Brand Defined: Decadent Minimalism

Writing by Beth Lebwohl, Photography by Chris Wiley

While FÖDA doesn’t have a house style, per se, the firm is still known for what Butler refers to as “decadent minimalism” (that’s shorthand for lean, crisp style with a hint of flair.) Butler explains further, “We do have an obsession with being reductive, incredibly spare. But other things we do are ridiculously decadent. The [design] output isn’t necessarily decadent, but the methodology is.”

You can find a good example of this at Jeffrey’s, the upscale Clarksville restaurant established in 1975 and is regarded as an Austin institution. The restaurant was re-imagined in 2013 by Larry McGuire, who hired FÖDA to do its re-branding.

Jeffrey's of Austin


FÖDA designed Jeffrey’s new menus to be understated; they feature a muted blue and a lean font. (Minimalism.) But the graphic work on the menus – little drawings of leaves and acorns – was achieved though stippling, a time-consuming drawing process that involves creating contour with pin prick-sized dots. (Decadence.)

“Jett is particular,” says Ryan Smith, Creative Director at McGuire Moorman Hospitality. “He never does things the easy way. I believe it was his idea to collect botany from the local area [for the stippling project].”

Smith tells me that McGuire Moorman has worked with FÖDA since Lambert’s Barbecue — their first joint project — opened in 2006.

“I think it’s because they’re so dedicated to the look and feel of each project — they push through till they get it right,”
Smith says.


A Mini Interview with Art Director Dale Wallain

What’s your role at FÖDA?

I’m FÖDA’s Art Director, having been with the studio for a tenure longer now than any previous employee and through the studio’s longest and most prosperous growth period. I began contracting with the studio in 2011, joining full time on the first of 2012.

I’m humbled and honored to be second to Jett in the room, providing direction, review and production expertise to the other designers as well as handling administration duties when required.

What’s the atmosphere like at FÖDA?


FÖDA is a place where the idea is valued above all else, though we think manners and respect are probably a close second. Being able to draw probably comes in third and constantly trying to improve your skills in delineation is rather critical. The order of those can strike folks as strange for a design studio, but a cursory review of our portfolio should reveal that we like to do a lot with a little, employing restraint and minimalism, and getting an idea to work often with as little as typography alone.

You’re likely to see folks in the studio sketching by hand, heavily iterating, and sharing work with other designers at the table for feedback or fresh perspectives. We encourage delayed use of the computer for as long as possible; the screen is a great place to put the screws to a good drawing or tighten something up, but it’s a horrible place to ideate. We all sit in front of them but we’re desperate to reduce the use of them.


We’re a lean room; everyone essentially does every part of the project to which they’re assigned. You will find a designer on the phone with a book cloth manufacturer on the other side of the world as often as that same person checks in directly with the client, or tidies up the flat file, or pores over research on Texas Germans, methods of making rugs or taxonomies of Byzantine monograms.

What’s your favorite moment been?

The best moments for me are seeing a project well-documented. Nick Simonite’s photographs of the Aurora book that we made are breathtaking.

Writing: Beth Lebwohl
Photography: Chris Wiley

Beth_Lebwohl_pic (1)Beth Lebwohl

Beth Lebwohl earned her writing chops here in Texas, where, for several years, she produced stories for EarthSky, a globally syndicated science radio program. In addition to her passion for the written (and spoken) word, Beth loves the graphic and decorative arts, tea, goat farms and the warm-hearted folks of Austin. She is a proud native of Queens, New York.


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