The multidisciplinary design firm Bespoke Only approaches design from an angle of luxurious juxtapositions. Residential and commercial spaces feature both traditional and contemporary elements, dotted with a mix of found and new objects. The combination evokes a sense of live-in luxury, complemented by the clients’ tastes and guided by Bespoke Only’s Brooklyn-based founder, Melissa Lee and associate designer, Erika Chou.
A recent project of theirs—a Japanese-Italian restaurant named Kimika in NoLita—features Danish-designed furniture, custom artworks by the Brooklyn-based artist Aviva Rowley, a mix of ceramics, products by Bespoke Only’s custom line, and more. Lee and Chou also designed its sister restaurant, Wayla, for their first hospitality project together in 2019. In addition to interior design for projects like homes and hospitality outlets, Bespoke Only also customizes experiences, providing the event atmosphere for once-in-a-lifetime moments like weddings.
Whitewall spoke with Lee to learn more about collaboratively working in design, how Bespoke Only approaches temporary and permanent spaces, and details on their latest project in Long Island.
WHITEWALL: How do your personal tastes and interests guide projects?
MELISSA LEE: In short, it doesn’t. We take a humble approach to design. The notion of using our personal style in a client’s space is quite the opposite of what Bespoke Only stands for fundamentally. We take the time and consideration to learn about the space and/or client in order to create a design concept and atmosphere that is uniquely theirs—not ours.
WW: Your work also includes experiences, like small- and large-scale events like weddings. What is your approach to temporary spaces vs. permanent ones?
ML: Our overall approach is incredibly similar to both temporary and permanent spaces. It’s all about considering flow. The main difference is an event has a specific goal and timeline- the way guests navigate and experience the space will reflect a natural flow as activities progress throughout the day. Whereas home design requires more versatility to accommodate the organic and ever-evolving nature of human life.
WW: How are you mixing old and new, high and low, for a curated ambiance that’s quintessential “Bespoke Only”?
ML: Oh, thank you! It is quintessential Bespoke Only. If everything is from the same era or style then everything falls flat. Personality is created in a space by mixing high, low, old, and new. One repetitive element can’t accurately represent a space and the multi-faceted person that lives in it.
WW: Kimika is a special place. Once inside, we were transported to a calm, warm, and contemporary place. What did you want this space to embody?
ML: Inspired by the Itameshi concept—Italian-Japanese cuisine—Kimika looks to achieve harmony by marrying a bold palette and the simplicity of ingredients. Capturing the characteristics of the restaurant’s home, Nolita, a unique blend of contemporary and grunge, we wanted to introduce a sensual fluidity that sits within its raw concrete surrounds. The furniture scheme consists of iconic Danish designs as well as custom pieces highlighting plush textile and handmade textures. The goal is a space that harbors intimacy and provides a moment of stillness for the urban diners.
WW: How does your work differ or have a through-line between residential and commercial projects?
ML: Our approach towards home design is rooted in authenticity and truth. Home should be a place where you feel known, understood, and at peace. We don’t see home as a place to impress others, but as a place to find acceptance in yourself. For our hospitality projects, our overall approach focuses more on curating a conceptual experience that’s meant to transport you to a different place and give you time away from your daily life.
WW: What is your relationship like to the art and design worlds today?
ML: We see it as our social responsibility to support our fellow BIPOC creatives by incorporating their crafts in both our commercial and residential projects. We’re constantly looking for new sources to collaborate with—knowing that’s a voice that has been lacking in the design community.
WW: Can you tell us about the restaurant slated to open on Long Island this spring?
ML: Jia, meaning “home” in Mandarin, is a Chinese restaurant centered around the idea of “home away from home” and highlights the mainstays of our favorite Chinese menus. The root of Jia’s inspiration is a modern, minimalist chalet with a nordic touch. Bleached wood and pale hues reflect its seaside surroundings with an eye-catching blackened exterior. An overall monochromatic scheme contrasted against a pitched, plank ceiling sets a thoughtfully curated stage—complementing the elevated rich flavors of the dim sum inspired menu.