In a space once occupied by a discount variety store and a bookstore, we transformed the 3,000 sf space into a community gathering place and a modern ode to California-inspired Oaxacan cuisine.
Comal’s interior features original exposed board-formed concrete walls, while the original wood lath was saved, cleaned, and reinstalled as a space-defining, prominent decorative surface.The space’s raw, yet refined aesthetic features locally blown glass pendants, custom copper mesh drum lights, and steel bar shelves and stools, all made locally. The back side of utility grade oak flooring was used as a bar wall material. Richmond based Ferrous Studios custom built the bar stools, bar shelving, table bases, and back patio gate and firepit. Robert Trachtenberg of Berkeley-based Garden Architecture, designed and installed the back patio landscape, while his brother, David Trachtenberg designed the Cor-Ten steel facade.
Abueg Morris Architects asked Helen and John Meyer, of world-renowned audio company Meyer Sound, to collaborate on Comal. The result is the first restaurant to create an optimized aural environment using Meyer’s “Constellation” active acoustic system and their proprietary noise dampening panel (named “Libra”). Comal’s staff can dynamically control the space’s sonic ambience leaving an energized “buzz”, while still allowing intimate conversations, even on a crowded night.
According to client John Paluska, who managed the rock band Phish for 17 years, “Noise is one of the top complaints in restaurant reviews. At Comal, we don’t want a space that is hushed. We want it festive, but not overbearing.” To control baseline acoustics, repurposed coffee bags wrap “Tectum” wainscot panels, and sound absorbing panels were installed between the ceiling’s exposed framing. Further dampening occurred utilizing the Libra system, with local artist Deborah O’Grady’s Oaxacan street photo and Billy Martin’s commissioned painting above the bar. “Most people don’t think this place has been heavily treated for acoustics. It’s not obvious. They are fairly invisible and look decorative,” adds Paluska.
Next, the Constellation system’s 123 speakers and microphones actively pick up the room’s ambient sound and regenerate an enhanced sound wash. With an iPad, the staff can heighten the “buzz” around the bar and lower it for dining room guests. “I use the analogy of a photo taken with shallow depth of field,” explains Paluska. “Up close, the image is sharply detailed, while behind it there is a pleasant, but undefined setting. That’s the sound environment here. There’s a bit of cognitive dissonance where you walk in and think, I’m not going to be able to have a conversation. Then you sit down and realize there’s this little bubble around your table, and you can converse easily.”
Comal diners experience an aural ease that a typical restaurant just can’t provide.