Designer Garry Mertins has applied his distinctive style to businesses and homes in Arkansas and across the country – some more than once.
By Kim Dishongh | Photography by Jamison Mosley
Mertins worked on the Clinton Foundation’s interiors years ago, and when the Foundation moved to expand its dining options at the Clinton Presidential Center from lunch and special events to include dinner and bar service, he, again, got the call.
The new restaurant, 42 Bar and Table, needed special planning so security for the Clinton Presidential Library could be preserved without causing an inconvenience to restaurant patrons. Mertins and architect Steve Rousseau worked together to create a new entrance at the bottom of a new outside staircase and a glass entry vestibule just inside the restaurant. The amphitheater-style staircase design they came up with provides a place for the hundreds of school children who visit each day to sit and eat lunch. It also gives the restaurant’s patrons a new experience when entering the restaurant without having to come through the main entrance.
Mertins made sure the bar installed across the back of the restaurant allowed for some separation from the main dining area without creating a barrier between the two by putting up a short wall and a new banquette. “That helped divide it from the dining room but also gives the bar area a defined space,” he says. “But it’s all open.”
Mertins took advantage of the floor-to-ceiling glass that lets in light during the day and showcases the sparkling lights on the Junction Bridge and added linear lighting in the dining and bar areas. He also added USB ports and coat hooks under the bar and covered the bottom half of the bar with wallpaper printed with the building’s blueprints.
“Also, since this is a presidential library, I wanted to have a little bit of a modern take on a patriotic theme, so I did red and white stripes on the one wall, and we did a blue wall in the entry with the 42 stars for the presidents up to President Clinton,” Mertins says.
Mertins took the same flair into a remodel of downtown Little Rock’s Cache Restaurant, replacing dark burgundy velvet upholstery with pops of hot pink, orange and lime green among grey Ultrasuede swivel chairs and cocktail tables on a new colorful geometric carpet in the bar and dining areas. He also added new outdoor dining tables and chairs on the restaurant side and new tall tables and chairs around the communal table which has a fire pit in the center and a new sectional to create a cozy outdoor dining area.
And with the inception of Petit and Keet, the design goal was to provide a more casual, family-style atmosphere with diverse dining areas.
Mertins designed a new entrance pavilion and clad the entire building with locally milled cypress which was torched and stained black before being installed on the building and finished the edges with steel angle corners.
He designed a 17-foot communal table, made from a single locally-milled oak slab, for the bar, which is separated from the party room by locally-milled oak barn doors.
A dining pavilion extension with red metal and glass garage doors was added to the north front side of the building allowing for open-air dining.
A dozen or so red overscaled lampshades are featured, each at a slightly different level from the center of the main dining room ceiling. Edison bulbs hang from a rope wound around a 15-foot pole attached to an oak floating ceiling over the entire length of the bar.
Mertins took down the walls and put in slatted fencing on the patio to allow for better ventilation for outdoor dining and added a sectional spanning two walls.
“We did a garage door that opens at the end of the bar so you can sit actually at the bar outside and look in,” he says.
Mertins enjoys sharing these projects with friends and clients on a regular basis.
“I’m a big food guy, and I’m big on supporting the locally-owned restaurants in Little Rock,” says Mertins.
Garry Mertins Design, Inc.
1500 Rebsamen Park Road, Suite 200
Little Rock, AR 77202
Studio 501. 376.6600