Madison, Wisconsin
  • Client
    Rule No. One Hospitality Group (RNO)
  • SQ. FT.
  • Budget
  • Market
  • Year
  • 2024 • International Interior Design Association, Wisconsin Chapter
    First Place Hospitality, Wisconsin Chapter

For more than a decade, Merchant thrived as one of Madison’s favorite restaurants on the city’s iconic Capitol Square. In 2020, the COVID pandemic forced owners to shift to outdoor dining. As a result, the existing layout, with the bar at the back of the restaurant became challenging and inefficient.

The renovation of the restaurant’s interior flipped the layout, placing the bar at the front of the space adjacent to the entrance and accessible to the sidewalk dining. The kitchen is a bookend at the opposite end of the square dining area.

Both the bar and kitchen now take on a new prominence in the space. Bar activities are now on full display instead of tucked at the building’s rear. The innerworkings of the back of house space are also visible to diners through steel framed windows that create a transparent wall between diners and the kitchen. Similarly, the bar back is visible from the street and patio through retractable windows that stay open in warmer months. As a result, patrons are immersed in the atmosphere and artistry that goes into making their libations and meals.

The renovation also created an opportunity to lighten a formerly dark space. When closed, the ultra-clear windows let in an abundance of natural light, a contrast to the dark tinted glass windows that were replaced. A dining area once carved up into booths is now open with two parallel banquets and a row of tables in a single line. A fourth  banquet is tucked into nooks along a wall with bottle storage above giving this area a distinct feel. The fifth banquet sits perpendicular to the rest under the windows looking into the kitchen.

Materials serve to further brighten the space. Subdued jewel tone fabrics are rich in texture. Caramel leather creates the cozy lounge vibe for which Merchant is known. White tile and dark wood paneling wrap four columns that punctuate the dining area. The combination of the glossy white tile and rich wood create interest without drawing unwanted attention.

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