You are on the high seas, no land as far as the eye can see. Weeks of isolation in the doldrums. Liftless sails. An uneasy calm and malease permeates the ranks. You’ve been observing, through the spyglass, a speck growing larger hour by hour. The winds sweep up into a dark quall. Cook yells, fire in the galley, just as wood strikes wood and the pirate ship makes contact. A terrifying banner unfurls and in seconds, the attack will begin. Left with a desperately disorganized crew and sure to be overcome, given the choice, do you walk the plank, or do you walk the line?

In this time of tumult, do we have freedom of choice? Given the options, do we have an authentic choosing? This is an important conversation for the global ship Earth and what we can collectively create.

First, a brief history. Did you know that the pirate ship is considered to be the first form of democracy? In the golden days of piracy, the captain and other officers were voted in and they could be voted out. Captains took a vote on everything: where to go, who to plunder, how to steal it, what adventure was next, and what to do with captives. Crews were diverse in every way and booty was distributed according to skill and involvement. Captains usually only took no more than two or three times what other crew members commanded. Pirates were compensated for injuries. They practiced what Peter T. Lessen refers to as piratical harmony. Harmony for pirates.

Pirates were great harbingers of brand. How many of you have some recollection of a pirate named Blackbeard? He lived over 300 years ago and was rumored to set his hair on fire. He commanded much fear by ruse and rumour. Blackbeard’s flag was of a skeleton stabbing a bleeding heart with a spear. It is all about the flag in the realm of piracy. It is no accident that the skull and crossbones flag was created, for being seen as terrifyingly violent made it much less likely that you would be challenged, lose cargo or worse, be killed. Keeping the booty and staying alive was just good business.

But what does this have to do with us in the time of Covid?

In a sense, one could pretend to see America as a really big pirate ship, with no port in site. No cove in which to shelter, the virus is everywhere. The world is stuttering, trying to understand who and what we are for each other. Plied with rum and tired of the galley, we long for the bustle of the town and all the simple vices. Strangely, beautifully, in this paradise abandoned, we are seeing celebration of a voice rising above long held suffering. In Black Lives Matter, we are witnessing a powerful movement for equality and assertion for democracy. A harmonic piracy of the public opinion.

Something else has happened during this glory, which seems to have been perhaps shuffled aside for the greater good of the emergent voice, but which bears reckoning. As we hunkered down in Los Angeles at the start of the protests, police sirens squalling every seventeen minutes, there was mass looting. The protests were intelligently organized in specific locations, so we did not see a repeat of past looting in struggling communities, but the looting occurred, and was in some way muffled. Beyond the deploy of National Guard and plywood everywhere, there was no voice to it. This shadow bears acknowledging. It is a movement without brand.

Who are we as American people? We are so tied to brand. Some of us love America as representing opportunity. Some despise America, a symbol of dominance. As we engage in our evolution, our corporate and civic re-branding in this time is much tied to a long overdue cleanup of American conversations. It is in keeping with how our system works. We make art. We destroy art. We fund. We de-fund. The beauty of our system is that it is ever adaptive. But more than any other nation, and perhaps this was what Warhol understood, we explain power of commodity in identity.

One could argue that the idea of brand is inseparable to the American psyche. As a child in early eighties Arkansas, my favorite pastime was reviewing the Service Merchandise catalog with a friend and we would individually choose an item on each page, an indication of our taste, our identity. We plundered that catalog and emerged as fourth grade women with a voice, which, in retrospect, was a somewhat superficial assemblage of our survival based, divisive and yet creative views. It all reflected who we be.

Perhaps it still does. Consider us all to be pirates. Our cultural success, to some extent, lies in getting the most that we can get, in choosing and in having the best option. Typically, we want to go to, or want our kids to go to the best school, which could represent the most innovative education or a prestigiously connected one. Regardless, it is a cultural reaping, whereby everyone grabs the best available option. Those that can. Those with perspective, family, options.

