Gaslight This! Restaurants Clamor for Faux-Retro Décor

“We’re not that expensive, but I won’t tell you because the next project I work on I want to charge a lot more!” Johnny said. “A lot of the work I’ve done has been through friends’ networks so I give everyone a break and I feel like I’m screwed in the end.”

 

BRICK-A-BRAC

The brothers used to sign up for separate projects, but these days, they almost always come as a package.

“We’re siblings so I can tell him like, ‘Remember the side of that boat that grandpa had? I want it to look like that,” said Johnny. “The next day he’ll come back with a sample and it’s 95 percent what I envisioned. You can’t pay for that kind of communication.”

They have also done non-restaurant projects. Johnny created the worn-in signs for Ralph Lauren’s RRL stores downtown. And before Mr. Ledger’s unfortunate passing, Johnny said, the actor told the owner of Five Leaves, Judd Mongell, that he wanted the brothers to design apartments in the building above the restaurant, which he planned to purchase. “I guess he wanted to have a place for his friends from L.A. to crash,” Johnny said.

Then there was New York entrepreneur Jeff Dachis, founder of the dot com boom company Razorfish, who asked the brothers to work on his terrace in Nolita.

“It’s actually really depressing to work on private residences because I just know that so few people are going to get to enjoy it,” said Johnny. “But we went crazy in his garden with this Fellini 1940s look because we knew that he was going to have a lot of parties and people were going to see it.”

Of course, as with any other design or fashion trend, the McCormick brothers’ special technique is vulnerable to copy cats. “There are a couple of storefronts I’ve pitched ideas to and then I will see that they have taken my sample and had their friend execute it!” said Kevin, obviously hurt. “It’s rather frightening to see. I don’t want people to think it’s my work. It’s not good!”

Like a Jackson Pollock of walls and ceilings, he believes there is an order to the madness of his painting. “As a minimum, there are probably about 20 layers of texture and paint and finishes of wax, oil, tinted plaster, cross-hatchings,” he said. “Often times I don’t know what I’m doing until I know when to stop!”

Here Johnny had to interrupt. “On a side note, some sample boards he’s brought to clients, they liked so much that a they made off with them!” he said. “He’ll say, ‘Can I have my sample board back?’ and they’re like, ‘Well, I have that hanging in my house upstate.’” (The memory alone made Kevin look like he might faint.) Now when he makes sample boards, he includes a disclosure on the back, specifying that the sample must be returned.

Recently, Johnny paid a visit to the bar Wilfie & Nell in the West Village after a few friends mentioned the similarity it bared to Smith & Mills. Indeed, the light fixtures were old, the brick distorted, and was that rust over there in the corner?

“It was obvious that they were inspired, but it wasn’t dead-on,” he said. “Just the choice of name and then to have those influences here and there on the inside, it was like, c’mon!”

Is it only a matter of time before Crate and Barrel or IKEA starts selling a line of oxidized door knobs, rusty lighting and stained mirrors?

“I think it will happen. Maybe not Ikea, but at like Home Depot,” Johnny said. “But you can’t really replicate it. Not to my eye.”

ialeksander@observer.com