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Culinary Modernism: Cloth and Flame

From mountain sides and deserts to urban rooftops and beyond, Cloth & Flame has been curating extraordinary dining experiences as experiential journeys — transcending the bounds of traditional restaurants and leading diners into a world where nature, architecture, and gourmet cuisine intertwine.

Cloth & Flame is the brainchild of the Phoenix-based husband-and-wife team, Matt Cooley & Olivia Laux, visionaries who believe that dining could be so much more than just food on a plate. To them, it’s about fostering connections and creating memories. With events in breathtaking locations across all 50 states, from Alaskan mountainsides and Arizona deserts to Oregon forests, their reach is as vast as their vision. Their events offer a respite from the digital age’s hustle, transporting guests to serene locales.

Cloth and Flame Event in Arizona. Photo: Cloth and Flame

In a recent event promoted as “Flagstaff Fadeway,” Cloth & Flame brought an exclusive long-table dinner to the stunning lawn of the High Country Motor Lodge in Flagstaff, part of a weekend music festival inspired by the beauty of Northern Arizona. The festival offered its few hundred guests the opportunity to experience deeply intimate musical performances, kicking off with a five-course menu.

In an era when dinner events can be predictable, routine affairs, Cloth & Flame breaks the mold, ensuring that every event is a surprise and that no two experiences are the same. And with all of the outdoor venues, Cloth & Flame demonstrates profound respect for the environment. They look for spectacular settings and provide the landowners an alternative income source, potentially preserving these areas from development. Moreover, a portion of their dinner proceeds is directed to conservancies dedicated to protecting our planet’s wild and wonderful spaces.

Aspen Forest, Arizona. Photo: Hailey Golich

At Cloth & Flame dinners, strangers become friends under starlit skies, conversations flow unhindered, and in this temporary commune, bonds are forged that last a lifetime. Cloth & Flame’s invitation is open to everyone. Whether you have a culinary dream to chase or are simply open to exploring theirs, gastronomic adventure is on the horizon.

Cloth & Flame serves up a return to authenticity, to the raw beauty of nature, and to the simple pleasure of a meal shared in good company. So, the next time you yearn for a break from the ordinary, remember that somewhere, atop a mountain or in the heart of a desert, a table awaits you. And at this table, you’ll not just find food, but an experience, a story, and perhaps, a piece of yourself that you never knew existed.

Interested in embarking on a culinary journey with Cloth & Flame? Follow the link here.

Visit the Shakespeare Garden at Northwestern University

With Optima’s passion for having nature within reach, it’s no wonder that we are drawn to sumptuous gardens in and around the communities where we build. Imagine our delight in discovering the Shakespeare Garden on the Northwestern University campus, with its rich mix of history and modernity.

Planted in 1917, the Shakespeare Garden has had its home on Northwestern’s Evanston campus for over a century. Emerging from the vision of The Garden Club of Evanston members, it was crafted both as a wartime gesture of solidarity with Britain and to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare’s passing.

Measuring 70 by 100 feet, this garden sits just north of the Frank W. Howes Memorial Chapel, bordered by hawthorn hedges that create an intimate haven. As you enter, the garden reveals a curated collection of flora mentioned in Shakespeare’s works. From fragrant lavender and vibrant marigolds and daffodils in Winter’s Tale, to the rosemary and pansies in Hamlet.

Daffodils in the Shakespeare Garden. Photo: Trevor Duggins / North by Northwestern

Jens Jensen, the illustrious Danish-American landscape architect, brought this garden to life. Known for his influential works on Chicago’s West Side, including Garfield Park and Columbus Park, Jensen took inspiration from Sir Francis Bacon’s essays on gardens. On entering the Shakespeare Garden, you are greeted by two Hawthorn trees, symbolic bridges between the Prairie and the garden. These trees, along with the foundational hawthorns that germinated from French seeds, have stood the test of time, providing a consistent backdrop to this historic site.

Over the decades, the Shakespeare Garden has seen numerous enhancements. In 1929, an Elizabethan-style stone bench and a captivating fountain became part of this serene landscape. The fountain, a generous donation by architect Hubert Burnham, showcases a bronze relief of Shakespeare’s visage crafted by the French-American sculptor, Leon Hermant. Further augmentations followed, including the addition of a sundial in 1990 and later, a reshaping of the garden’s layout based on the recommendations of the English garden designer, John Brookes.

