Sara Waxman: Your formal training is as a graphic designer. Was it a natural progression to go from print to interior design?
Nadia Di Donato: Very much so. My print experience expanded when I worked for an interior design magazine. I had exposure to that industry. Our company grew from two to three dimensions organically.
SW: What is your role at Liberty Entertainment Group today?
NDD: I am Creative Director. What that entails is conceptualization and implementation of all of our new projects. My focus is new buildouts. I oversee all the marketing of our new projects. Our company has been growing, so there has always been a new project on the table. We’ve opened two new venues each year for the past ten years.
SW: Spice Route opened in 2008. Walking into that restaurant we were saucer-eyed. You had a vision and created a mood evocative of some- where else. There was sensuality and drama.
NDD: Before we develop a concept there is a lot of research. We study what is happening internationally. I don’t design a restaurant using the trendy materials of the day; I design with the thought of how I want the customer to feel. I create a story board from start to finish. What the space should look like; what food we’ll serve; what the music will sound like; what the servers will wear. First I create a general, broad imagery board of all the concepts. Then I narrow it, massage it into focus. I have been working with my team for thirty years, so we have synergy. We start the construction process. I stand with my foreman, carpenters, painters and create the space like an art canvas. I see things, and things come to me. I am outside the box with all my concepts and approaches. I never conform to a typical construction method. I am a visual person. Often my contractor will say, “It’s never been done that way,” and I answer, “I know, that’s why we’re doing it.”
SW: You have a partner who happens to be your husband. How do you deal with your creative differences considering the fact that you are going home together at night? NDD: We have differences. We are both passionate about what we do. I learned something right at the start: Nick is a visionary. He sees things before anyone else, and has a way of leading and directing. At the onset, he was also hands on in directing the creative side, but as we worked together I began to do a lot more. Now he has confidence in what I can do, and because the company has grown so much, we’ve taken on different areas of responsibility, so we don’t really step on each others toes.
SW: What do you do in your leisure time?
NDD: I don’t have leisure time. I don’t do lunches or shop- ping. In the morning I have my coffee and do my emails. Then about two hours are spent paying all the personal bills. Then I move on to our site, going to suppliers, meeting people all day that are related to our project. I always fit in a pilates session. Evenings, we often have a fundraiser or an event going on in one of our restaurants. We also have to be aware of what others in the business are doing. At night, I put my head on the pillow and I am out.
SW: What are you working on now?
NDD: Right now, its Xango. I want to capture an authentic non-design look and juxtapose the restaurant with the high design Arcane club that shares the building. Xango has a separate entrance, but you can also enter from Arcane. We have also purchased eight acres in Prince Edward County. It has a 12 thousand square-foot old school house on the property. We plan to have a 200-person banquet room and ten bedrooms. It will be like an Inn, a destination, a place for special events. It’s a big project, and that makes it a little challenging. We’re now past the permit process, and this will be an exciting and different project for me.
SW: Where do you see yourself in the future?
NDD: There are always opportunities that present themselves, and we will be a lot more selective in what we do. The PEC project is taking us in a new direction. I love designing, Nick loves creating. I don’t think we’ll ever retire, but our focus will be in an area where we can have a lot more control.
Nick and I have known each other since we were teenagers. At the end of the day, our core values are the same, and we still like each other. He gives me a lot of room to do what I want. Design is very subjective. You can’t listen to everyone, but the one person whose opinion I really value is Nick.