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Five Questions About Tasting Room Design: Et Fille Interview with Common Bond Design

Et Fille Wines is so happy to finally have a tasting room to welcome guests after thirteen years of being open by appointment only! We were very careful with the design of the space and loved our experience of partnering with New York based interior design firm Common Bond Design. Our partnership with Common Bond Design was a natural extension for us as it is owned by Sherry and Alex Kalita. Yes- as in Kalita Vineyard, from which we have proudly produced single vineyard Pinot Noir since 2004. Common Bond Design is run by vineyard co-owner Sherry and her daughter Alex. So... mother/daughter vineyard/design duo with impeccable style and taste. We had a chance to discuss our collaboration with Sherry and Alex. Here are the highlights:

One of the Common Bond Design goals seems to be about bringing personality into a space's design. How did you bring the Et Fille brand to life when designing the tasting room?

The name, the logo, the tasting notes…they all nod at the father-daughter effort behind the wine, particularly the dualities implicit in that relationship, though always in a light-hearted, playful way.

 The yin and yang wall paint – an off-black and white – was the most “on the nose” interpretation of the great work that comes out of the pull between masculine and feminine, the gravitas of age and the expansiveness of youth. We interspersed playful pale pink to tie in the logo and keep it from feeling too literal.

 A subtler move was to invert the branding on Et Fille’s website: instead of black and white photography on a colorful background, we displayed large-format color photography against a black and white background. Jessica and Howard wanted storytelling to be central. The photographs are so vivid – they visually signal that the featured people, process and terroir are the life of the wine. The map of the Willamette Valley on the back wall achieves that same impact through scale.

 Honestly, Howard and Jessica made it easy for us to inject personality! Et Fille as a brand has a clearly defined, consistent and fun personality. And we had the added bonus of a pre-existing relationship through Kalita Vineyards.

 

What did you learn about designing a wine tasting room and how was it different from other projects that Common Bond Design has done before? 

This was Common Bond Design’s first commercial project. We’re used to the process of function leading form in residential projects – but with Et Fille’s Tasting Room we had to apply a whole new industry-specific rulebook. Textiles had to stand up to commercial traffic and red wine spills, storage had to be designed to accommodate specific bottle and glass dimensions, the bathroom and bar had to be ADA compliant.

 We learned from the local winemaking community. We asked Jessica and Howard how they anticipated their needs. We visited tasting rooms throughout the Willamette Valley to ask questions about their spaces (what worked? what didn’t? how would you improve it?), took measurements, and snapped photos. It was wonderful how openly neighboring tasting room directors shared feedback.

 

The Et Fille Tasting Room feels open and welcoming. What advice would you offer to create a welcoming environment? 

Well, first off, Et Fille is open and welcoming.  When a guest walks into the tasting room, a warm, knowledgeable Et Fille representative – often Howard or Jessica – greets them. It’s the people who create the experience.

 The space design honors that. The bar is situated on the left, so that guests’ bodies are positioned towards a friendly face when they swing the right-hinged door open from the street. Furnishings are spare, so that people have space to congregrate and interact with the wall art, which tells the story of the people and terroir behind the wines. The bar is open on one side, so that an Et Fille rep can circulate between the standing tasting counter, seated tasting table and club member seating, answering questions or refilling glasses. Seating is organized into smaller, more intimate pods, with wall paint and furniture layout serving to reinforcing the visual illusion of a series of more comfortably proportioned “rooms” within an open plan.

 Howard and Jessica were clear that the objective shouldn’t be to maximize occupancy, but to maximize personal interaction with each guest. The storytelling element behind the photographs and map allow guests to engage with the brand, even if the Et Fille representatives are momentarily tied up with others.

 

The Et Fille Tasting Room is designed to serve multiple purposes in a small space. How did you approach that? 

We took the same approach as in residential design: multi-purpose furniture and storage, storage, storage.

The key distinction with commercial design is that I think people want less ambiguity from public spaces. Ambiguity leads to misuse leads to awkwardness.

It can make multi-use furniture trickier to incorporate, but it can also be an asset. For example, we originally lobbied for a bar open on both ends for traffic flow. Jessica and the contractor came up with the idea of incorporating the ADA-compliant bar on one end. In practice, it serves two purposes: it’s a tasting surface for wheelchair users and it clearly communicates to guests which side of the bar they are meant to stand on.

The “room” order subtly communicates a continuum of public to private. You enter into a waiting area – where you could comfortably poke your head in and ask a question; you progress to the casual standing tasting bar – available to anyone during open hours; then, the club seating area where members are encouraged to drop in and hang out; then, the more structured seated tasting area on an appointment basis; and finally, the private office and the bathroom. 

 

What have you learned about working as a mother/daughter team? How is a family business different from other businesses?

Alex: I can tackle this one. It’s different in a million subtle ways; I’ll pick one. As a young adult, it’s tempting to define your identity in opposition to your parents.  Running a business requires a very pragmatic type of introspection. I watch my mom regularly interact with clients and grapple with creative puzzles. The success of our business depends on my ability to recognize when her interpersonal communication style is more effective, when her instinct trumps mine, when her creative process is just more efficient. Instead of the common refrain, “please don’t let me become my mother,” there’s a career incentive – an imperative really – to say, “here’s how I need to become my mother, because she is just so good at X,Y and Z.”

Sherry: It provides a financial incentive to admire your parents?

Alex: Yikes, it does sound like that I’m saying that, doesn’t it?...I think it’s more about observing how your family member moves successfully through society as an individual and seeking that same success? It’s cool to see your parent operate outside the family dynamic! And as for the parent-child business, I think that’s particularly unique – and at times, uniquely challenging – because you throw a generational gap into the mix.