Cuisine and hospitality aside, Gardner feels like a retreat. It has a minimal, monastic aesthetic combined with the quaintness of a simple, rustic mountain lodge tucked away in West Texas. The placement and space between the tables is thoughtful and mathematical. Soft light radiating from lamps hanging over each table and creeping in from the dramatic skylights creates a pink glow emitted against the white oak furniture. The high ceilings, warm grey plaster on the walls and linen curtains give the space a cavernous yet cozy vibe. From the fine, handmade wooden chairs to the chunky, bespoke pottery, Gardner was designed with the diners’ experience in mind. “We hope we have created a space so calming and cohesive that when you are there nothing distracts you from the food; a space that only gets better with time,” says interior design Ann Lowe, one of the many creatives behind Gardner’s design.
Gardner is a vegetable-focused restaurant named after chef and co-owner Andrew Wiseheart’s father, Gardner Wiseheart. About a year after opening Contigo in 2011, Wisehart and co-owner Ben Edgerton began thinking of their second restaurant.
“We wanted to do a compliment to, but also of the inverse of, what we created at Contigo,” says Edgerton. “Contigo is casual and meat-heavy. Gardner is vegetable focused, warm, calm and inviting—and a little more refined. We wanted things that are soft, unlike the hard steel we have at Contigo.”
Drawing from their experiences at dozens of restaurants, Wiseheart and Edgerton began thinking about elements they wanted to include in Gardner’s design two years ago. “Andrew and I intentionally chose Baldridge Architects, Ann and Charyl because they come from completely different aesthetics. Burton (Baldridge) is known for his clean lines and modern design, and Charyl and Ann have a great textural sensibility… and we came up with something new and looks really unique,” says Edgerton.
The Texas riverbed was a major source of inspiration when designing Gardner.
Lowe (Edgerton’s wife, then-fiancée) recalls having dinner with Edgerton one evening when he started sketching his idea for having service stations, which were executed by millworker Tim Cuddy.
With the stations centered in the dining area, the waiters never need to return to the kitchen for glasses or silverware. This utilitarian philosophy was applied to the runway leading from kitchen to the dining room. Servers only enter with food that’s being served and never return through the exit with dirty dishes; they go around a hall instead. The idea was to make the space formidable and as fluid as possible, like the flow of a river. In fact, the Texas riverbed was a major source of inspiration when designing Gardner.
With the center serving stations, the waiters never need to return to the kitchen for glasses or silverware. The idea was to make the space as fluid as possible, like the flow of a river.
One might easily describe the modern four-legged chairs, linear architecture, and simple palette of white, black, browns and greys as “Scandinavian,” but interior designer Ann Lowe prefers using the word “elemental.” From the beginning, the duo behind Contigo wanted their second restaurant to be timeless, touched by the human hand, and “of the earth,” Lowe explains.
…the duo behind Contigo wanted their second resturant to be timeless, and “of the earth.
It was up to the team to interpret Wisehart and Edgerton’s vision and make Gardner what it is today. That team was made up of the group at Baldridge Architects, who began working with Wisehart and Edgerton two years ago; Lowe and interior designer Charyl Coleman, who joined the team a year ago; graphic designer Cody Haltom, responsible for the branding—plus contributions from several local makers, including ceramicist Keith Kreeger and furniture makers Michael Yates and Brian Chilton. Even Wiseheart and Edgerton joined in on the fun: the two tried their hand at Japanese preservation method shou-sugi-ban, charring pieces of wood with rented blowtorches.
“It was the hottest day of the year,” Lowe says, pointing to the blackened wood wall at the entryway of the restaurant. “The guys from the Home Depot didn’t even finish.”
The initial inspiration for Gardner was sourced from black and white photos and found natural elements. When Lowe and Coleman met with the architects and designers, they would cart around objects—branches, dried roots and washed stones found along greenbelts—that represented the palette and aesthetic they liked and displayed them at team members’ respective offices. But the look and feel for Gardner wasn’t solidified until April during the Austin Food & Wine Festival, Lowe says, when she and the team created a public installation for Gardner with wax-dipped vegetables and eerie roots and branches. A week later, Casey Dunn photographed vegetables and plates of food prepared by Wiseheart and placed on soapstone, burnt wood, brown paper and several of the props featured at the festival. The end result defined Gardner’s quintessence.
“We’re telling a story about the Texas riverbed and its relationship with the roots, and the water that feeds those roots,” Coleman says. “Having that story gave us a really tight framework – and Gardner is very much a part of editing and refining that narrative.”
Opened Nov. 3
1914 East 6th Street, Austin, TX 78702
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