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Stephen Francis Jones’ Designs Suggests Thinking Little is the Next Big Thing



Stephen Francis Jones'

“It’s evolve or die,” a famous comedian once said.   While the stakes might not exactly be life-or-death for one of our generation’s most successful commercial architects, Stephen Francis Jones has clearly shown how a shrewd and innovative mind at the top of the game remains on top by evolving and adapting to new challenges, new demands, and new markets.

Jones’ work around the globe – from Wolfgang Puck’s legendary Spago in Beverly Hills to the retro Lucky Strike Lanes nationwide, to the Java House franchises in Kenya – thoughtfully and seamlessly marry the fresh and the familiar. But his latest ventures serve new purposes and new kinds of clientele, demanding that Jones’ approach towards design itself evolve and adapt to the ever-changing ways in which public and work environments come together in conceptualizing new dining, works spaces, and entertainment facilities. No longer a mere architect or designer, Jones now considers himself a “placemaker,” finding new ways to create design experiences that are not only dynamic and original, but effective, efficient, and sustainable.

One of Jones’ newest high-profile projects is located at The Fields LA (adjacent to Banc of California Stadium, home of the LA Football Club), where Jones has repurposed a shipping container to create a unique outdoor environment. “Shipping containers have a cool factor that makes the project attractive and unique,” Jones explains.

Indeed, using shipping containers as a cross between a traditional brick-and-mortar structure and a mobile food truck is at the core of other Jones projects, like CenterCal’s new development, the Pavilions at Veranda in Concord, which has retained Jones’ firm to design six 800 square foot food kiosks as part of the amenities for a big shopping center.   Not too long ago, Jones remembers, malls were anchored by big chain retails stores. “Now developers are asking, what do I do with these spaces now that the anchor stores have gone away? The placemaking projects I am working on helping to reshape those spaces into destinations for locals, drawing them to activities and amenities that are unique and replace the big box – not just restaurants, but events spaces, skating rinks, outdoor bowling – things that give people a reason to go to a retail center besides shopping.”

Using structures such as mobile shipping containers gives developers the opportunity to recruit local “mom-and-pop” food businesses with an alternative to food trucks, while not requiring a long-term obligation to a permanent space. They are also almost ubiquitously hip – and very functional. “The containers are mostly just kitchen, so it’s really the outdoor seating and experience that the public encounters,” explains Jones. “With communal tables, proper lighting and shade, this is exactly the kind of thing that works very effectively in warm-weather cities.” Lower entry costs to the businesses means more streams of revenue for the developers, who are also able to quickly convert or transition the container if necessary: if a business fails, it’s easy to move in a new tenant, and if more development needs to occur, it isn’t too much of a burden to simply move the container to a new desirable location.

Besides which, restaurants that share common space, open spaces, and easy access can give neighborhood character, and provide opportunities for unique branding that emphasizes local flavor and strengthens community building. “When the restauranteurs are part of the same community as many of their customers, these freshly designed social spaces become cool destinations, places to hang out, a far cry from the generic food court,” says Jones.

One of the hallmarks of Jones’ firm is its strong working relationships with fabricators, artisans, and other designers who share the same vision: of spaces that are functional, sustainable, and inspiring, suited to the demands the individual client, the users of the space, and the local community. That’s the kind of process that has informed some of Jones’ more elaborate projects, such as Foundry and Lux, the work campus located at Brittania Cove at Oyster Point in South San Francisco. Another new project has him partnering with a group of orthopedic professionals in the process of relocating to El Segundo. “They wanted to reinvent and rebrand themselves,” Jones says of the group, “and they wanted their facility to be more than just a place for people to come for treatment, like a traditional doctor’s building or medical center.” Working with his team, Jones has designed a complex with graphics that incorporate the active physical environment – representations of figures hiking, biking, playing tennis – that shows the doctors’ passion for their work and dedication to the well-being of the client.

Designing social spaces that are suitable for communities, not just businesses, unites the numerous strategies and concepts of Jones’ two decades in the profession, a logical next step from designing restaurants which are, perhaps (besides houses of worship) the most singular public space where sharing, celebrating, relaxing, and connecting are fundamental. For the past couple of decades, Jones notes, his services were most in demand for clients who had an eye towards national and global marketplaces. Now, there is more of a need to serve local communities, small businesses, and the people who are actually going to live and work in the spaces that Jones helps bring to life.

