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There is a trend in restaurant design that you might’ve noticed, but never questioned. It seems that more and more new ones are opting for a paired down, more raw look–almost to the point where they look like they’re halfway done. A few key similarities: exposed light bulbs, brick walls, and steel details. Some offer a quirky feature, like a surprising approach to the bathroom, but those are mostly reserved for eateries where the aesthetic is more conspicuously-designed.

Industry experts think that this industrial style has less to do with trying to be cool and more to do with economics. Restauranteurs are converting spaces that at another time might not have been given a second glance. Rolf and Daughters, an up-and-coming restaurant in Nashville, used to be an old textile mill. Fearon Hay recently completed a similar project in...

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NRA 2015