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Q&A

Jeffrey Katz on the sound of a well-designed restaurant

Jeffrey Katz with his wife, Cheryl, who run the restaurant design firm C&J Katz Studio.

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Jeffrey Katz with his wife, Cheryl, who run the restaurant design firm C&J Katz Studio.

Jeffrey Katz, half of the husband-wife design team behind many local restaurants, C&J Katz Studio in South Boston, likens the sound of a well-designed contemporary establishment to a party — “not a loud party, but a nice, lively party.”

As a designer, Katz has strong opinions about noise. “Sound is very important because it has so much to do with the tone of the restaurant,” he says. “For us it is about finding the happy medium between the group at the table and being part of a bigger social scene where lots of stuff is going on all around.”

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Katz, 59, and his wife, Cheryl, have been designing for 30 years. In their restaurant portfolio is Menton, B&G Oysters, Sarma, Sofra, and, currently, a new location for the Asian sandwich bar Foumami. According to
Jeffrey Katz, an architect, great restaurants should have balance. If an element such as the sound level calls too much attention to itself, the design isn’t working. “The experience should be memorable. The food, of course, should be memorable. But if any part of that is bad, that’s what you will remember most.”

Q. How did you begin designing restaurants?

A. Our real start in the restaurant world was No. 9 Park, which is now 15 years old. We met Barbara Lynch through a friend. She was just starting and we were always interested in food. We just somehow hit it off. Since then we have worked with her and have been lucky enough to work with Ana Sortun and other really good chefs.

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Q. Have you seen a transition in fine dining since you began?

A. There was a hushedness and quietness about fine dining. The clinking of the silver and the china and crystal. I think that that’s not the case anymore. No. 9 Park and Menton are perfect examples. They are pretty lively places. They’re formal and the service is quite extraordinary. There are lots of people waiting on you, but it’s friendly and a less uptight experience than what I remember fine dining being.

‘Chefs do not want a review that says it was so noisy in there it was hard to talk. On the other hand, no one wants a restaurant that doesn’t feel lively and happy and like a party.’

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Q. What do your clients think about sound?

A. It’s always top of mind. Chefs do not want a review that says it was so noisy in there it was hard to talk. On the other hand, no one wants a restaurant that doesn’t feel lively and happy and like a party. A couple times, we’ve gotten acoustical consultants involved, usually after the fact, when there’s an issue. One of the things I’m most proud about with our newest project, Sarma, is that it’s just right acoustically. It’s lively. It feels young and hip. But I can always talk to the people I’m sitting with at the table or at the bar.

Q. How did you achieve that?

A. In that case there’s a fair amount of fabric. There are high banquettes in both major spaces. We used an acoustical material throughout the entire space. It’s a very basic material that many, many restaurants use. It just seemed to work.

Q. Have you had any odd sound problems to solve?

A. No. 9 Park had this acoustical property where, not that it was loud, but if ice was dropped in a glass in the bar you could hear it on the other side of the room. So they dampened the whole space with an acoustical ceiling and it seemed to have worked.

Q. Are there some sound problems you just can’t solve?

A. Early at Menton there were a couple of big parties that would typically be at the chef’s table, but they were out on the floor. If people are having a good time and there are eight people telling jokes and laughing, there’s almost nothing you can do about it. The thought was, we have to change the acoustical properties of the restaurant. But in that case it was about changing how the restaurant works. Big tables of people should be at the chef’s table or in the private dining room.

Q. How do you and your wife handle dining in a restaurant that’s too loud?

A. We were in a restaurant in New York on a Saturday night. It was very crowded and they seated us in a room that was usually meant for private dining. There were maybe only six tables. But it was so loud that I went up to the maitre d’ and said if we have to sit there, we can’t stay. It just jangled your nerves every time one person in the room laughed. They were very nice about it. They found a place for us. I suppose that’s the thing to do.

Interview was condensed and edited. Michael Floreak can be reached at michaelfloreak@gmail.com.
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