“After the push to create all of these luxury experiences, we’re realizing that it no longer serves the purpose of the masses,” Jones says of the shifting nature of his work. “People feel turned off if they don’t fit, or if they feel that the space they are in only serves the ultra-wealthy. The reality is, a lot of people just want to have a well-designed environment, a place where even work is fun and social, a place that is an outlet for people who have been caught up in the isolated digital world and want to reconnect with others.”

On a personal level, Jones was inspired by the fires in the Northern California town of Santa Rosa, the hometown of his wife, which destroyed countless homes and property and left a community reeling. In addition to helping rebuild two houses, Jones has been working on expanding the shipping container concept to create temporary neighborhoods for those who have been displaced by the natural disaster and maybe looking at months before their homes are ready to inhabit. “What if we create a combination of housing using small modules or shipping containers on a 40×40 foot plot,” he explains, “sort of like a mobile home park, but in the corner of the complex there would be small restaurants, laundromats, office spaces for the people in that micro-community?” It’s almost like the “tiny house” concept expanded to a neighborhood level, and might provide an ideal solution to preserve a sense of community in a time of crisis.

A cursory recollection of Jones’ most noted projects provides ample evidence of his ability to think creatively while still retaining the value and quality of well-established brands. When the La Brea Bakery debuted in a new home, Jones’ design elements, from the 35-foot display case to the lowercase “b” logo, helped usher in a successful re-brand. He and his graphic designer created an updated brand identity and prototype building design to reinvigorate the brand of Japanese chain Mister Donut. He designed new locations for the Del Frisco Grille in Irvine, Santa Monica, and Pasadena. He’s recently finished work on his 6th and 7th locations for Greenleaf restaurant (in Glendale and Calabasas), which each new location requiring fine-tuning in order to connect with the brand and speak to the unique demands of each location.

Jones is well-prepared for a successful global career. After studying architecture at the University of Florida, Jones got his Architectural Master’s degree at UCLA. He began his career in Boston, working with Jung/Brannen Associates designing high-rises.  After his first year at UCLA, he studied Italian hill towns in Tuscany. While living in Europe, he worked for a year in Barcelona during the exciting buildup to the 1992 Olympics. There, he worked with the internationally renowned firm, Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura, where he was the designer on the Cagnes-sur-Mer mixed-use complex in France, and the Institutio de Mediterraneo in Barcelona.

He began working for the famed L.A. firm Grinstein/Daniels while still at UCLA, and after completing his Master’s degree, Jones spent a year in Miami rebuilding hurricane-damaged homes and then returned to Los Angeles to work on the design of a co-generation power plant in Sacramento. Jones was given the opportunity to reinvigorate his passion for restaurant design when he was hired as the in-house architect at the Wolfgang Puck Food Company. In 1996, he left the Wolfgang Puck Food Company to start his own firm, SFJones Architects. Eager to continue his association with Jones, the famed chef, and Barbara Lazaroff hired him to recreate Spago, Wolfgang Puck’s most celebrated restaurant, in its new Beverly Hills location. Jones continued to work on Puck’s fine and casual dining restaurants all over the world. He then went on to create the original design for Lucky Strike Lanes in Hollywood, with locations to follow in Chicago, Toronto, Denver, St. Louis, Louisville, South Beach, and Orange County. The fresh concept of a retro bowling alley/lounge became fiercely popular nationwide: Jones was hired to design Big Al’s, a bowling alley and sports bar in Vancouver, Washington, and Ashton Kutcher’s Dolce Group hired Jones to design Ten Pin Alley in Atlanta.

Jones’ client lists now second to none when it comes to some of the most respected and successful eateries on the west coast and beyond. That list now includes Jones’ most recent gigs for clients like the Urth Caffe in the City of Orange; and three Simmzy’s restaurants in Burbank, Huntington Beach, and El Segundo. He continues to develop ideas with clients like celebrity chef Peter Merriman.

But how does a designer supply to client demand for fresh, new ideas that will breathe vitality (and profits) into a business? Jones says the key is diversity in lifestyle. “Lifestyle translates to one’s design sense. I think a designer is always thinking about design in their environment and the more diversity you have in your life, the more ideas that present themselves to you.” As a married father of two (his wife, Stephanie Eyestone Jones, is the owner of Eyestone Environmental, an urban planning firm), Jones lives a carefully integrated life. His mornings begin very early at the UCLA Aquatic Center, near his office in Marina Del Rey. An hour or more of rowing in a single scull gives him time and tranquility to think through his day. “Relating it to my daily regiment lifestyle,” explains Jones, “it’s a meditation period of my day—when I have my best ideas.”

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