International design firm Snøhetta is the lead design architect and landscape architect, working in collaboration with California-based firms Envelope A+D as executive architect and Tim Harrison of Harrison, Koellner, LLC as kitchen designer for a historic renovation of The French Laundry, the first major overhaul of the landmark restaurant in 20 years. The renovation will result in a new and expanded kitchen and courtyard, an auxiliary building to house a wine cellar and support offices, and a new arrival experience to enhance the approach to the iconic blue door.
While the historic restaurant will remain unaltered, all of the former kitchen structure and auxiliary buildings have been demolished to make way for the modernization. Wright Construction leads the construction.
Every element of the design strikes a thoughtful balance between form and function, beginning with the guests’ first step onto The French Laundry property. In preparation for the project, Snøhetta’s Craig Dykers spent many hours in Chef Keller’s kitchen, observing the rhythm and the culture of the restaurant. Snøhetta’s design aims to create a meaningful environment for those who work there, recognizing Chef Keller’s emphasis on efficiency and precision, along with his vision that the kitchen is the keystone of a world-class restaurant experience.
The renovated kitchen will support the graceful choreography for which the restaurant’s culinary and service teams are known. The new custom vaulted ceilings, fabricated by local manufacturer Kreysler & Associates, will evoke a white linen table cloth being gently unfurled across a table, while also hiding the ceiling’s functional elements. The sweeping vaults create large skylights that will let in ample natural light and sound-dampening ceiling panels will reduce ambient noise. The new kitchen will also be equipped with customized ventilated ceiling systems by Halton Americas that use remote sensors to control air flow.
In addition to expanding the kitchen’s size by 25 percent, the renovation will make for more efficient use of space, creating one contiguous room for the entire culinary team with a visual connection from station to station. With walls, flooring and work stations all fashioned out of anti-microbial Dekton Quartz by Cosentino of North America, the new kitchen will feature a white-on-white palette—a nod to the sense of promise and potential of a fresh start. The kitchen equipment will feature two unique Moltini suites by Electrolux and commercial ranges by Hestan Commercial. The ground-up construction of a new Kitchen Annex will house The French Laundry’s support functions including the prep kitchen, butchery, produce breakdown, and management offices. It is also home to The French Laundry’s regarded wine collection, with the storage capacity to hold up to 14,000 bottles.
Energy conservation and efficiencies are also critical components of the renovation. Renewable energy solar panels by NRG will be installed and the kitchen will feature a power generation system utilizing new fuel cell technology by Bloom Energy. An expansion of the existing unique geothermal loop is planned as well to further improve overall sustainability.
During construction, Envelope A+D conceived of using shipping containers as modular units for a temporary kitchen in the restaurant’s former courtyard, allowing for service to resume and maintain the restaurant’s important contribution to Yountville’s tourist-driven economy. Tim Harrison, Chef Keller’s kitchen designer-of-record for the past 20 years, designed and adapted the temporary space as a recreation of the former French Laundry kitchen, complete with its five stars mounted hood. Envelope A+D’s work on the temporary kitchen leverages the firm’s extensive experience enlivening underused physical spaces in such notable locations as San Francisco’s PROXY, NOW_hunters point, and California College of the Arts.