Sixty Vines has a Napa Valley farmhouse chic decor, created by Kate Murphy. 

Sixty Vines has a Napa Valley farmhouse chic decor, created by Kate Murphy. 

Rose Baca/Staff Photographer

Hatsumi Kuzuu and Kate Murphy design restaurants for a living. They work for themselves, creating dramatic spaces in some of Dallas' most exciting locally owned restaurants and bars. 

Their jobs seem pretty cool. But that's exactly what somebody sitting inside one of their restaurants would say. 

"It's hell," Kuzuu says. She's laughing. Because it's true.

Designer Hatsumi Kuzuu says the rock behind the bar at Tei-An took her seven months to find. 

Designer Hatsumi Kuzuu says the rock behind the bar at Tei-An took her seven months to find. 

Tom Fox/Staff Photographer

"I think some people don't understand the level of detail," Murphy says, "plus all the administrative crap." In some restaurants, designers buy dozens of accessories. And it's a long road, as most are involved with a restaurant for a year leading up to its opening.

Murphy, who owns KMIA, and Kuzuu, who owns Kuzuu Design, are charged with telling a restaurant's story — on its walls, at its tables and even in its bathrooms. They create that story long before a customer sits down for dinner.

Some of Murphy's most well-known projects are her farmhouse chic aesthetic at Sixty Vines, the handsome saloon at Billy Can Can and the no-nonsense feel at TacoLingo. Kuzuu had fun with bright colors at Urban Taco, modern art at Foxyco, French-Southern designs at Filament and clean lines at FT33. (The last two have closed, but their interiors are still memorable.)

Kuzuu doesn't even have a website. Murphy does, but her restaurant designs speak louder than a website could. Both spend their workdays digging in antique stores, choosing floor tiles, sourcing slabs of granite and doing a fair amount of (literal) heavy lifting at restaurants.

We asked each one to take us inside her workday.

When designing a restaurant, where do you start?

Kate Murphy has been a designer in Dallas for about 20 years.

Kate Murphy has been a designer in Dallas for about 20 years.

Shaban Athuman/Staff Photographer

Both say it's important to separate their personal tastes from the wishes of their client. "It's never about me," Kuzuu says. "I try to take their vision of the dream restaurant. I am just the vehicle."

She often sits down with a prospective restaurateur to talk through colors, textures and menus to try to capture an aesthetic.

Murphy, whose credentials include being an interior architect in addition to a designer, agrees. "It's always good to have a narrative," she says. That was never more true than at Billy Can Can, a restaurant named after a fictional cowboy. The restaurant Murphy designed intentionally feels like a bar where Billy would hang out.

With a less literal project, like Sixty Vines, Murphy says she was still able to create lots of personality. "I think it has a resort spa vibe that makes you want to stay a while, like a vacation you hope doesn't end," she says.

What colors or styles do you prefer?

Designer Hatsumi Kuzuu says she doesn't advertise her work. "People have to find me," she says.

Designer Hatsumi Kuzuu says she doesn't advertise her work. "People have to find me," she says.

Shaban Athuman/Staff Photographer

Kuzuu loves concrete and steel. "I just love texture of any kind," she says. When she designed the Deep Ellum bar Hide, she created chandeliers out of copper mesh fabric. She also made a macramé rail at the original Malibu Poke on Oak Lawn Avenue in Dallas.

Her art becomes part of the design. "It's like a signature I leave," she says. 

Hatsumi Kuzuu designed Malibu Poke in Dallas. She made the macramé rail herself.

Hatsumi Kuzuu designed Malibu Poke in Dallas. She made the macramé rail herself.

Jasmine Anwer/Courtesy

Murphy likes anything from nature. "I don't want anything to be manufactured," she says. "I want everything to be real." 

While Murphy doesn't often make art for restaurants like Kuzuu does, she's known for modifying design pieces to make them unique. At Uncommon Lighting in the Dallas Design District, Murphy works with owners Laura and Scott Mayborn on all sorts of bespoke projects.

She sometimes repurposes pieces of furniture or accessories from her own home, too. "I'll take something out of the attic and put it in a restaurant," she says. (And does she miss that piece? Nah: "I don't find value in stuff. There's always more stuff," she says.)

What's one of the strangest jobs you've done?

Kuzuu designed Steel Restaurant and Lounge, a sushi bar in Dallas that opened in 2000. After that, she got involved in managing the restaurant. When a fleet of chefs quit, she was left to run the sushi bar — a job she was not trained to do. 

"I didn't eat fish," she says, but she was interested in the art of styling food. "The next day, they made me come in early so I could learn. ... Two weeks later, I was making dragons [out of food] and stuff."

Give us some design tips for our own homes.

The "rule of threes" in design suggests that an odd number of any item creates visual intrigue. Murphy shrugs it off: "Anytime somebody says you have to do everything in threes, I'm like, 'OK, Joanna Gaines.'"

Another tip: "You should never have anything smaller than a basketball in your house," she says. "Small objects are just little tchotchkes, not little works of art."

Where do you like to shop?

Kuzuu recommends Caspar and Gerard's Antiques in Forney. "It's like Canton, but warped from a different world," she says. She also likes Nadeau in Dallas (which has lots of locations), because she can find imported pieces of furniture from countries like India and Thailand. 

Murphy likes Big Mango Trading Co. in the Dallas Design District for its artistic objects. She loves plants and often buys greenery for restaurant projects from Southwest Wholesale Nursery in Carrollton. And she recommends Benny Jack Antiques in Dallas.

For more restaurant stories, follow Sarah Blaskovich on Twitter at @sblaskovich.

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