On a historic cobblestone city block just south of Houston Street comes Niko – Rafael de Cárdenas’ newest collaboration with New York City restauranteur Cobi Levy. With only a slight nod to the Japanese cuisine served at the establishment, de Cárdenas distances his design from the abundant and ever-so-popular themed restaurants, rather opting for simplicity, a muted palette and luxurious details for this 80-seat restaurant.

Natural materials – from travertine, walnut, blond oak, and ivory, to brass and onyx focal points – lend warmth to the room, while the austerity and subtlety of the design create a sense of comfort. Says de Cárdenas of his design inspiration:

“I wanted to incorporate the beauty of the room; the economy of means, the subtle palette, the sense of intimacy are, in a way, a throwback to the Shinto design ethos.”

A single flight of stairs leads to an open floor plan, interrupted by artist Jim Drain’s specially commissioned stained oak screen. The divide creates two distinct areas: a main dining space in the front, and a more intimate area in the back, complete with onyx and brass opposing sushi and cocktail bars. The main dining room features rows of custom built banquettes along the walls with special seating to enjoy the street view from the rooms double high windows. Above the bars, a pair of lightless chandeliers by Drain serve as focal point.

Along the walls and ceiling de Cárdenas has hand-woven an intricate web of ropes, zig-zagging and stretching from one end of the room to the other, vaguely reminiscent of cat’s cradle. The installation lends a feeling of comfort to the space, enveloping patrons in a cocoon.

By creating distinct areas in a space that still feel unified, open and yet intimate, the designer strives for diners to come back, explore the different areas, and find the one that is distinctly their own.

Niko / 170 Mercer Street (near Houston Street) / SoHo , (212) 991-5650

Photography / floto + warner