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Julie Latsko looks back on her tastiest project: Art Smith’s Table Fifty-Two

Julie Latsko

Julie Latsko

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Updated: February 6, 2013 8:14PM

It’s been almost five years since I finished one of my favorite assignments: designing Art Smith’s Table Fifty-Two alongside Andre Walker and David Simmons. So please allow me to be self-indulgent while I describe the birth of our boîte.

It’s not often that a designer gets an opportunity to bring his or her creative energy and spirit to a place that is focused on engaging taste palettes versus color palettes. Nonetheless, that is what becoming interior designer and co-proprietor of Table Fifty-Two allowed me to do.

When the opportunity came to work with renowned chef Art Smith on designing a Gold Coast home for his Southern comfort food, I didn’t pause for a second. I knew I wanted the space — the 19th century carriage house tucked behind the Biggs Mansion — to both reflect my own aesthetic and honor the history behind it.

While Art focused his culinary talents on preparing a world-class menu, I worked on turning the Elm Street space into a cozy farmhouse with multiple dining levels. Whether it was selecting inviting decor for a tight space, procuring opulent raw crystal and steel chandeliers with our design team from Walker Simmons, curating the unique door pulls or bringing in just the right color of stoneware for use in our Southern brunch, the daily design challenges of restaurant ownership kept me creatively buzzed and forward-thinking.

In August 2008, which felt like only a few months after that first planning meeting, we opened Table Fifty-Two. Chicago, which plays host to a wide variety of superior dining establishments, embraced this labor of love right from the start. In fact, when we first opened, reservations were booking up three months in advance! Thank goodness, five years later, we can accommodate all of our wonderful customers more promptly.

When I think back on the last five years, I think about the excitement of welcoming President Obama and the first lady to dinner on Valentine’s Day after the 2008 election, the private brunch we held for Oprah Winfrey right before her last show and personally hosting many family and friends.

It is very satisfying to me that so many Chicagoans have become regulars, and that our little restaurant has become a Chicago institution. A special thank you to all of our foodies, who have come to enjoy everything from goat cheese biscuits to cuisine sourced from Midwestern organic farms.

All of the design challenges are a distant memory and were well worth it. And all of us at Table Fifty-Two look forward to hosting you soon.

Julie Latsko is donating her fee for this column to Chicago Children’s Museum.

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