Reprinted from the May 2010 issue of MidSouth Magazine
The Design of Restaurant Iris
by Margaret B. Atkinson
When describing his work at Restaurant Iris, designer Jackie Glisson is filled with excitement and pride over the rebirth of this Midtown restaurant space, previously home to La Tourelle.
In fact, Glisson is so enthusiastic about the transformation, he refers to it as the “crowning jewel” of his career and frequently stops by to make sure the restaurant experience remains as fresh and unique as opening day.
“It is a beautiful, tasteful space without pretension,” Glisson says of the restaurant. And, thanks to Chef Kelly English’s vision, Glisson has overhauled this unassuming space to add inviting Creole flair to the already culinary rich Overton Park district.
Moving from New Orleans to open Restaurant Iris, English had specific ideas about how his Memphis restaurant would mirror the experience of his childhood spent in southern Louisiana, frequently mentioning the words “inviting” and “comfortable” during his first meetings with Glisson.
From their initial conversations Halloween weekend 2007, it became important for both chef and designer to create a new identity, separate from what former patrons of La Tourelle would expect from a familiar space.
When the renovations began in early February 2008, Glisson opted for a soft color palette, choosing neutral shades with names such as “Toasted Wheat” and “Platinum” from Pratt & Lambert’s paint deck.
And while the new color palette denoted a departure from the restaurant’s previous identity, both were adamant about preserving quirky elements of the Victorian cottage that emphasized the home’s French Quarter appeal.
Like so man Midtown Memphis homes, Glisson says the uneven floors and crooked door casings that lead to each of the four dining rooms only add to the authenticity English desired; he even asked Glisson to add brick pavers to the restaurant’s Copper Room, hallway, and restrooms. “Another authentic New Orleans design element,” says Glisson.
And while a fraction of the the New Orleans character was admittedly manufactured, some elements of the original home seemed sealed by fate – or perhaps a little voodoo magic.
Contractor Mike Hinton’s renovation team discovered a leaded glass fleur-de-lis transom tucked in a hallway, too far away to be seen. “We moved it behind the new bar and backlit it,” says Glisson. “Kelly felt it was one of the reasons he was meant to be in this space. The fleur-de-lis is actually a silhouette of an iris.”
From the rotating artwork displays to the distinctive lighting purchased from local stores, Graham’s Lighting and Worlds Away, Glisson’s down-to-earth attention to detail ensures even the seasoned restaurant regular will continually find new elements to appreciate.
“Without question, his food and menu are the stars of the place,” says Glisson, “but the whole dining experience is designed to address all of your senses.”
Glisson and English are so committed to the New Orleans experience at Restaurant Iris that in addition to Food and Wine magazine’s “Best New Chefs for 2009″ and countless local accolades, Restaurant Iris was recognized as the “Best Bet Outside of Louisiana” by Louisiana Life Magazine, a testament to authenticity at its utmost.