We also chose our individual or familial presentation for our chosen societies. Like pirates, we cultivate our personal brands by advertising our bigness in choice of home, clothing, neighborhood and circles. You can see it so well in social media. Pro-organic farms, hemp, god, guns, tits, you name it, we steal cuts of aesthetic, of the tongue, of nature and of other people to make up the representations of who we are so that it is undeniably clear what we stand for.

Don’t get me wrong, many, many of us are operating consciously, intentionally and cooperatively. This is not to suggest that we are just thieves, or that we aren’t evolving in our beauty as a human species, which I believe we are. But I would posit that our identity, as we shape it, is in part created by piracy. We design our stature, our statues, our status, our homes, our lives with selection, and that which we do not choose, collectively represents the shadow, that which is considered not party to our becoming.

Pair that with our systematic, troubled culture in which the whole does not recognize that we are all on the same ship, and we have what we are: a motley crew of buccaneers, some clamoring for collateral, some for destination, some swabbing the deck, one a poser on the prow, some who did not even know they were on the boat and others who believe that boats aren’t real.

Most of us would heal the world if we knew how. A great number of us have consciousness of connection, often granted by psych-altered states. Less of us know how to have everyone hear that everyone has a place in the tribe. And so, the earth revolves. We lose our beautiful flora and fauna. The albatross dies. Our ship takes on water and we have no idea how to have our plunder make it sail because treasure does not create wisdom. Nor does intention. We squabble. We fight.

The looting in Los Angeles was another manifestation of our democracy. It was a quiet mutiny of our unacknowledged crew members scooping out of our system of booty in America that is and has always been subject to superficial dichotomous agreement but lacks a deeper request, consent or engagement for which we are all responsible. Rich or poor. Born of immigrants of all walks of life, born of both flourishing entrepreneurship and of desperate need, the American nation is the wealthiest nation in the world, and we don’t feed our people. In my first grade, at public school in the United States, there were children whose bellies were extended from hunger. Always black bellies. This is still happening. Yes, it is a race conversation. And yes, it is a story of poverty, the conversation we really don’t like to have because we don’t know what to do about it, or how to evolve as a collective when human brains are wired for fear.

And so, here today in our nation, a half mass elects the best leader they can find, a totem crafted in the assemblage of ideals, and no matter who it is, most of us are disappointed. What held the illusion of powerful navigation, unity and of free choice is shaped from within our human paradigm of scarcity, our primordial methods of classification and deservedness. As a people, we cannot figure out how to lead further, other than in business or in moral righteousness. We hold that some other part of the country is responsible for our failure. We refrain from blaming those older than us, or our parents. We continue to brand our fellows as either this or that, black or white, all equally dangerous. We are a piratical band of misfits who cannot sail together. Truth is, harmonic piracy only succeeds when there is an other to strip and we are in actuality, powerfully, failing to collectively agree to plunder.

The question then is not, do you walk the plank or walk the line. The real question is, can you shake beauty into every interaction that you have? Can you sail with grace? We are in the midst of a not only a cultural revolution but an evolution. We are rewriting the offer, recreating our human capacity to see more than one horizon. For many, America has been and is an idea, a dawning of consciousness, a dream of seas of opportunity. It is the albatross that has led to where we are now. As we lean forward into our greater beings, into our multiplicity, remember, the ship we are on is but a nation.


Sometime in the next six weeks, public space will devolve into increments of six feet, and when that happens, what vibe will define the age? What will design be?

As shifts occur in our culture and in our economy and in our ideology, so do they occur in design. It won’t be too much longer until we are stepping back into the world. Emancipated from the help of our three year-old assistants and the persistence of aging, too comfortable sweatshirts, we will return to design, to lift the hearts of our clients, and to collectively and consciously slice and dice, parsing out people and space into acceptable islands of happy distance. Yet it is our conscious subconscious, a shadow collective, that actually speaks from the heart of the people, and it is this that will illustrate the zeitgeist of what we are experiencing, as it occurs in design.

We’ve left the posh, tufted velvet jewel tones and roundedness of yesteryear behind. We said goodbye to the hype, the overblown brights, pastels and patterning. We’ve discarded designs generated in an almost mirror to the economic overdrive of the eighties. Now with only glimmers of financial gain nabbed as jockey to a slingshot stock market, what will we turn to for comfort in the time of cholera?

