A Look at Big City Design by Lupi & Iris

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DOWNTOWN RESTAURANT Lupi & Iris has quickly become the “It” place in town, encapsulating the feeling that it’s not like any other place in town.

And it really isn’t. The lounge bar, which you walk through on your way to the dining room, feels elevated, friendly, vital – spacious and airy, too, the central horseshoe-shaped bar with shiny brass accents bringing the idea back that’s the place to be. The dining room beyond smacks of sophisticated fine dining but not stuffy.

“We wanted it to be modern, and we also wanted to create a big city feel,” says Michael DeMichele, developer and architect who owns the restaurant along with Adam Siegel, former executive chef of Bartolotta Restaurants. Siegel and DeMichele knew they could make a statement with the space — the ground floor of building 7Seventy7 at 777 N. Van Buren St. — the moment they set eyes on it. “When we first talked about it, we thought it was the perfect place,” says Siegel, referring to the size (10,500 square feet) and generous floor-to-ceiling windows.

Lupi & Iris; Photo by Marty Peters

The duo worked with Deerfield, Illinois design firm Knauer Inc. to achieve their goals, one of which was to shape distinct areas into the floor plan, each setting a different yet unified tone by being at home. both courteous and approachable. Lighting was at the heart of the whole project. Creating a warm, incandescent glow in the evening requires sophisticated LED warm dimming technology, calibrated to occur so gradually that the restaurant does not notice it.

For DeMichele, getting the right feeling — the romantic quality of dining — became his passion. While it may seem like the curved chandeliers are responsible for this warmth, they “act like jewelry,” creating “sparks of light,” according to DeMichele. Most of the lighting actually comes from pointed cans hidden between the wave-like sound deflectors in the ceiling. “[They create] a reflection of harsh light on the tables, but that’s the key [that] you don’t really see the source unless you’re looking for it,” says DeMichele.

The walnut paneling and upholstered walls, along with the dark wood flooring, could have transformed the dining room vibe into a “masculine steakhouse”. This is where color comes in – and a bit of disagreement. DeMichele pushed for the chairs to be blue. “I felt we needed a splash of color,” he says. With all that wood, “I was nervous about a sea of ​​brown.” Siegel says that although he initially “struggled” with certain color choices, “[DeMichele] pushed me and finally we couldn’t be happier.

Michael DeMichele, left, and Adam Siegel; Photo by Marty Peters

While the design speaks of refinement, Siegel was adamant about keeping at least one thing informal – the table tops. “We are in Milwaukee. We want people to feel relaxed,” DeMichele says of the removal of white tablecloths. They eventually opted for bespoke leather surfaces.

For other aesthetic details, the partners called on talents close to home. The collagraphic prints on the walls were made by DeMichele’s wife, Margaret. “We thought it was important that the narrative of the work fit the space, [and bring] softness and color,” says DeMichele. The artistry works in tandem with the modern direction of floral arrangements, which are created by Siegel’s wife, Daria.

Balancing the big city energy with a minimum of that relaxed Milwaukee vibe was the challenge. The steady stream of diners and drinkers suggests that Lupi & Iris is exactly what Milwaukeeans want right now.


This story is part Milwaukee MagazineOctober issue.

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Rozella J. Cook