Return of the Max: Floral motifs, bright colors, and bold patterns dominate Atlanta restaurant design

For many new Atlanta restaurants, more is more

Maximalist restaurant design Atlanta
An avian-themed mural surrounds the bar at Atrium.

Photograph by Tim Lenz

Pink is a neutral color at Atrium, the eclectic restaurant on the main level of Ponce City Market. There is pink in the upholstery of the banquettes, pink in the avian-themed mural in the bar, and pink in the draperies. That’s not to say pink is the only color—locally made emerald green tiles, for instance, line the front of the bar, amid the riot of hues and textures on display here. Aspiring to create a whimsical world, interior designer Janine MacKenzie and her colleagues at Smith Hanes Studio took cues from French art deco. “A lot of the inspiration came from maximalist interiors,” MacKenzie says.

Atrium is not the only restaurant embracing the ethos of “more is more.” Recent years have brought a shift from the crisp minimalist aesthetic that dominated Instagram feeds over the past decade to one that’s colorful and expressive. One of the most notable examples is the Garden Room, the cocktail bar adjacent to Atlas at the St. Regis Atlanta, which opened in 2019. The hard-to-book locale feels like it was ripped from the pages of Alice in Wonderland: A vaulted ceiling of steel and glass encloses a patio filled with colorful furniture and statement pieces such as a white tree sculpture and a tiled mosaic that echoes the work of Gustav Klimt. “It’s just pattern on pattern,” says Anita Summers, principal at the Johnson Studio of Cooper Carry, the firm that designed the space. “The overarching theme was, Well, if we can add that, let’s do it.”

Maximalist restaurant design Atlanta
Designed during the pandemic, Atrium’s dining room conveys a sense of fancifulness—and a bit of escapism.

Photograph by Tim Lenz

The Garden Room was something of an exception for Summers, whose projects are not usually quite so extravagant. But she’s observed that color is rushing back into other restaurants she’s working on. “For so long, we were doing monochromatic restaurants with steel and glass, and monofilament bulbs, and that industrial look with concrete floors,” she says. “Now, the movement is just more toward decorative and warm metals, and materials that make you feel good.” Not all restaurants have the Garden Room’s budget, of course, but that hasn’t stopped them from flaunting colors and patterns. Summerhill’s Little Bear features dog-themed wallpaper and a bar that’s been hand-painted in pinks and blues; the new Day of the Dead–themed cocktail bar Mambo Zombi pays homage to death in a lively way, with skull-adorned chandeliers and plenty of plants.

At Feedel Bistro, which opened in 2018, owner Tamar Telahun opted for a bold teal banquette that wraps around the restaurant, along with rattan pendant lights. But it’s the pictures on the wall that diners notice first, says Telahun, who’s also an interior designer: “They’re bold, loud, bright colors.” The photos depict members of tribes in Eritrea, where Telahun’s parents are from, and neighboring Ethiopia, where she was born and raised. It was important to highlight people who don’t fit the Western idea of people from the region, Telahun says. One of the photos, for example, is of someone in the Rashaida tribe, a nomadic group of Bedouin Arabs that traveled through Eritrea. “The idea for Feedel is to not just teach people about our food and give them that experience,” Telahun says. “It’s also to teach them about our tradition, culture, music, art, and the differences within the culture.”

This design aesthetic also creates a sense of immersion. Partway through the pandemic, owner Dave Green added a Christmas-tree installation at the bar of his Sandy Springs restaurant the Select. “We thought, You know what? Everybody needs to just be happy,” Green says. So, he and his staff placed a metal grid above the bar, covered it with “snow,” and dangled faux trees and metallic-looking ornaments from it. When spring rolled around, Green kept the metal lattice up and swapped the Christmas decor for silk springtime florals. Next year, he says, he’ll use a combination of real, silk, and dried flowers.

It’s an expensive and labor-intensive undertaking, but for Green, it’s worth it. “The guests walk in, and when they walk around that corner and look up, the coolest thing is they smile and they go, Oh, wow,” says Green. “I’ve been trying to get that reaction out of people for 40 years.” That sense of immersion makes diners feel like they’re having an experience, rather than just a meal.

Maximalist restaurant design Atlanta
The Select

Photograph by Martha Williams

Though the shift toward maximalism began before the pandemic, the return to indoor dining has pushed it into high gear. When Atrium opened in 2022, MacKenzie and Smith Hanes, the founder of the eponymous design firm, noticed that people, especially women, were dressing for the occasion—clad in pink and green, donning tutus and sparkles, snapping pictures for Instagram. “It became an experience for people, an opportunity for them to do something together that wasn’t just, Let’s get together and have a drink and talk,” says Hanes. “It was an activity.”

For MacKenzie and Hanes, who worked on the design during the pandemic, it was a dream realized. The design provided a sense of fancifulness (and a distraction) that diners were craving. “I think it was fun to bottle that feeling and throw it all over this space,” says MacKenzie. “This is fun. This is optimistic. You’re going to have a good time here.”

This article appears in our January 2023 issue.