The engine of Pinterest project imagery seems to have finally stalled out for the moment, currently running rampant in floral scene bread baking techniques, embossed cookies and flowers pressed like wax paper into pasta sheeting. This ‘sameness’ driver that formerly painted young, impressionable designer minds with thirty-one versions of a ten-inch round ball light, has quieted.

In a few weeks, public space will devolve into increments of six feet, and when that happens, what vibe will define the age? One could argue that the next fetch aesthetic could be guided by the idea of either inclusion or exclusion, depending on how you look at it. That people will feel most safe around people they know and that the already ramping trend to curation and membership would just continue as a Soho Housification of the world, a gently curated eclecticism built out of objects that remind me of my childhood home from the late seventies. Except that Soho House has created an internal engine of mimicry that is only an echo of the design world. It is a library mentality, not a collective, but a collection of people and object. Sameness clubs are only an echo of a culture. They lack true vitality.

To know what design vibes will emerge, we need to look at what has just happened to the world. We have generated a global, cultural agreement for a slow step. We have paused. As the earth takes a fresh breath of air for the first time in a long time, we are experiencing the first world-wide, collective mental break as a human race. Interesting things are happening here. We have abandoned the vapidity and righteousness of social media and have begun to use technology to get connected. Working from home, our managers have been forced to leave the factory mentality of direct oversight. Companies have been forced to look at how to create result over supervision. Everyone is calling their mother.

What does it all mean? I believe we are in an emergent unfolding process of becoming re-grounded. As we bunker down with one or two or three loved ones, we are at the same engaging in a greater community of shared experience with the entire world. It is a quieter engagement, less one of show and one that is more deeply interlinked with self. Mine, like many of you, is filled with more self-care, more attention to skin care, walks outside, more cooking, balanced with more global attention occurring as prolonged examination of national and international maps of viral occurrence.

If I had to guess the next design vibe, I would put my money on nature. Natural, rough edge chic has been shadowing the design world for the past twenty years. We’ve seen its simple flares of live edge slabs and hanging plants. While Wallpaper re-posts survivalist, architecturally superior tiny cabins in inaccessible and beautiful locations, a planetary voice for beauty to emerge from the natural world is growing. There is a cry for not seeming, but in being, and this is really an important distinction in design. I’ve been delighting in the addition of new images added to the web, new color palettes of rammed earth, a swell of super-adobe smurf domes, permaculture, proprietary materiality and visions for a natural planet.

Rather than have design occur like an eighties pair of air Jordan sneakers, or today’s adult equivalent, Golden Goose, rather than highlight the condition of’ I have it’, creating the dichotomy of ‘you don’t’, design can surpass Grimhelde’s mirror, escape the colonial echo of societal consumption and emerge in it’s highest form, which is to function as a touchpoint for human enlightenment, depth and compassion, embracing nature and our evolution in sacred space.

  • alexis readinger


I’m a chef’s designer. I’m 18 years in the business of restaurant design in Los Angeles and have been running my nut for 11. I work with possessed, obsessed mavens who bring integrity to every aspect of their art. These are the people that disrupt how we eat. They bring our love to lovage, redirect our respect to farmers, and teach us to celebrate our many cultures of eating. They champion our country’s wild abundance, our freedom, our essential Americana to grow anything, be anything. And they do it all from within an industry that at best expects to make a profit margin of ten percent.

We are entering an interesting period in hospitality design right now. Those of us attached to the restaurant world are on edge about what the shakedown is going to look like in LA in July when the minimum wage increases. Everyone wants a living wage but we are trying to figure out how to manage the margins that are so miniscule already. This is all happening in the midst of massive media attention to chefs, avid food interest and appreciation for food sourcing. It seems everything occurring in the world right now is strangely polarized.

