When I sat down with Tiffany to run through the mammoth project that was Piano Piano, I expected a story just as big.
I wasn’t disappointed.
Splendido reigned for a quarter century as an epochal University District rock and national treasure. With an elaborate roster of concisely-detailed dishes commandeered by the institutions last owner, Victor Barry, it was a lavish nightly production right up until he closed the curtains on New Year’s Eve 2015.
Why? What else do you do at the height of your game, but the unexpected.
You cook the rulebook, flip the script, pull a u-ey.
I hope this ode inspires your own visit.
Order the pizza.
So when Victor and his wife Nikki began dreaming up a fresh space to inherit Splendido’s throne, Nikki casually asked Tiffany to drop by to glean her honest thoughts.
With minimal restaurant design experience, Tiffany walked onto sacred culinary ground with no aesthetic map. Some of the original bones – the bar, wooden arch and giant mirrors – were staying, but the rest was ready to be jolted by her electric imagination. Not one to hum and haw, she hit the gas with a semi-baked mood board they could print out and circulate for opinion, but that was it. With their approving nod in her back pocket, she had two months to pull it off, starting with the stark monochromatic palette.
Tiffany wanted the room to chameleon between being beautiful by day, but sexy and moody by night, but also had a growing pile of conflicting wallpapers she was quickly falling in love with. What colour scheme could support both? Black and white.
One wallpaper in particular, the pioneering seed the entire restaurant grew limbs out of, was a gaudy, gaudy, gaudy D&G-esque pattern. It became the cornerstone, the non-negotiable, even after Tiffany found out the pattern wasn’t available in wallpaper anymore. It’s closest substitute, rolls and rolls of fabric, were flown in for a small fortune, sewn onto panels along the entire back wall and tacked in by a fleet of installers.
Next up, the glass doors and windows were tickled pink, the refined gold lighting strung up, the ancient hardwood floors licked in black, the billfolds wrapped in leftover fabric, the serious menus shaken off into easily-printed newspaper introductions. And the grey, stone face of the restaurant? Its future fate as a pop of pink candy colour covered in blooming flowers was sealed the minute Victor joked that Tiffany probably wanted to paint it pink.
“I said, ‘YES. Yes, I do.’” she laughs. “I felt like people would stop and stare and that’s anything that anyone could ever want in any business.”
When Tiffany showed Victor the swan faucets in the basement bathrooms, another design element was born off the cuff of a joke: Billy Madison “Stop looking at me, swan!” plaques.
“The “Stop looking at me, swan!” plaques in the bathroom with the swan faucets have single-handedly put me on the map,” she jokes. “But people keep stealing them! I think he’s had to buy 12, maybe 14 more.”
Tiffany polished off the basement with a Kajiji-purchased piano must-have while the glamorous party room across the hall, Piccolo Piano, waits for clients like Gucci to come play in the palms.
Back upstairs, the wall of 80’s men’s ties and a glitter-splashed zebra photograph Nikki took on safari were crafted amidst the chaos, but neither art piece could fill out the gigantic white wall still sitting vacant a week before opening.
Tiffany threw out a strategic suggestion, “Why don’t I take your daughter in the basement and do 20 loose canvases with her?” A giant NOPE! followed, but days away from debut, she pitched it as a temporary solution knowing full well the rich story behind it would cement it as a permanent piece. When Victor relented, Tiffany had Charlotte make a small gesture on each canvas before she finished them up herself with splattered colours. They became the talking piece she’d predicted.
“Everyone’s asking where the art is from and it’s me and the two-year-old that did it. In the basement. With paint.”
And with that final, unexpected touch, Tiffany stepped back to take in the entire story.
“I touched everything in that restaurant,” she says. “It’s a place where people can come and eat really great food in a moving piece of art I’ve designed.”