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Part 2

Power Lunch

Hayes and the architect develop their elaborate dance, starting with a schematic design, floor plan and layouts. Preliminary furnishings are selected, renderings drawn, budgets prepared. Next come construction documents, applications and permits. During the third phase, construction administration, the team meets with general contractors, makes site visits, ensures that technical aspects such as fire safety and disabled access are in place. Tiles must be slip-resistant, fabrics and furniture fire-retardant, and traffic patterns logical and efficient. Design concepts can go down the tubes late in the game, as value engineering, the euphemistic term for cost cutting, eliminates some of the detailing even after it's been ordered. What remains has to be bolted down. "It's a constant problem — some customers take soap dishes, silver, light fixtures. We have to security-mount art to the walls, using clips that only a wrench can remove," Hayes says of the precautions required to protect the owners' investment. Final installations steamroll into the last hours before a restaurant's opening, and tweaking continues, Hayes adds, "as long as it takes to make everyone happy."

There's also considerable research on the Internet to track resources, develop information and connect with suppliers. To provide a sense of authenticity at The Caucus Room, Hayes and company took a virtual tour of the Senate to study its design elements and develop a fresh interpretation of the Federal style. She praises the manufacturers' reps and suppliers who help keep the business ahead of trends and go beyond duty to fill orders, essential to getting the job done on schedule. Hayes, a Collegiate grad with an interior design degree from VCU, passed the NCIDQ, a national certification exam in 1992 and joined the International Interior Design Association soon after. Her best credentials, though, are the repeat clients who pull her in for bigger and splashier projects and allow her business to grow based on word of mouth.

Brian Enroughty, chef and owner at Nuvo Bistro, knew he was taking a risk when he hired Hayes for a total redesign of a remarkably hip-for-Richmond restaurant, Granite on Grove, created only two years before by talented designer Chris McCray. "We upset a lot of people when we did Nuvo," Hayes acknowledges, "but Brian wanted a totally different look." Hayes deepened the place's coloration, adding burgundy, gold and green walls, burnished copper finishes, and open sight lines through the room. "We did a big change," Enroughty agrees, "took a bold approach at something, and it works. We threw it in her hands, and from day one she was very supportive, her creativity was impeccable, and with the budget we had, she was extremely willing and able to do it all, and you don't see the pressure getting to her. She treats you equal to those who are spending a million dollars."

Budget wasn't nearly as constraining at Main Street Beer Company, where Hayes helped create one of the city's smartest watering holes out of an old grocery store. A dramatic bar and metallic surfaces bounce with life; the noise level rises in direct relation to the energy of the surroundings. Main Street's restrooms alone get customers buzzing. Flattering lighting, granite and glass surfaces, and sophisticated contemporary detailing are features not often found in the Fan District's more traditional restaurants, and Hayes makes a point of lavishing attention on these private zones. "Bathrooms are one area where you're walking into a totally different room, so you might as well make it interesting," she says. Her associate Tammy Farrall agrees: "People walk out and say, 'We can't believe this is Richmond,' and, 'That's so cool,' and we know we've done our job, and that all the long hours are worth it."

[image-1](Chad Hunt / Style Weekly)Tammy Farrall, an associate at H.L. Reed Design, pores over color samples with Hayes as they redesign a custom carpet for Shanghai restaurant.Not all diners crave the full décor treatment, and prefer a less studied approach when they go out to eat. Witness the success of Mamma 'Zu, where patrons line up to taste Ed Vasaio's dishes from booths where springs might be missing, and where ambiance comes less from mood lighting than from character studies. Places such as this thrive on local color and authenticity, and Hayes isn't about to tinker with that formula. Her clients go after a different niche, one that considers calculated, personalized design a drawing card. At the other end of the spectrum, Morton's franchises, also coming soon to Richmond's Canal Walk area, tend to keep a similar look at every location. The steakhouse chain goes for a higher check average through consistency, name recognition and a theatrical role for waiters, who do tableside presentations with special flourish. "The beauty of it is, Richmond's becoming a place where each of these methods can work," Parry says of the competition. "Success is staying in business."

"I always knew what I wanted to do," Hayes reflects between meetings with clients. "From age 16, I worked in restaurants, advertising, catering and interior design. I knew the hospitality industry was where I wanted to be." She runs a second firm, H2H Inc., as a graphics and procurement arm of the business, creating logos and signage, and purchasing the furniture, art and accessories involved in setting up a store or restaurant. In addition to the final, two-month surge at Bookbinder's, she and her associates are designing prototypes for a line of convenience stores in Charlotte, completely renovating Sunday's Restaurant in Brandermill, designing Shanghai, a new location for Inter China on Hull Street, and overseeing several start-up projects. One of these is a quickie redo of the former Expressions restaurant at Innsbrook, soon to be known as The Lava Lounge and Grill, owned by Chris DeCapri, Bob Atack, and other partners. The place will feature "a lounge the color of lava ash, all deep grays, and the grill area will be done in fire red with yellow. The columns will be painted to look like lava lamps," Hayes says of the deliberately over-the-top details. Downtown Grill in Charlottesville and Claiborne's in Fredericksburg are two projects that are particularly important to the team's playbook, along with new interiors for Jefferson Lakeside Country Club and Capri Jewelers. "We get very involved with our clients; we have very deep discussions; and we try to please them too much. My ultimate goal," Hayes says, "is for the company to be nationally recognized as a great retail and restaurant design firm."

Architect Dave Johannas, whose work with Hayes includes Shanghai, Nuccio's and several other new projects, looks at the future of Richmond restaurant design with enthusiasm: "I like to think that we're at the start of a brave new world in Richmond, a dramatic change in our level of sophistication. Helen's work is exciting, and she's got a great sense of what's happening in the marketplace. With any design, it's difficult to educate people about how much energy goes into it, how many hours it takes to do something that looks so simple, but when it clicks, it sings. There's definitely music when that happens." And as long as it's not the William Tell Overture, Hayes and company will be free, for a brief moment, to savor it.

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