Peter Niemitz

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 July, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 July, 2005, 12:00am

Who? Peter Niemitz designed the newly opened Union Bar and Grille Restaurant (below) at the IFC Mall and nine American-themed restaurants for EuroDisney in Paris. Like fellow free spirit Adam Tihany, Niemitz aims to bring customers excitement and variety that taps the trend for making original restaurant interiors. One of his clients is a coffee company called Not Your Average Joe's. Niemitz describes the look he created for it as 'a very casual but highly designed colourful interior oriented towards a broad clientele'.

Should I have heard of him? No, but his work crops up everywhere thanks to his productivity, which would do credit to any Hong Kong go-getter. He creates everything from seafood eateries to steakhouses and jazzy cafes, and has as many as 40 projects under way at any time. No job is too small for the Bostonian, provided the client is prepared to let him push the envelope.

Does he have formal training? Yes, a bachelor of architecture degree from Rhode Island School of Design (RISD).

What's his story? Born in 1953 in Maplewood, New Jersey, he began informal training at the tender age of four by building model cars, tree houses and forts. Before he reached double figures he was making three-dimensional models of houses pictured in The New York Times. Niemitz's father, who worked for a telephone company, and his housewife mother encouraged him to experiment. At high school he flirted with theatre-set design. He studied fine arts, design arts and architecture at RISD, and after graduating in 1976 joined a design studio run by former RISD professor Morris Nathanson. Two years later, a new Nathanson client, Legal Sea Foods, asked him to create the firm's first store. He went on to design a procession of Legal Sea Foods outlets. The kind of offbeat design he championed was growing fashionable as clients insisted on imaginative decor. Niemitz focused

on atmospheric details such as illumination. 'Lighting space dramatically not only enhances the restaurant experience but also makes people look good,' he says. He has won a slew of honours, including the 1992 Gold Key Award from the International Hotel and Motel Associa-tion for the design of a cafe called Tosca in Hingham, Massachusetts.

Describe Tosca. Niemitz says, 'It is a turn-of-the-century brick warehouse that is a background for a highly theatrical space that features open, wood-burning grills and ovens; it features wooden brick interiors with a lot of custom lighting, great seating and views of the culinary bar action.'

What are Niemitz's core principles? 'Seek new ideas and try new techniques,' he says, adding that comfort counts too. Even more important is the financial success of the establishments he designs.

How does he ensure they flourish? By cultivating the attention of the next generation. 'The worst we can do is design for an ageing population,' he says. His goal is to foster repeat business.

'We started out with doing one restaurant for a customer and it ended up turning into a chain of 28. The long-term plan was never to create a chain but we just happened to do that.'