Increasingly, restaurant owners and retailers are serving up highly stylized, visually striking environments to attract and retain customers. To achieve this end, the owner of Annabelle's Restaurant in Naples, Fla., commissioned Studio Arquitectura Inc. — a Santa Fe, New Mexico-based architecture firm — to interpret a sea and sky design motif in the two-level eatery. In turn, Arquitectura Inc. went to Brunswick, Ga.-based Rulon Co., a designer and manufacturer of suspended wood, uPVC ceiling systems and wall panels, to assist in animating the space.

Inspired by the urban resuscitation of downtown Naples, Annabelle's owner sought to create a comfortable ambiance reflecting coastal Florida. The restaurant's décor is Mediterranean revival, featuring the stucco walls, wrought iron, tiled floors, heavy tapestries and fringed brocade fabrics so popular in south Florida. Upstairs dining is by reservation, while the downstairs bar accommodates casual lounge seating. Patrons venturing downstairs find an ocean motif, with an aquarium, glass wall and subtle lighting to represent being within or below the water. As visitors ascend upstairs — or above the ocean's surface — land, palm trees, vines, flora and fauna imagery replace the seahorses and fish.

“Ceiling designs for the upper and lower levels also reflect natural themes,” says Glynn Gomez, interiors architect for Arquitectura. Rulon worked closely with the architects to ensure all design parameters were met, from developing ceiling components and preparing shop drawings, to construction site visits during installation. “Rulon understands their systems and how to apply them to a project. Their hands-on coordination paved the way for a smooth process among the architect, manufacturer, contractor and installer,” Gomez adds.

Fine dining under the clouds

Upper-level dining areas feature clouds with precut Panel Grille sections, suspended from the 30-ft. domed ceiling. Installation of these sections includes a painted tapestry molded to the domed ceiling. Early design phases called for standard, uniformed length panels from the factory. This approach would have required extensive fieldwork for on-site assembly, cutting into custom shapes, and installing multiple layers of perimeter trim to cut ends.

Rulon's solution called for custom panels, along with a detailed, sequential installation plan to meet the design intent and avoid the need for additional cutting, trim attachment or on-site specialty work. The installation contractor only had to hang custom made panels, carefully designed to accommodate airflow for movement of the cloudlike grilles.

Deep sea dining

Downstairs, Veneer Curvalon panels, for ceiling and wall systems, were selected to reflect the free-flowing shape and color of ocean waves. Open areas between panels allow sound-absorbing acoustical channels to reduce noise levels, an important environmental factor.

The curved panels also provide a simple solution to minimizing exposed electrical and air duct components, while providing acoustical qualities. The first floor dining room ceiling required a smooth, continuous flow of curves across the space, with high-end finishes and exact spacing between panels to achieve acoustical properties and to minimize labor.

“A coordinated hands-on approach provides project team members with a direct communication line from early design stages through completion,” says Wayne Robison, president and CEO of Rulon Co. “The architect achieves greater design freedom, the manufacturer maintains single source responsibility throughout the production process, and the installer receives clear, concise details and assistance necessary for a proper installation.”

Barbara Nadel, FAIA, is principal of New York City-based Barbara Nadel Architect, and national 2001 vice president of the American Institute of Architects.