The Wine Lab is a new space that’s opened in Blacksburg that aims to educate the mind and palate. Unlike traditional wine bars and retail wine shops, they plan on offering a diverse selection of products available on a regular basis. The unique feature of this establishment is its educational mission: not only will it feature wines from lesser-known regions of the world, serving 12 to 15 new wines every month with a focus on a new region each month, it will also host regular wine lessons, lectures, special gusts and special events.
The Wine Lab is so named because it will be designed to be a place that encourages clients to experiment with new wines and the ‘lab’ aspect has the connotation of a place to learn and discover – a fitting theme for a university town.
Last week, we had the chance to sit down with Airiel Barrientos and Holly Waterman, two fifth year landscape architecture students who helped design and build the space, to go over their experience with developing this wonderful new space.
How did you two come to be the ones involved with this project?
Airiel: For my part, I was back in town working as a teaching assistant for Summer Academy. On my first day back, I received a phone call from Brian Katen and he told me of this wine bar that’s opening. He said that they needed help with their landscaping as well as their plants & outdoor space and asked me if I would be interested. I told him that I absolutely would be as I had been waiting for this place to open before this summer. I was very curious as to what they would do with the space and to be able to be a part of that process was even more exciting. I asked whether he’d be able to call Holly as she is my partner-in-crime for everything and he said that he was already going to so it really worked out.
Holly: As for my side of things, I was initially introduced to the project by John Boyer, who opened the wine bar. He actually posted an ad on Facebook with an image of his vision. He basically wanted a jungle back here with as many plants as possible covering the walls, the ceiling, the floor, everywhere… I saw that and even though I was in D.C. at an internship, I responded immediately and sent him my resume through Facebook as I was really interested. I knew about this space and it seemed like a great experience to have. Unfortunately, he never responded so I kind of gave up on it, thinking that he had found somebody else or that it just didn’t work out. But then I got a call out of the blue from Brian Katen and he briefed me on what was going on: he told me that Airiel was involved and that he had spoken to John Boyer. He wanted to form a team between me and Airiel which I thought sounded great as her and I were already a strong team. My internship was also about to end, so I was about to come back into town when this all got started.
What did the design process look like and how did evolve as you two worked on it?
H: I would say that we had a better idea of a process than our clients did as we were encouraged by Brian to approach this in a very professional manner and we had just taken the Professional Practice class. He told us that this was a great opportunity for us to practice having client meetings as well as talking about the financial side of things and figuring out a process that we could work to in achieving our client’s goals in the time period that they’d set out for us. We sent him our first email as a team which was very long with everything broken down and laid out. He had no expectation of that and thought we would just come in and throw some plants up. We had to mix perspectives on how we should go about in approaching everything, but he was open to all our ideas and the way we wanted to work.
We were very focused on the design element but we also had a short period of time so we couldn’t really refine any kind of finished design drawings or anything like that. We basically just had to do a quick sketch of what we thought and then start working because we didn’t have much time before they were opening. I think we had two months.
We did the design within three days and he liked everything with the exception of a couple of pieces which he wanted us to tweak. Once we nailed it down, the next day we were in the car driving to Roanoke to pick up plants, so it was all very exciting.
A: When we talked to him about what he wanted, he actually said that he was after a jungle like atmosphere. He wanted us to put full trees in pots so we had to manage the client’s expectations in regards to how plants work but we took his jungle idea of creating a beautiful outdoor space and were trying to get inspiration from nice outdoor spaces by looking at photos and travelling.
Altogether, I think, we’ve travelled a lot. Especially going out of the country, you get an idea of the vibe you’re looking for in a space like this. That helped us a lot, in being able to find examples of what cool things we would want in this space. After talking to him and getting those ideas, we showed a plan, sketches, a render or two and a lot of photos. Here and there we would grab more ideas to mush together. For example, he (Boyer) talked about the lab aspect and that he wanted it to be very molecular and geometric so we came up with the idea of using Erlenmeyer flasks as vases to put our bouquets in. It kept on developing like that and then before you knew it we had an ongoing list of plants and were in the car shopping for plants which was really fun. We had a very critical and picky eye for the plants to be used in this space so everyday we were back and forth between Roanoke transporting every single tree and bush. When we say we designed and built, we really meant it because that’s what we did.
Did you have any goals in mind in terms of want you wanted out of the project when looking at the old space and what you had to work with? How close did you come to your original intentions?
A: Talking with Boyer and Brian and some of the other professors, it’s funny how they talk about it because it seems that it was just restaurant after restaurant and there wasn’t a business that kept on going – the last being a tanning salon. None of them made use of this outdoor space in a friendly or attractive way.
H: We would pass by everyday going to our studio upstairs and I never even looked in here because there was nothing to see. We knew it was there but we never paid attention because there was nothing to look at. But all the surface materials are all the same as when we started. There was one requirement where we couldn’t dig into the ground or pull up the concrete so everything that was planted had to be in pots or planters. We picked out all the pots that you see around which were ordered online but the wooden planters were all hand-made by a team of woodworkers that they had hired. They were made to the specifications that we designed and they did it very well – we were impressed! It’s all made from recycled wood and was for this idea we had of cascading plants which we really loved – especially the layering of cascading plants. We developed this idea of putting boxes up on the wall and just letting things fall out of them. At that height, putting flowers isn’t as noticeable, and we wanted to have something that creates a green wall. We had intended on asking the woodworkers to create more boxes but Boyer suggested using wine boxes because he had so many so we ended up re-purposing old wine boxes which has worked pretty well.
A: Yes, I would say we came very close to our original ideas. I think one of the really important things we wanted was the cascading like Holly said. The wall is a big one because the ivy is going to take two or three years to grow but it will really take over. There’s something really cool about having this movement of the cascading downwards and growing upwards with the two meeting in the middle which I think is something incredible. There’s something about the flowing plant material which is really magical that was really important to us. I also think that just in the general sense, no matter what, Holly and I really wanted this place to look beautiful. We wanted people to come in and have an enjoyable outdoor space. We wanted ourselves as well as our clients and professors to be proud of our work. We told each other, no matter what, no matter how long the hours, this place is going to look good and that it’s not even an ‘if.’ It has to look good – that was our goal; it needs to be a beautiful space.