Hawthorn Trees in Shakespeare Garden. Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Brookes’ suggestions, which included moving the sundial to the garden’s center and adding antique brick edging, have given the garden a touch reminiscent of traditional English gardens. This shift also marked the garden’s evolution from a knot garden to a more fluid, perennial-focused design.

Northwestern’s Shakespeare Garden is not only a place for quiet reflection but also a venue for countless weddings, tours, and cherished moments. It’s entirely free and open to the public, but special tours and events may have to be scheduled.

Unearthing the Desert’s Splendor at the Desert Botanical Garden

At Optima®, we’re always excited to spotlight spaces that celebrate the captivating beauty of nature while enriching our communities. Today, we venture to the sun-drenched landscapes of Phoenix, home to the remarkable Desert Botanical Garden. This natural wonder encapsulates the magic of the desert, bursting with over 50,000 desert plants across its sprawling 140-acre expanse.

Founded in 1939, the Desert Botanical Garden has curated an outdoor gallery that beautifully showcases desert plants’ resilience and diversity. From towering saguaro cacti to delicate desert wildflowers, each exhibit is a testament to the rich biodiversity that thrives in the seemingly harsh conditions of the desert.

The garden is more than just a collection of desert flora; it’s a living, breathing embodiment of the Sonoran Desert’s essence. It presents a series of trails such as the Desert Discovery Loop Trail and the Sonoran Desert Nature Loop Trail, each unfolding a unique story of desert life. As you walk these trails, you’ll find yourself immersed in an incredible mosaic of desert beauty.

Sonoran Desert Nature Walk Trails in Phoenix. Photo: Desert Botanical Garden

But the marvel doesn’t end with its spectacular plant life. The Desert Botanical Garden is also an active hub for research and conservation. It is deeply committed to protecting the desert’s natural splendor, ensuring that future generations will be able to marvel at these landscapes just as we do today.

Beyond the exploration of desert life, the garden hosts an array of vibrant events and exhibitions. From awe-inspiring art installations to engaging educational programs for adults and children, the Desert Botanical Garden pulses with an energy that extends beyond its plant life. There’s always something to delight in, learn from, and explore.

Ottosen Entry Garden. Photo: Bill Timmerman and Adam Rodriguez

Visitors are also greeted by the striking Ottosen Entry Garden. This architectural delight, inspired by desert patterns and interspersed with bold plant colors, sets the tone for an immersive desert exploration. It’s a testament to how architecture can meld seamlessly with nature, creating a grand entry into the desert’s heart.

As we at Optima® celebrate the places that elevate our appreciation for the natural world, the Desert Botanical Garden stands as a magnificent testament to the desert’s allure. It challenges the perception of deserts as lifeless terrains, instead revealing an ecosystem brimming with life, beauty, and countless stories waiting to be discovered. The garden invites us all to step into the desert landscape, uncovering the rich, abundant life that flourishes under the Arizona sun.

How Space Affects Mood

Today, virtually every aspect of daily life seems to bring a measure of stress. And when thinking about how to cope, it’s reassuring to turn to science, where research studies continue to point to the fact that human health and the spaces in which we live, work, and play directly correlate with stress levels and mood. Since our earliest years and projects, Optima® has championed the primacy of interior space, and we continue to celebrate its importance for each and every one of our residents — including giving a few tips on how to make the most out of one’s own space!

The Importance of Natural Light

Previously, we’ve spoken about the positive effects of an abundance of natural light and expansive windows and the critical role they play in adhering to our principles of Modernist design. Sunlight alone holds many benefits that go beyond the physical. It helps increase serotonin and endorphin levels, two hormones that significantly boost our mood.

What simple steps can you take to maximize natural light in your space? Start by arranging mirrors to reflect light, making sure you’re not blocking light with furniture, and rethink the use of dark drapes or shades.

Natural light at Optima Lakeview®, Chicago, IL
Natural light at Optima Lakeview®, Chicago, IL

Perception

The impression a space makes affects your mood, as well, and happens on an immediate and intuitive level as your mind and body engage with the physical environment. Picture an expansive living/dining area with floor-to-ceiling windows where you are drawn to gather with family and friends (or curl up with your pooch). Juxtapose that impression with what you would feel when entering a cluttered, dim room with little space to move around.