In the food world, it’s exciting that chef driven concepts are stepping into and can possibly assume leadership in the fast food sphere. There is a recognized appreciation for this and a lot of private financing available there. But it’s challenging for young chefs to hold their own and stay true to their dream in the development. We did the first brick and mortar for Chef Johnny Ray Zone of Howlin’ Ray’s last spring and specifically advised them not to take the extra investment money. We knew we could create their restaurant with widely available materials that would limit capital investment and keep concept and profit in their pocket. I could tell you more about the design, but let me just say that six months later, the wait at the door to get into his hot chicken shack has only gotten longer and it belongs to them. So this is the rainbow everyone is looking at in the industry.

How many of you have seen Jon Favreau’s heart felt film Chef? It spotlights the rise of the impassioned food renegade from small truck op to real brick and mortar. It mirrors our collective appreciation for American boot strapping and we all cheer when he finally gets his beautiful kitchen, his very own restaurant. Chef was shot in a restaurant called Hatfield’s that I designed and opened in 2010 for Michelin starred duo Karen and Quinn Hatfield. When we opened Hatfield’s, Johnathan Gold said that that the restaurant (originally owned by Michel Richard) “had been scrubbed to a former glory and it wasn’t until they were in this place that he realized how well they cooked”. It was fine dining done beautifully and with subtlety. It was an (expensive) place you could go and have a private conversation, outstanding service and tailored, innovative food. Four years later, the Hatfield’s let go of the restaurant. With the procession of the recession, the advent of the maker movement and all associated food trucks, the fine dining tide had turned in LA. Ironically, what we celebrate in Chef is the very change in our culture that closed Hatfield’s.

So does this matter? Is this move away from gentrification in the food world a good thing or a bad thing? When Hatfield’s closed, we worried how many of our grand dames were going to be put to rest. How many of our lovely refined restaurants would last? At the exact same time, we were asking how anyone could afford to develop a restaurant in LA, while cheering the rising class of chefs and their popup ingenuity.

It is without doubt that LA is experiencing a restaurant renaissance. Chefs from all parts of the country have turned eyes to LA. We’ve recently attracted national chefs like Andy Ricker, Dave Barren and David Chang. When Suzanne Goin won the national James Beard award for the Best Chef this year, she hand flashed the LA sign and we swelled with pride.

No one was saying even last summer, what a very, very small number of people are saying now. There are just too many restaurants in LA. What is unclear is what will happen in July to our over glutted culture of restaurants locally in LA, where while we are enjoying our restaurant renaissance, every week it’s a new place. This leaves really good emerging or already established great chefs competing with the flavor of the week. As new restaurants pop up every day and the restaurant crowd migrates from new face to new face, what makes a place? We are facing an inevitable crash with the first system malfunction occurring next July. Will the cream rise to the top? Is that an American myth that just doesn’t cut to the heart of the matter?

Personally, I am plagued with how I can do it better. I often eat at a restaurant located close to me that has at best average food. I am located on the edge of downtown LA and there are plenty of places offering better fare. But I keep going there. It’s not about the food. There is one thing on the menu that I eat over and over that is fair to middling. But every time I think to go there, I get happy because it feels like I’m skipping school. It feels like I am going to have a great time. And I do.

The question is why? What makes a food driven person like me, based in the industry, excited to go eat average fare at my neighborhood dig? It is because it has character. And that makes it a place I call my own. These places last. These places matter. These are the places that also make a city beloved. They are the unspoken contrast to the rise of LA’s restaurant culture. And they will last.

My role in this climate is one of protection. As a designer, I stand for my client’s integrity as seen through the face of their business. I am standing for less waste, less turnover, and genuine admiration for both the talents of my chefs and for that of mother earth. I am standing for our community that comes there to experience their food, and my job is to show to them how much it all matters. I think that design that doesn’t begin to address these three things is missing the point.

Great chefs do a lot. Great designers also do a lot. We manage a myriad of details, personalities and potential disasters, while smiling over a cocktail. We have tremendous knowledge of every trade that extends into everyone else’s field. We are some of the most ethical, caring people in the universe. We are visionaries that create joy for people. At its heart, that is hospitality. I stand for business being a celebration of our life blood and support for those around us. Even if it’s just one small shack at a time.


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est. 2005