Tara Dennis, co-founder and director of design firm Archie Bolden, has been on a quest to discover the artist of the Outkast-inspired mural located in the basement of a building on historic Hotel Row in Downtown Atlanta.
The search has been unsuccessful but the mural on the brick wall at 219 Mitchell St. was likely painted sometime around the release of the Atlanta hip-hop duo’s “Atliens” album in 1996. Dennis and her firm are incorporating the mural into the design for Slater Hospitality’s Thirteenth Floor, a cocktail lounge. Above the basement cocktail lounge will be Slater Hospitality’s Pizza Clementine, a carryout pizza shop, also being designed by Dennis’ firm. Both are expected to open later this year as part of Newport RE’s revitalization of South Downtown.
“Right from the beginning, Newport said that we weren’t allowed to touch the mural. It was part of the leasing documents,” Dennis said. “They considered it essential, not so much heritage, but it’s like very much inherent to that space.”
The space-age design, the colors and a research of Atlanta’s style in the 1990s are expected to influence the final design for the “speakeasy” lounge, Dennis said.
Dennis is originally from Australia where Archie Bolden made a name for itself as an interior designer known for sleek, contemporary designs, although hip-hop murals were not part of those jobs. She recently opened a second Archie Bolden studio in Atlanta where she sees an opportunity for the firm’s fresh take on design to make its mark.
“We obviously want to understand the history of a site or just what it’s all about and not just walk into a space and guess or come up with a design that’s not anchored in any kind of meaning,” she said.
Besides Slater Hospitality, some of Archie Bolden’s clients include Rooftop L.O.A. on the roof of the Interlock building, the planned apartment tower by LV Collective in Midtown, Delbar Atlanta, BRASH Coffee Roasters and Bibi, the recently opened Persian restaurant at Ponce City Market.
Dennis’ mom is from Atlanta and her dad is from Australia. They met at Georgia Southern University where her father got a scholarship to play baseball. After they graduated, they got engaged and moved to Australia. The family divided its time between Australia and Atlanta and Dennis received dual citizenship. She moved to the U.S. about four years ago and eventually settled in Atlanta where she opened an Archie Bolden studio in Little Five Points. Her business partner, Hayley Richards, oversees the company’s Australian studio.
Dennis talked about interior design, what she hopes to bring to Atlanta’s design scene, and the question she gets a lot:
Who is Archie Bolden?
When Hayley and I came together as business partners we wanted to have a name that we both felt comfortable working under. I didn’t want her working under my name … so Archie Bolden is our alter ego. He is a cheeky interior architect that has a very bold personality and a lot of fun. So we just made it up and we pretend he’s a real human. We give him a big personality and we we play around with it as as a human because we believe in designing spaces that are about people rather than just designing spaces for the sake of it looking good. We think that essentially we’re providing a service as humans to other humans and it just so happens to be interiors. So it was really important that we as a business had a human persona.
What is the process you all use when designing a concept for your clients?
Every project is approached the same. We’ve got three or four pillars of service being interior architecture, interior design, interior, decoration, and then creative direction and consulting. And no matter what size of project it is, or what it’s about or where it is or what brief we’ve been given, everyone obviously gets a design concept. And that’s a document that can be 10 pages long to 50 pages long. It is really helpful to know like what that site means to the city of Atlanta as a whole because we feel like if we’re going to be adding to the fabric of the city, we’ve got to understand what we’re kind of weaving into. We go really hard on concept and design development … and we do that for every project. We come up with a theme or a concept and we give it a name. For example, this one with LV Collective, there’ll be a really intense research document, because we also need to be understanding that we’re predicting the future in a project like that. They won’t start construction for at least another year to 18 months, and then it could be another 18 months to two years before they even finish and then it might be another six months after that before people are moving in. So the design decisions we make now have to be based on the fact that they’re going to be relevant in four to five years. So it’s really important that we understand what the market is experiencing right now and therefore where it’s going to be going.
How would you describe the design that you see in Atlanta?
I can see what Atlanta was and what it’s trying to be and where I think it should go. So what Atlanta and the South have always been is quite traditional, quite conservative design, overly decorative, very generally pleasing and not a lot of friction. Where I think Atlanta is right now is a very big transitory kind of status in that it really wants to push into something more, really wants to be taken seriously and on par with all the other bigger cosmopolitan cities. However, we’re still kind of in that process of moving away from traditional and I think there aren’t a lot of designers or architects in Atlanta that do more contemporary design. The simple answer is I don’t know if Atlanta knows what it is right now, because I think it knows what it was like to be and it can see what it has been. But right now we’re in that in between. I think in the next five or six years is where that huge shift is going to happen. I think after a lot of the spaces are built out over this next five or six years, all of a sudden everyone’s gonna look around and go holy smokes, we’re very, very contemporary now. I’m excited for us to kind of be at the forefront of that of that change in the city. I think it’s really stepping it up and putting us on more of the world map.
How do you think Archie Bolden can make its mark on Atlanta?
The new developments, the new spaces, they’re very much 40 and under, and a lot of those people are coming from out of town where things might be a little bit more contemporary and design forward. So for us, we see that as the opportunity because we’re not trying to design differently to a way we’ve always designed. We’re not like a local design firm that’s always been quite traditional and decorative who have clients that say we want to be contemporary. And these firms are like, ‘We don’t know how to do that.’ For us, it’s inherent to our designs. We look at design all around the world when we’re pulling together a concept for Atlanta, so we’re not just looking at what’s going on in Atlanta. We do have a world view. And so there’s a huge opportunity for us, which was a big reason why I decided to move to Atlanta and take a stab at it because I don’t see anyone doing the work that we’re doing here.