Take advantage of the layout of your space to maintain a sense of effortless flow in and around furniture and built-in elements, and keep piles and stacks to a minimum!

Introducing Color 

Color isn’t merely visual eye candy, it provides a psychological experience, as well. Beyond the sense of tranquility that the Modernist palette of monochromatic tones of gray, white, and black offer, expanding your space’s palette can make a world of difference in boosting your mood. 

Extending a hand to vibrant colors like red, yellow, or orange can give you feelings of passion and comfort. Cooler colors on the other side of the spectrum, like blue, green, and purple, can be peaceful, calming, or comforting. Sprinkling bits of color throughout your space is a surefire way to add a new emotional dimension to the environment and enhance your mood. 

Terrace gardening at Optima Sonoran Village®
Vertical landscaping at Optima Sonoran Village®

Budding Companions Can Increase Mood

We’ve written in the past about the mental health value of introducing budding companions such as house plants or flowers into your space, based on the results of comprehensive studies that show how the presence of plants improves concentration and memory retention while also reducing stress.

Make a regular habit of keeping plants and flowers around your home, and enjoy their affect of reducing the likelihood of depression and increasing positive feelings — in addition to the aesthetic beauty they provide.

From the feedback we continue to receive from Optima® residents, living in one of our communities sets the stage for high spirits and upbeat moods. With “great bones” in the design of our residences, optimized for openness, materiality and light, the opportunity to transform living space into home becomes a joy.

Optima + Sustainability Series: EV Parking

The evidence that electric and hybrid vehicles are gaining traction is on the roads everywhere. From personal vehicles to rideshares and public transport, we are, as a nation, beginning to embrace the importance of reducing carbon emissions by replacing the fossil fuels that traditional gasoline-powered engines use with forms of clean energy. 

Encouraged by the funding made available to help states fund public charging infrastructure, and Illinois’ ambitious goal to get one million electric vehicles (EVs) on the road by 2023, EVs are becoming increasingly desirable. And those who own and manage residential buildings are faced with the challenge to provide ample access to EV battery charging stations that residents need.

At Optima, we have always been sustainability-focused across our entire integrated business model — from design to building materials to landscaping – and EV parking. We began providing EV parking spaces in 2016 and 2017 at 7160 Optima Kierland and Optima Signature with 8 EV parking spaces, which represented only a small portion of the overall spaces in the garage.

Now in April 2023, Optima Verdana in Wilmette will open with 24% of the total spaces dedicated to EVs. In all of our communities — in both Illinois and Arizona — we have continued to increase EV capacity every year based upon resident demand, with the capacity to reach a full 100% at many projects. In recognition for our commitment to EV parking, Optima Sonoran Village won the Salt River Project Champions of Sustainability Award in the Building Communities for Electric Vehicles category.

Car garage
EV Parking Garage

In a recent Bisnow article that explores how future-facing multifamily developers are preparing for the future of electric vehicles, David Hovey Jr., AIA, Optima president and chief operating officer, observes, “Just from a sustainability perspective, obviously, demand is getting higher from both people wanting to be more sustainable … and cities wanting to be more sustainable, as well as just overall demand.”

Sustainability remains one of our most precious values at Optima. And we’re proud to be part of a growing community of property owners and managers that seeks to support sustainable practices on behalf of our residents.

2023 Design Trends: Designing The World of Tomorrow

The ways in which we live, move, and work are changing fast, and we, at Optima®, believe that up-and-coming architectural trends continue to address many of the challenges faced in modern life. Some solutions focus on more space, more storage, less clutter, and more flexibility. Others address affordable rent, resistance to climate change, and sustainability. These trends, along with a  myriad of others, inspire us and those who are at the forefront of designing the world of tomorrow. Here are some of the trends on the horizon in 2023.

Biophilic Urbanism

Biophilia, a term coined by Erich Fromm in 1964, is the human interaction and appreciation for nature. In 2023, this trend is continually on the rise as we seek to develop buildings that are ecologically friendly in their use of resources. Biophilic design can revolutionize the way we manage stress, increase productivity within offices and educational spaces, and improve mental health, through the use of nature inside and outside of buildings.

