Loco For Rococo

Mr. Important Design intersperses cheeky touches (including a wow-inducing overhead mural) with hefty doses of art deco glamour at the Gibson restaurant

Patrons tipping their heads back to take a drink in the Gibson restaurant inside San Francisco’s Hotel Bijou also take in this jaw-dropping sight: a ceiling mural featuring cherubs sporting tattoos and Calvin Klein briefs. That work is by Costa Rican artist Marco Battaglini, who combines a rococo salon painting style with contemporary imagery, advertising references, street art and graffiti.

Gibson Restaurant | Jeff Dow Photography

Banquette seating with “church window.” Photo: Jeff Dow Photography


Battaglini, in turn, was commissioned to create the mural by Charles Doell, principal of Oakland, California-based Mr. Important Design. Doell was brought in by the hotel’s owners to turn the former back-of-house space into a 2,450-sq.-ft. restaurant/bar that wound up bearing the surname of Charles Dana Gibson. He is an American graphic artist best known for his creation of the Gibson Girl, a famed representation of the beautiful and independent American woman at the turn of the 20th century. 

Gibson Restaurant | Jeff Dow Photography

Bar. Photo: Jeff Dow Photography

“The most difficult part of including features like the ceiling mural that may be viewed as unconventional is getting clients onboard,” says Doell. “Typically they are allergic to any element that might offend, confuse or in any way be controversial. But as a designer, I love the off-beat element, the mix of styles that don’t necessarily hew to a given time period or contemporary interior style.”

Gibson Restaurant | Jeff Dow Photography

Private dining. Photo: Jeff Dow Photography

In this instance, the designer used the mural as the centerpiece of the restaurant’s interior. “As expected, there was talk in the ownership group of removing the artwork’s graffiti element. Fortunately, the owners grew to love the piece and it remained intact. It remains a bit of an oddity, as neo-contemporary rococo art is not deco—which another major element of the restaurant’s aesthetics—but that’s what I love most about the space.”

Gibson Restaurant | Jeff Dow Photography

Main dining room. Photo: Jeff Dow Photography

As to how the mural was installed, no, the artist didn’t spend weeks on a ladder, a la Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. Instead, working from a high-rez image provided by Battaglini, the designers arrayed the imagery by mirroring it in Photoshop to create a mural measuring about 20-ft.-by-50 ft. “We were careful to align the seraphim with such ceiling features as the central chandelier, which they encircle,” Doell notes. “We then sent the artwork to HD Walls for printing on a cleanable vinyl wallpaper. They shipped it back for standard wallpaper installation.”

Gibson Restaurant | Jeff Dow Photography

Entry experience. Photo: Jeff Dow Photography

Doell is sanguine about the mural’s impact on the space. “The funny thing about controversial features is that once installed, they don’t seem so controversial anymore. Happens all the time.”

Gibson Restaurant | Jeff Dow Photography

Bathroom. Photo: Jeff Dow Photography