For the design of Wayla, a new eatery in Manhattan’s Lower East Side neighborhood, local practice CRÈME took its cues from the lively street markets that rope across Bangkok. Jun Aizaki, the founding principal of the Brooklyn-based studio, worked with a close-knit team of restaurateurs and investors to develop this multifaceted project. His infusion of objet d’art sourced from Thailand’s famous flea markets is an ode to the bustling metropolis.
Reminiscing on the design of the space, Aizaki recalls a time before social distancing, when he conjured up a unique combination of architectural elements that encourage gathering. “It’s everything we can’t do right now.” With a limited budget, he opted to play up the tenement building’s vernacular characteristics—the deliberately visible water pipes; raw, unpainted brick walls, and monolithic concrete floors. “These elements became unwittingly part of the environment, a surprise that we intentionally emphasized to distinguish the space and tie it all together.” These motifs recur throughout as an overarching aesthetic framing a myriad of community spaces.
Situated in a tenement block, the new multi-level haunt is carved out between two connected buildings. “I liken it to a hole-in-the-wall dungeon, a mysterious bar-restaurant that needs to be uncovered.” Visitors first encounter Little Wayla, the above-ground daytime spot for lunches. Along a hallway, a staircase appears and leads down to a green tile-clad bar where people can find a pleasant perch. The concepts behind the two distinct spaces elude to the establishment’s namesake, Wayla, which means “time” in Thail. While Little Wayla refers to a short amount of time spent grabbing a quite bite, Wayla suggests a longer amount of time spent relaxing and enjoying a meal.
Outside in a residential courtyard, a seating area is adorned with antique elements handpicked by the restaurant’s owners. The collection of objects borrow pops of color from the graphic patterns sporadically placed on indoor walls, unfolding as a vibrant menagerie of finishes and furnishings. There, string lights and candlelit lanterns embellish the “Thai jungle in a concrete garden.”
Header image: When visitors first walk into Little Wayla, they are greeted by a multichromatic panel scheme. (Nicole Franzen)