While biophilic design is very much at the forefront of architectural trends, it has been central to our work at Optima for decades. Our passionate connection between the built environment and nature continues to be as fluid as it is concrete, reflected in our signature innovation of vertical landscaping. The widespread adoption of this essential design principle, we are excited to welcome others into the process of bringing people and nature closer together.

Sonoran Village®
Optima Sonoran Village®, Vertical Landscaping

Modular Construction

Modular construction has been at the forefront of Optima’s DCHGLOBAL Building System since its conception in 2009 . We began our experimentation with modular construction with Relic Rock, reflecting our commitment to building homes flexibly — in horizontal and vertical directions — sustainably and efficiently anywhere, anytime. 

As part of the broader architectural community seeking modular solutions around the globe, we’re excited by the opportunity to celebrate sustainability and versatility as core values at Optima, while ensuring enduring aesthetics and affordability.

Sonoran Desert, AZ
Relic Rock, Sonoran Desert, AZ

Smart Materials

Through the integration of smart devices in our homes, cars, phones, and wrists comes Smart Materials. Recent developments provide that these materials could eventually respond to changes in pressure, temperature, moisture, and UV radiation, giving architects unfathomable flexibility. Along with an expanded toolkit for designing and building.

Our respect for materiality and space is important for the 360-degree approach to sustainability, and the inclusion of these new and unexplored materials gets us excited about their potential for the environment at large. Part of our role at Optima has been ensuring the environment remains protected with the inclusion of smart materials such as bird glass or green concrete within many of our buildings.

Bird glass
Bird Safe Glass

Community-Centered Design

It is a universal truth that the built environment functions better if those who use it are involved in the process of creation. Designing buildings with community in mind makes for rich and diverse environments where people can be themselves, while also giving them a sense of ownership in the places where they live, play, and work.  As we enter 2023, we are seeing greater collaboration between architects, developers and their communities across the globe — much the way Optima has partnered with the cities, villages and neighborhoods where we have put down roots for more than 40 years.

 

Growing Your Own Herbs at Optima Verdana®

The stellar Rooftop Sky Deck and communal courtyard at Optima Verdana® abound with gorgeous greenspace and reflective hardscape surfaces to reduce heat. Our residents can delight in the outdoors year-round for both recreation and relaxation. And for those with green thumbs, dedicated planters atop the Sky Deck will be home to a seasonal herb garden.


Check your kitchen cabinets, your cupboards, your drawers! If you spend any time cooking, you probably have dried thyme, basil, and even a bit of parsley or oregano. These earthly delights known as herbs are easily accessible from most grocery stores, but imagine what it would be like if you grew them yourself?

In spite of their simplicity, herb gardens are magical places and offer many gifts — from cooking, to medicine, to unique fragrances. Growing your own herbs also serves as an exercise in gratification, and so much more:

Great for All Skill Levels

First, herb gardens are great for beginner gardeners because they require minimal effort and are easier to grow than vegetables. They don’t require large plots of land, and grow well in pots, planters and other containers. Herbs don’t need much fertilizing, which is a huge plus for beginners, and they can handle a wide range of temperatures that’s ideal for Chicago’s seasons. 

Herbs
Basil, parsely, thyme, and rosemary

Redefining the Word “Fresh”

When your recipes call for fresh herbs, what could be more delightful — and satisfying — than heading to your herb garden with a pair of kitchen shears and picking or cutting what you need? And because you can harvest your herbs while you’re cooking, they will always be fresh and fragrant.

Variety is the Spice of Life

Knowing that you have easy access to what you’re growing, you may find yourself with an appetite for expanding your repertoire with dishes that specifically call for fresh herbs. This is a real treat, since the flavors are so much more robust and the option to have full leaves, stems and flowers in your preparations is a real bonus. 

The herb garden also offers the opportunity to experiment with new flavor combinations. Take advantage of your herbs and try out a new recipe or two. Try growing herbs that are uncharted territory for you, this will likely lead to taking new risks in your cooking. Which in turn will enrich your life with new and flavorful experiences.

As you head into the fall and winter months, you can harvest your herbs and dry them indoors. This will tide you over until spring arrives and it’s time to plant again.

Creating A Healthy, Budding Community

The herb garden at Optima Verdana® is part of the powerful community experience of connecting with others around a shared purpose. All it takes is one seed to sow a relationship and build a budding new friendship with a neighbor. This convenience of access offers residents physical exercise, fresh air and the meditative qualities of connecting to the earth. 

