For his newest Washington, DC, restaurant, Rasika West End, award-winning owner Ashok Bajaj charged designer Martin Vahtra with creating a space that not only looked completely different than its sister eatery in the Penn Quarter, but also shattered the usual Indian restaurant stereotypes.
With that in mind, Vahtra, founder of New York-based Projects Design Associates, mixed the romantic elements of ancient and modern India. The layout flows between a library, a quirky bar, and a colorful dining space all under a surprising canopy. With the large quantity of windows, Vahtra found that the best space to work with would have to come centrally. “That is why the central tree concept came to be,” Vahtra says. The “Banyan tree,” made of honey-colored Anigre veneer, climbs the central column and across the ceiling in hundreds of interconnecting triangles. Completed with 3D modeling, 35 sheets of drawings, and C & C cutting tools, the structure hangs down and opens to coves of lighting.
The magenta lighting from the tree structure illuminates banquette fabrics and wallcoverings inspired by Indian saris. The design also revolves on “the jewel colors found in Indian silks and shapes found in traditional Indian architecture,” Vahtra explains. Shades of cerulean and turquoise on the booths hint toward a Hindu festival of colors. Subtle traces of the culture also emerge on the walls, including exposed white-painted brick, which covers many buildings in India.
Beneath the multifaceted ceiling and between carefully decorated walls, three “cavern” booths along the window are designed with curving roofs like an Indian hall. “[The booths] were inspired by shapes and details we saw used on Indian temples,” Vahtra says. “People love to sit in them.” Another popular sitting area is the library, tucked privately towards the back, which is lit softly by circular lamps and filled with meticulously arranged but randomly selected books.
The highlight: the various Indian symbols subtlety integrated throughout. “We were designing the bar area and found images of Indian gods with many arms spinning off their bodies,” Vahtra says. “This gave us the idea to have shelves cantilever and ‘spin’ around the column in the bar area in a sculptural fashion.” The result is a seemingly precarious juxtaposition of shelves, artfully suspended over the bar area.
Even with the contemporary style, Vahtra wanted a comfortable setting for the restaurant’s famous food and hospitality. “We suggested having a traditional Indian hand symbol called a mudra introduced somewhere in the restaurant,” Vahtra explains. “We decided on a gesture symbolizing welcome.”