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Mission Hills restaurant raises the bar on sustainable design

Living wall, rehabilitative work transforms former antiques shop

The recently opened Patio on Goldfinch has received acclaim from both diners and restaurant critics for its interior design. The living wall developed by Beatriz Arrues is one-of-a-kind in the San Diego dining scene. Photo courtesy J Public Relations

When you walk into the Patio on Goldfinch, one of the first things you will notice is a vertical living plant wall toward the back of the restaurant. It’s the cornerstone of the eatery and what aids the Patio on Goldfinch as an Orchid-award nominee and a shining example of sustainable design.

The Patio on Goldfinch spans 3,900 square feet of casual-meets-luxury interiors with three separate dining areas, with artifacts and heirlooms decorating the Mission Hills restaurant and bar.

The far back of the eatery is the quiet dining area and where the plant wall hugs the restaurant’s back spine.

The wall measures 20 feet wide and 15 feet high with approximately 700 different plants. It covers the entire back wall with various vegetations such as pitcher plants, orchids and flowers from Hawaii.

The plant wall uses a low volume, recycled-water drip system to hydrate itself. Plants and flowers are arranged in a specific way so that the larger ones are at the top of the wall and descend down in size toward the bottom to create shading and protection.

Beatriz Arrues, the restaurant’s in-house designer, was the originator of the living wall. She had never made a plant wall before and said she “kind of got lucky” on how it has turned out.

“We freestyled it,” Arrues said. “We did our research and we just did it. We planted plants that we liked. Some didn’t last, but for the most part, we have had success with our plants staying alive.”

Arrues convinced the owners that she would only furnish the Patio if she could install the plant wall, and bring in artifacts from artist Ronald Allen Wickersham.

“I only had these two requests when the owners asked me to come in and be their in-house designer,” Arrues said. “Luckily for me they agreed and we were able to design the restaurant with these decorations.”

The Patio on Goldfinch, which opened in June, is the third establishment for owner Gina Champion-Cain. The original Patio is in Pacific Beach on Lamont Street and the Swell Café is newly constructed. Each has a plant wall designed by Arrues.

The art from Wickersham includes guardian statues that act has greeters, Arrues said.

In the casual dining area -- the middle of the restaurant -- there is a 38-foot-long contemporary concrete bar with artifacts along the wall. An antique small television and 40-year-old radio are mixed in with the liquor bottles on the bar’s back wall, along with some vegetation to give the space some oxygen and life. The Patio on Goldfinch used to be an old television and radio repair shop.

“The old owner of this building gave us this vintage portable Sony television and radio, probably one of the first of its kind at the time, to help us keep the history of the building alive,” Arrues said.

The casual dining area has a one-of-a-kind communal table for about 10 people made from a Torrey pine tree, and two table countertops that are made of a Brazilian marble stone.

The middle of the restaurant also houses a cheese cave, which acts somewhat like a humidor to age and preserve the various cheeses for seasonal dishes at the Patio, which include the barbecue chicken flatbread pizza and salt-roasted beet bruschetta.

“It is the only one in San Diego and we think the only one in California,” Arrues said. “It was an idea from our vice president of operations, Lucas Reeves. They use these cheese caves in Canada and that’s where the idea came from.”

When you walk into the Patio on Goldfinch, just like its sister eatery on Lamont Street, you are greeted by a large open area with no roof. The patio-inspired entrance is where the name of the restaurant is derived from. There is also a smaller version of a plant wall on the right side when you enter.

The furniture and all of the art is selected by Arrues for a specific reason. “We want the Patio to look upscale with the décor and dishes we serve but also casual with a family feel to it, where you can bring your kids, meet friends for happy hour or enjoy a dinner date,” Arrues said.

The Patio on Goldfinch was designed with sustainable features and is pending a LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

It is hoping to achieve LEED Gold with amenities such as energy- and water-efficient mechanical, electrical and plumbing fixtures; reclaimed wood, remote monitoring for a building operation control system, drought-tolerant landscaping, natural ventilation, skylights and a cool roof system.

The Patio on Goldfinch is also a San Diego Gas & Electric Savings by Design project, with rebates attributed to the energy-efficient design, strategies and technology application.

“It’s an expensive price to try and achieve LEED Gold, but the owner wanted to be as sustainable as possible,” said Philip Cudaback, owner of Lahaina Architects, which help design the Patio. “It takes a large effort on an owner’s part to go sustainable.”

Cudaback said the most challenging aspect of the project was turning an old historic building that used to house a television and radio repair shop into a modern, upscale eatery.

“It has a fire place when you enter to the left, large open Spanish-style doors, a covered atrium, and an open kitchen that with a countertop where patrons can sit and watch the cooks prepare their food,” Cudaback said. “We wanted to have these signature pieces and the architecture to have language.”

Construction of the Patio on Goldfinch, headed by TSA Contracting Inc., consisted of taking the shell of the building and performing major rehabilitation work. The property had been a blight and vacant for approximately five years, Cudaback said.

“We kept the outer walls, but the building was in bad shape so we had to rebuild the back wall,” he added.


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