in a totally original style called. . . maybe, "gaucho swinger"? It works.

1. The foyer begins with a low ceiling and then vaults up to reveal clusters of globe lights, an Argentinian parade flag, and a cow portrait by Linda St. Clair. For texture, one wall is clad in concrete molded panels from Modular Arts in a pattern that mimics the wood screens in the next room.
2. The downstairs dining room features light refracting screens carved from walnut and inspired by German Bauhaus design. Booths are covered in tufted white vinyl with brass buttons for added richness.
3. The first floor is designed to be durable for family dining with terrazzo floors, all walnut wood tables and chairs, and a vintage German light fixture from 1st Dibs.
4. A stringer staircase leads to the second floor bar and retro lounge. We love the green velvet sofa with vintage end tables and swanky gold lamps.
5. The upstairs dining area is cozy and intimate with cork covered floors and walls. Not only is this practical for moving around Andrew's art collection but also for sound absorption.
6. Custom designed screens are made from anodized aluminum tubes and were a design borrowed from a bank in Palm Springs. Artwork includes pieces from Andrew's travels to Argentina and Spain, wood carvings from street vendors, inherited modern works and even framed cutting tools.
7. The bar goes gaucho with a bull mounted on dark green onyx from Pakistan. It lights up from underneath to show the variations in the stone.
8. For one more manly accent, the bar foot rail is studded with brass horse heads. For the ladies, there are convenient hooks under the bar for purses.
9. The power of persuasion is strong in the men's room. Dark brown tile from Architerra was chosen to exactly match the color of Guinness beer. Of course the grout is the same shade as the foam.
10. The women's powder room is more glamorous with Turkish tile the color of red lipstick and an antique gilded settee (to coordinate with the brass spacers in the terrazzo). One more thoughtful touch to copy is the dimmer switch on the light -- darker for gossip sessions and brighter for makeup touch-ups.

Andrew borrowed some of his design inspiration from Palm Springs. Now it's your turn to borrow from El Arbol. What ideas can you translate into your own dining or entertaining space?

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