Kris Moran, Wes Anderson’s set decorator on The Darjeeling Limited, takes Floyd Cardoz’s SoHo Indian eatery, The Bombay Bread Bar, from basic to anything-but
Wes Anderson’s color-saturated, often-antiquated, and occasionally anachronistic films have developed cult followings; the director’s movies are known just as much for their eye-catching sets as they are for their idiosyncratic characters. From the Tenenbaums’ home on Archer Avenue to Hotel Chevalier‘s yellow-hued bedroom, these scenes have inspired a design subculture. An “Accidental Wes Anderson” subreddit and Instagram handle are proof. It’s no wonder, then, that Floyd Cardoz wanted to channel some of this magic when giving his SoHo eatery, Paowalla, a face-lift. To do so, he enlisted Kris Moran, a longtime set decorator and property master for Anderson, who has worked with the director since The Royal Tenenbaumson such films as The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou and Moonrise Kingdom.
The idea came from Cardoz’s close friend Will Guidara, who co-owns the hospitality group that runs Eleven Madison Park and the NoMad. It was Guidara who suggested to Cardoz, the owner and chef of the haute-casual Indian restaurant, that he attempt to wrangle Moran, who was the set decorator for The Darjeeling Limited, Anderson’s colorful 2007 film about three brothers traveling across India together. “I had never met him before that,” says Moran, who received a cold call from Guidara asking her to do the project on behalf of his pal. “He’s just very charismatic and has a very positive energy about him.” The rest is history—or as of 6 p.m. tonight, it will be The Bombay Bread Bar, which is the eatery’s new name to go with its new look.
After a whirlwind installation (Moran transformed the restaurant in only one week), the set decorator spoke to us about the first thing she does when she starts working on a project, why she doesn’t usually spend money on big-ticket items, and the similarities between decorating a restaurant and a set.
Architectural Digest: You have done a lot of work with Wes Anderson.
Kris Moran: [laughs] I have done a lot [of films] with him! The Royal Tenenbaums was my first one. There is so much pink out there now that I wonder how that all started, and sometimes I think if that comes back to Wes and the interior of that house. It was so pink, and I remember thinking, ‘Whaaaaa…’
AD: Tell me a little bit about what you did to The Bombay Bread Bar. Was it just minimal or was it a total overhaul?
KM: We kind of touched every inch of the interior space. We didn’t touch any of the bones. We didn’t do any of those things, like adding a light over there or anything, but we did touch every single surface. Nothing was left as it was. The only thing that’s still there is the bar and the tables.
AD: What was the very first thing you did? Do you have a specific process you follow every time?
KM: We thought about it for a long time, and there was a lot of generous, open dialogue, and I got to know Floyd, the owner and chef. I sort of tried to curb it toward him and his energy and his sentiments toward India. When you’re decorating a film, you get a script and you get a character and you know so much about them, and you know what you want the tone to be in a space, in an interior. In a way, it’s a lot of the same muscles; it’s just a different application. I had Will telling me what he wanted the energy to be, and I had Floyd telling me his sentimental stories about India in the days gone by. It was important that it was fun, but it was important that it had a unifying sophistication.
AD: What was the first item you purchased or installed?
KM: Will in his mind had The Darjeeling Limited; he is a giant fan of the movie, and thought that raw energy would be fun in there. So I started there with that blue two-tone wall that is very represented in Wes’s movie, and everyone knows that color if they’ve spent any time in India. But I wanted to go back even further, and have the bar be sexy, so I was researching India, and I came across this painting of lotus flowers. So at one point I had that one hand and that eventually became one side of that restaurant, and then I had two-tone blue in the other hand. It just became about making them both work in the space. I had those two things and it became about building off those. I just wanted the colors to be very saturated and deep, and that rang true for me in India and in their fabrics, and food, and everything they wear, and everything they eat.
AD: Since you installed everything in a week, were most things purchased in New York or did you ship anything in from somewhere unusual?
KM: We shipped in these plastic marigolds that they use in India for every big celebration—we used those in the entranceway. They encase the hostess stand and you have to walk past that, and then you start to see the whole restaurant. The rest of the things we actually made.
AD: You made them?
KM: Yes, besides the big pieces of art. I think when I get a project I turn on that channel and I just go onto the computer and look at stuff from every angle and I just look for things. I never thought of this before, but you say, ‘You didn’t get stuff and bring it in? You just made it?’ Like, no, I didn’t buy a giant chandelier; I didn’t buy a giant couch. I didn’t have anything vested in these large-ticket items. You have to make those investments aheads of time. Here, so many things were malleable.
AD: Is that how things are when you set-design too?
AD: What are examples of things you created specifically for The Bombay Bread Bar?
KM: We found these old portraits of animals dressed in suits—in the 1800s in India and in Europe and in many other countries, people actually used them as social calling cards. And we found a guy online who could blow them up and make them into big pieces of art without making them look funny. We found a young Indian artist, Moshtari Hilal, on Instagram, who sources these ink sketches from photographs that are originally from the ’70s; the people in the photographs are sort of documented in the same way as if they were getting their passport photograph or something—they’re not smiling. I asked her if we could use them in the restaurant, and we took them and made a wallpaper out of that, and it’s like polka dots of these unsmiling Indian faces. There’s a visual artist from Toronto, and her tag name is @hatecopy. She does these very funny, Lichtenstein-like, comic book contemporary Indian characters who often have speech bubbles on them and inside Indian jokes about contemporary living. I reached out to her and she designed this giant mural that takes up the back wall of the restaurant. And we have this hearth, and I decided to have a friend from college come and paint the face of a tiger over it, with the mouth being the opening of the hearth, and people seem to enjoy that.
AD: The whole idea behind the Wes Anderson design style is so idealized these days, and it’s something a lot of people try to do. There’s even an Instagram movement. How do you know you’re done with a project and it’s just so—like with this one, for instance?
KM: It just sort of came together in the very, very end, and it surprised me as well. You’re sort of just fighting with it till it works. That’s something that comes from painting. You change a color here, you change a color there, you just keep changing it till it work, and I feel like that’s what it’s like when you’re set dressing.