The Diner by David Rockwell @ Salone Milan 2018

The Diner by David Rockwell @ Salone Milan 2018

To celebrate its 25th anniversary, Surface magazine  teamed up with celebrated architect Rockwell Group to explore American design by recasting a U.S. icon.

The Diner, is presented as an unforgettable contemporary interpretation of the archetypal roadside restaurant.

Rockwell teamed up with and design consultancy 2×4 to create The Diner, which is located in one of the cavernous vaults situated below the tracks that run into Milan’s Centrale railway station.

The centre of the space is occupied by a 14-metre-long bar, from which drinks are served and where diners can sit.

The Diner has been conceived by David and his team as the ultimate gathering space for Milan Design Week, taking guests on an experiential road trip through landmarks of American diner culture, transporting guests seamlessly through different vignettes that draw on Rockwell Group’s expertise in set design and hospitality.

neon lighting spells out some of the cuisine on offer, including burgers, shakes and fries.

During the day, the Diner offers a contemporary take on quintessentially American food and drink, and features a conversation series and other programming.

At night, the space transforms into a nightclub featuring performances and parties.

The installation is operating as a restaurant and bar for the duration of the week, serving typical American cuisine in a setting inspired by traditional diners found across the United States.

Providing riffs on aesthetic ideas from around the country with a modern twist, the space merges 4 x different types of Stateside eateries: the Roadside diner, East Coast luncheonette, Midwest diner, and West Coast diner.


Diners are uniquely American and enduring in our cultural iconography,” said Rockwell. “Our goal is to capture the restaurant’s inherently optimistic and democratic spirit that draws people of all backgrounds to create a welcoming, lively, engaging, and fun environment. ” ……………….. David Rockwell


Marcus Fairs,


Yvres Behar



The entrance, inspired by the Airstream, serves fresh coffee and homestyle pie.

The journey will continue with an East Coast–style luncheonette, where visitors can enjoy milkshakes and other classic diner fare.

A branded version of grilled cheese sandwiches will be served in the third segment of the space, a room that pays tribute to diners of the Midwest.


There’s an inherent democracy in the design of a diner that has to do with the counter – something we’re making very prominent, ” …………… David Rockwell


The experience concludes with a laid-back West Coast lounge concept.


I couldn’t be more excited to be partnering with David Rockwell and 2×4,”bringing this powerhouse team to the international stage during the world’s largest design and furniture fair is the perfect way to celebrate Surface’s 25th anniversary.” …………………… Spencer Bailey, Surface editor-in-chief






Seating around the high counter is provided by bar stools, which are considered an American design classic, while booths line the long sides of the arched room.

The front portion of the Diner is coloured in shades of grey and decorated with metallic accents.

A fringe of curtain separates the monochromatic zone with a bright pink area in the middle, which then gives way to a tropical aesthetic towards the rear.

Providing the strong visual identity to The Diner, is renowned design studio 2×4, which created the project’s design universe, from custom fonts and signage to menus.



To accompany the installation, 2×4 created branding and a bespoke typeface, which is used for the neon lighting.


Outside of the U.S “many would say one of America’s distinctive qualities is optimism — an endless appetite for openness, possibility, and potential. I would say that American identity is currently challenged.”

“ We wanted to capture that paradox in The Diner’s identity.” ………………”  Susan Sellers, creative director and partner at 2×4


Back Stage

At the back, a stage is set up to host talks and other programmed events during the week, flanked by plants and lounge seating.

Furniture from American brand DWR is used throughout the space.


Breakfast         8am – 11:30am
Lunch       11:30am – 5pm
Dinner             5pm – 1am

Attire: Casual

Culinary Team

Chef John Delucie
Chef Justin Neubeck
Chef George Mckirdy

Via Ferrante Aporti 15

David Rockwell believes that 20th-century diners largely embodied the U.S.’s interest in innovation and manufacturing, not unlike the tech giant today.

I got interested in diners early on, because they cover such a wide range of ideas and typologies.

My first way into the idea of the diner was when I was a kid growing up on the Jersey Shore.

There was a place there on the boardwalk in Long Branch called Max’s—which is actually still there. Max’s has grown over time, but back then it was a 25-seat hot dog stand.

Another early diner experience was at the first New York City restaurant I ever ate at, Schrafft’s, which was part of a chain of upscale coffee shops.

Later, at age 12, when my family moved to Guadalajara, Mexico, my diners became corner taco stands.

I remember this small taco stand in Guadalajara where in the front, instead of having a pie counter, there were 10 big bottles of fresh juice.

As a kid who moved around a lot geographically—from Chicago to New Jersey to Guadalajara—there was something about diners I found welcoming. In the face of this movement and uncertainty, diners were like a home away from home.



Several diners have been seared into my memory over the years: Square Diner in New York City’s Tribeca neighbour hood, which is actually a triangle, not a square, and has survived since its founding in 1945;

Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop, which is part diner, part greasy spoon, a direct cousin; Bubby’s, also in Tribeca, which is not a direct descendant of the diner, but is a local equivalent; Fog City Diner in San Francisco, which was, I think, one of the first “designer” diners; and the Robinson Ale House in Asbury Park, New Jersey.

In some ways, diners reflect what so many of us love about Apple as a company.

They’re seamless, with curved edges.

They represent an American interest in innovation, and particularly manufacturing, with their pressed stainless steel elements.

One thing that’s iconic about diners is the counter, which is now ubiquitous in restaurants—open kitchens are everywhere; chef’s tables grew out of diner counters.

Another is the use of booths. I love the fact that you’re in this public space, but also in your own world, with your own jukebox.

Then there’s the material pallet and the food.

There’s something about the use of glass and stainless steel that’s interesting. For instance, the rotating pie display—it teases you.

Another classic element of the diner is the relationship between you and the server.

You can see that, both in the real world and in pop culture, in When Harry Met Sally, Pulp Fiction, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, obviously the movie Diner,

Edward Hopper’s paintings, or the 1997 TV show Union Square, for which my office designed the set.

There are all kinds of definitions of “American” right now—some good, some not so good. But I think American-style diners are inherently optimistic.

The notion of a home away from home, open 24/7—that not only emphasizes staples like bacon and eggs, but maybe some local flavor—is such an American idea.

The diner grew out of a belief of democracy of design. It was one of the first examples of this.

“Democratic design” may seem prevalent now, but this idea has been around for a long time, and the diner was one of the earliest examples.

It was both accessible and special. It was rooted in newness and freshness, with the food being cooked right in front of you.

It was an early exploration in hospitality, which is now embedded in every industry.

Everyone likes a diner.

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