December 16, 2013 |

What A Pane

By Heidi Lynn Russell

Photos by Rick Daugherty

Photos by Rick Daugherty

The types of window treatments for Pierro’s Italian Bistro and A’mis Italian Restaurant are as far apart as the geography between them.

At Pierro’s, a former five-and-dime-store-turned-hip-hangout in the historic district of Fayetteville, North Carolina, fabric draperies showcase tall windows. Owners Mike Laurenceau and Daniel Fair wanted a classic look to blend with a sophisticated, lounge-like dining atmosphere.

Conversely, at A’mis in Rock Hill, Missouri, a multi-colored neon sign hangs across plate-glass windows. It loudly displays the St. Louis arch and Chicago and New York skylines. Owner Amiram Damti designed it

18 years ago to catch drivers’ eyes on a humming thoroughfare. The sign has done its job to lure customers into the boisterous family-focused pizzeria.

Both restaurants have one thing in common: They’ve tied window style to business identity. Your branding concept is “your business’s DNA.” So thread it throughout the restaurant — even into the seams of your draperies or windowpanes, says Dean Small, president of Synergy Restaurant Consultants in Laguna Niguel, California.

“We design restaurants all over the world, and window treatments are always a big consideration, because if they are too heavy they send out the wrong message,” Small says. “Everything that you do must be in full alignment.”


Photo by Rick Daugherty

Window treatment design doesn’t have to be rocket science, but there is a science to meshing style with brand at the right price. Here are tips from Small and Oneka Benn Schwartz, owner of the firm Design Pretty in Union City, New Jersey. Schwartz’s interior decorating niche has been window treatments:

“Build” your dining area design, starting with the most important item. For restaurants, it’s seating. Look at the style of your chairs. Are they modern, minimalist, luxurious?

“Use that as a jumping off point to pick the window treatment colors and wall colors,” Schwartz says.

The other component when building a room is lighting. “If you have spectacular window treatments but fluorescent lights, everything will feel horrible. People will look green,” Schwartz says. “Make sure you have proper lighting and window treatments that control natural light and set the mood.”

Remember not every space requires elaborate window treatments. Schwartz has designed Italian restaurants with a Tuscan theme, with all the accoutrements of a highly-styled villa. In a case like that, heavy window treatments compete with décor, not compliment it, she says.

“A Plantation Shutter works best in that situation, because they’re so understated. You want the customers to focus on the other décor, not the windows,” she says.

That was the case with Pierro’s, which is chock-full of eye candy, like glittery wall lights in its “Sky Lounge” area and the architectural detail of the historic building itself. Laurenceau and Fair renovated about 80 percent of the building while keeping its façade. It had been abandoned for about

60 years before they moved in seven-and-a-half years ago. They deliberately steered from decorative window treatments.

“If you look at the restaurant from the inside, it’s high up, and we have very tall windows and high ceilings. We could’ve been decorative, but we kept it simple so that they blend in,” Laurenceau says.

That said, the drapes are not functional. “We have had customers ask if they can close them. You can move them a little, but they can’t cover the whole window. That was not the intention we had when we put them up there,” he says. Which leads to the third point …

Quantify usage. If you’re in a strip mall with a lot of windows, solar shades and tinted windows are important for lunchtime diners to regulate temperature and shield noonday sun, Schwartz says.

A’mis mounted simple green blinds behind the neon sign, says Benji Damti, son of the owner. The Rock Hill restaurant is the original business location; two others are in strip malls. Although those don’t have the signature neon signage on their windows, they have basic blinds for the same reason.

On the other hand, valances or cornices allow people outside to see the action, food and eating within. Small says, an open window view is important. “Seeing the food being prepared or the cooking of food has the biggest impact on a customer and really adds to the ambiance,” he says.

Factor cost. Like anything else, window treatments run the gamut, and before you know it, you may be spending more on them than tomato sauce and mozzarella.

“Window tinting can be a good option in concert with roller shades,” Small says. “I would generally stay away from fabric where there is direct sun as it collects dust, can become discolored due to the sun and over a period of time does not stand the test of time. Plus, fabric drapes can become very expensive. I prefer roller shades, because they can allow light through and be cleaned. As far as cost goes, I think a good rule of thumb is $200-225 per window. Another option can be an outside awning to deflect direct sun. Again, if you have a great view you want to make it visible.”

Pierro’s hired a local seamstress. But the owners actually spent more on the flame-retardant fabric (necessary to pass fire department inspection) than for her work. “We kept it simple and did it cost effectively,” Laurenceau says.

As for A’mis, the neon sign cost $10,000 18 years ago. Recently, a couple of neon bulbs cost about $2,500 to replace, Damti says. Even so, the sign has been worth every penny, he adds.

“We have tons of walk-ins. They always say they’ve been driving by and have seen the sign in the windows and that they come in because of it,” he says.

Small recommends using decorators with restaurant design experience. “That person will be looking at the window needs and will understand the realities of maintenance, cleaning and overall wear and tear. I would also ask why they are recommending a specific treatment. It is also important for them to see the window needs when there is direct sun on them,” he says.

Heidi Lynn Russell specializes in writing about the issues that affect small business owners. She is a regular contributor to Pizza Today and lives in Wilmore, Kentucky.