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A vintage Vespa scooter is parked at the restaurant's entrance, where it functions as a one-of-a-kind host stand. Photo courtesy of Jovanina’s Broken Italian

8 Fresh Design Ideas from Jovanina’s Broken Italian Restaurant

Chef and hospitality consultant Jake Linzinmeir got inspired by fashion, farm buildings, and Mile High City history when designing a LoDo restaurant named after his wife and business partner Jennifer. Now it’s your turn to take cues from his one-of-a-kind style.

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It should come as little surprise that a restaurant by husband-and-wife restaurateurs Jake and Jennifer Linzinmeir is earning as many raves for its eclectic décor as it is for its modern, wood-fired Italian cuisine. Jake is, after all, the principal and design mind behind Denver-based restaurant consultancy Bespoke Concepts, which has helped clients nationwide (including the Nickel restaurant at Denver’s Hotel Teatro) perfect every aspect of their concepts, from branding and menu engineering right down to the paint color on the walls.

But Jovanina’s Broken Italian, a long, narrow dining room (plus subterranean, Prohibition-era-style lounge and upstairs private dining room) that opened at 1520 Blake Street in fall 2018, has been his most personal design endeavor to date. The concept—the Linzinmeirs’ first joint project—is inspired by Jennifer’s Italian heritage: Jovanina is the “broken Italian” version of Giovannina, which is what Jennifer’s family calls her. And the décor—a mix of historical architectural details, fashion-forward finishes, and a bit of granny style—is warm, welcoming, and “very feminine,” Jake says. Here’s how he got the look—and how you can, too.

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A long zinc bar is a sleek counterpoint to timeworn finishes and fixtures, including the building’s original red-brick walls, an antique French stove retrofitted with a farmhouse sink, and light fixtures salvaged from a recent renovation of Denver’s Hotel Teatro. Photo courtesy of Jovanina’s Broken Italian

Honor timeworn finishes. Jovanina’s, which is located on one of Denver’s oldest city blocks, in what was once a 19th-century cigar factory, has beautiful brick walls and arches that had been covered with drywall and plaster over the years, which Jake had completely removed. He left the brick wall behind the bar untreated. To the opposite wall, he applied a traditional whitewash made of lime, water, and salt—“the same formula we used on my [childhood] farm in Indiana,” he says. “On certain walls, it was nice to have a lighter palette, while still allowing the texture to come through—along with a little bit of color.”

Reuse old finds. Old basements often hold long-forgotten treasures that can become the building blocks of new design elements. In Jovanina’s cellar, Linzinmeir found the old freight elevator used to haul bales of tobacco—complete with its gears and pulley ropes—and had the mechanical lift rebuilt into the large, central chef’s table that’s now suspended from the restaurant’s ceiling.

The project’s contractor, Tom Sprung, contributed another local relic: a massive, bronze billboard box from one of Denver’s first theaters. The case, now retrofitted with two-way spy glass, creates an ornate focal point behind the bar.

One of Jake’s favorite design details—the restaurant’s champagne station—is an old French stove with ornate metal legs and glossy, red and green enamel tiles, which he discovered in the basement of an old building in Telluride and retrofitted with a white farmhouse sink. “That thing has followed me around for 25 years,” he says. “When we were designing this space, I thought, ‘this is where it’s gonna go.’”

A rich mix of textures—antique brick walls here, sleek zinc tabletops there—add warmth and interest to the main dining room. Photo courtesy of Jovanina’s Broken Italian

Look in the trash. When Jake created the concept for “Cake Boss” Buddy Valastro’s first restaurant, Buddy V’s Ristorante, at the Venetian resort in Las Vegas, the mirrors that had previously adorned the dining room were removed—and destined for the dumpster—until Jake rescued them and later gave them a new home on the wall above Jovanina’s booth-like banquette seating. A set of chandeliers and globe sconces that once hung in Denver’s Hotel Teatro were also headed for the trash after a remodel, but now illuminate this dining room.

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Think outside the box. The Linzinmeirs were loath to have a traditional host stand at the front of their restaurant. “There’s just something humiliating about having to walk up to a counter to be served,” Jake says. Jovanina’s hosts stand either in front of or to the side of a well-worn Vespa scooter that also doubles as a wine storage cart. “How broken Italian is that?” Jake laughs.

Vintage Michael Thonet dining chairs and curved booths upholstered in Italian leather give the historical space a cool, modern edge. Photo courtesy of Jovanina’s Broken Italian

Take cues from fashion. When choosing leather to upholster Jovanina’s curved dining booths, Jake veered away from dark leathers “that would feel like a men’s lounge,” he says. “I love lighter leathers and baseball stitching. I wanted it to wear like a baseball glove.” The fashion-forward, tangerine-hued leather he settled on “reminds me of a beautiful pair of Italian shoes you’d see in Florence,” he says—yet feels right at home in the candlelit space.

Accent with wallpaper. At first glance, the wallpaper above the restaurant’s long leather banquette looks like a pretty, slightly granny-ish floral pattern. But look closer and you’ll see why the pattern, sourced from Denver wallpaper consultancy WallTawk, is called “Office Baroque.” Hidden among leaves and flowers are broken iPhones, staplers, thumbtacks, and paper clips. “We love wallpaper, and this was our solution to needing artwork,” Jake says.

“Office Baroque,” an eye-catching wallpaper pattern in which iPhones, paper clips, and other office supplies hide among flowers and leaves, embodies Jovanina’s vintage-meets-modern style. Photo courtesy of Jovanina’s Broken Italian

Let there be (candle)light. There’s nothing new about a candelabra, but when a glossy black one is placed upon a sleek zinc tabletop, where it illuminates a rich Italian-leather booth and vintage Michael Thonet chairs (Jake found the latter in a dark corner of a restaurant-supply warehouse), it looks downright edgy. “We say it’s so old, it’s new,” Jake says.

Get personal. Salvaged wooden icebox doors near the kitchen are from Jake’s family’s farm in Henry County, Indiana, where they were once part of a refrigerator that stored veterinary supplies—kept cool with ice harvested from the property’s pond. The farm’s old dinner bell—once used to call family members to the table—now summons diners to Jovanina’s Sunday Suppers. “There’s so much history in every little piece of this place that it feels really good every time I walk in,” Jake says. “This is a unique project in the sense that I look around every corner of the restaurant and think that I wouldn’t do anything differently. Because it’s ours, it really does represent who we are.”

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If you go: Jovanina’s Broken Italian is located at 1520 Blake Street. Reservations at 720-541-7721.

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