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Hot Spot Herold
Lily Hansen | Photo: Anthony Tahlier | January 10, 2013
Fluorescents and pop art and high tech, oh my! The firm that is 555 ushers in an era of multifunctional design with the new Chuck’s.
Creativity is both illogical and elusive, and for 555 International Vice President Karen Herold, it often strikes at all hours of the night. “Last night it was 3am,” says Herold. “And I woke up and thought, ‘You know those chairs should be white.’ I always have these realizations in the middle of the night.” Hot off the trails of a continuous success streak with the Boka Group, the secret weapon behind ventures like Girl & the Goat and GT Fish & Oyster has been baiting customers with her Eurocentric style as much as the artful cuisine itself.
The Chicago-based designer recently showcased her versatility with Chuck’s Manufacturing restaurant, located in the Hard Rock Hotel’s former China Grill space. Commissioned by Carrie Meghie, co-founder of Becker Entertainment, Chuck’s Manufacturing is a nostalgic nod to father Charles “Chuck” Becker’s wildly successful automobile industry career (whose plastic parts are a vital ingredient in modern-day vehicles).
First lightening up the space with a chromatic palette of cyan, magenta, yellow and black, Herold pays deference to the inner workings of Becker’s industry with car part mobiles and lucite-looking yellow glass walls. She built a double-sided bar with an adjacent DJ booth to generate a late night lounge ambience throughout the dining room, where guests can sip cocktails from the “Flavor Factory Vodka Bar” while reclining on a mixture of vintage and custom-made sectional sofas. Juxtaposing bold prints, artwork and a 1960s Russian TV wall collage with pure 21st century technology, Chuck’s aesthetic is that of a hyperactive Apple commercial catering to round-the-clock crowds—complete with iPad stations and ubiquitous plug-in opportunities for the mobile workforce. The space’s vibe stands in contrast to 555’s typical ventures, that’s for sure, and Herold cites the adrenaline rush of a four-week design process as inspiring the idiosyncratic, Technicolor dimension exploding with plastic accents and pop art. “It’s a departure from our day-to-day work,” she explains. “We went so fast, and you feel that dynamic in here. Everything just feels very spontaneous and fun.”
That whirlwind work pace may be attributed to Herold’s former fashion design career, where the Netherlands native—Ellecom, specifically—was first introduced to the concept of eliciting emotion through aesthetic. The daughter of an architect, Herold’s aptitude for design led her to study at the Institute of Fashion and Design in Amsterdam, which led to her first furniture and interior design gigs. Spontaneously relocating to Chicago in the late ’90s, she was introduced in a fated series of events to 555 International’s president, James Geier, who hired on the fresh face as creative director of his firm. Lauded for her self-starter attitude and intuition, Herold has won the trust of some of the country’s top restaurateurs to the point that most every venture is metaphorically commenced with a blank slate and a handshake.
Entrusted with envisioning both established and evolving brands—such as longtime partners Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz of Boka Restaurant Group—Herold’s 555 resume reads like the crème de la crème of the retail, culinary and nightlife realms. “Kevin and Rob give very little to no direction—they introduce me to the chef and give me a tasting dinner, and after hanging out for a couple of hours I automatically know what the restaurant should look like,” says Herold.
With regular commissions by business moguls like Michael Morton of N9NE Group (for whom she designed much of the Palms Resort & Casino, including the prominent Playboy Club) and Steve Wynn (whose La Cave Wine and Food Hideaway she designed at the Wynn Hotel), Herold lights up when discussing the opportunity to partner with these two visionaries. “When you work with people who are extremely successful, there’s a reason for that success,” she says. “It’s personality, drive and skill set. It’s always interesting to be around people who followed their own path in life, and created something real that didn’t exist before them in the world—that is by far my greatest inspiration.”
Currently on her plate is a Gold Coast building renovation, whose all-inclusive steakhouse, bar, nightclub and rooftop will give visitors the option of acquiring all of their entertainment in one place. Her interior scheme—and its specific location—is under wraps until the project is officially unveiled later this year, but with Herold cartwheeling between the “oyster shack chic” of GT Fish & Oyster and the seductive appeal of the Playboy Club, the only thing that’s predictable is 555’s over-the-top output. Yet there is one common denominator that has hitherto been the impetus for every project. “That initial click has to be there,” Herold says. “You have to share that passion for what the end product is going to be.”