If you’re looking for ideas for dishes that will put your fresh herbs in the spotlight at your next dinner or event, The Food Network offers quite a few!

How Denmark is Leading the Movement in Sustainable Architecture

As champions of leading-edge, thoughtfully-designed spaces built to inspire communities, we enjoy sharing the visionary work of others who continue to impact the world’s landscape. One of the world’s leading cities aiming to set a powerful example of how architecture can help enrich the lives of those around it is Copenhagen, Denmark. Let’s take a look at how the Scandinavian country is leading the movement in sustainable architecture.

The Danish capital is embracing the title it received just a year ago as the world’s most sustainable city by championing various sustainable practices. Soon to host the UIA World Congress of Architects, Copenhagen’s latest builds feature a mixture of unprecedented eco-conscious and climate-resilient designs. 

One of the city’s most famous sustainable builds is the CopenHill power plant, said to be the “cleanest-waste-to-energy power plant in the world” and the winner of the European Commission’s Green Building Award in 2012. The unique build is combined with a recreational facility, allowing visitors to ski and sled down its artificial slope throughout the year. 

COBE, Karen Blixens Plads, 2019, Copenhagen, Denmark, Courtesy of Rasmus Hjortshøj

Many of the city’s other leading designs stem from its appreciation for cycling. Since 2005, Copenhagen has spent more than $16 million on cycling infrastructure, including the Karen Blixens Plads, a public plaza that holds parking for more than 2,000 bikes, and Lille Langebro, a cycling bridge that easily opens to admit boats. 

Copenhagen’s love and appreciation for sustainable design is something the country has held for decades, stemming from pioneering architects like Jan Gehl, who promoted humanist architecture in the 1970s. Today, the city relies on local architects and designers to build on its rich history of eco-friendly design. 

At Optima, we continue to explore the best possible ways to create harmony between the built and natural environments to allow our residents to enjoy a healthier, more sustainable environment. From our signature vertical landscaping systems and ample green spaces to the inclusion of induction cooktops, we look to embrace sustainable design in every aspect of our residents’ lives.

With new forms of sustainable design created across the world daily, we can’t wait to continue exploring the ways innovative architecture can contribute to a healthier, more sustainable home for all.

Vertical Landscaping Around the World

Our passionate connection to nature is an essential piece of our identity at Optima and has been since our founding. This foundation has led to signature design elements in our properties, like our vertical landscaping system. From the vibrant greenery that extends beyond Optima Kierland Center, Optima Camelview Village and Optima Sonoran Village in Arizona to the introduction of vertical landscaping to the Midwest’s four seasons at Optima Verdana in Chicago, the lush green element is a cornerstone of our Optima communities. Given our innovation in this arena, it’s interesting to take a look at how vertical landscaping is used throughout the rest of the world:

The Via Verde project, Mexico City

Via Verde, Mexico City 

In 2016, Mexico City began planning an ambitious project to bring vibrant greenery into the city to reduce pollution and welcome additional natural allure to the area. The city came up with Via Verde, an initiative to cover more than 1,000 highway pillars with lush vertical landscaping. Because traffic in the city is some of the most congested in the world, the pillars not only serve as beneficial to the environment but also as works of natural art for residents.  

The vertical landscaping at One Central Park, Sydney

One Central Park, Sydney

Completed in 2012, One Central Park was built as part of Sydney’s Central Park renewal project. The building is a dual high-rise with a height of more than 380 feet, but it is famously known for its vertical landscaping designed by its architects, Foster and Partners, Ateliers Jean Nouvel and PTW Architects. The vertical landscaping system was a collaboration between French botanist Patrick Blanc, the modern innovator of the green wall, and the architects. One Central Park is home to 350 different species, including both exotic and native verdure, and totaling over 85,000 plants that cascade more than meters down its facade.

The Rainforest Chandelier in EmQuartier, Bangkok

Rainforest Chandelier, EmQuartier, Bangkok

Designed by the American architecture firm Leeser Architecture, EmQuartier is a 2,700,000 square foot mall located in Bangkok, Thailand. The innovative design that makes up the grand retail hub features restaurants, offices, event halls, and at its heart, an open-air atrium. In the atrium’s core, an unprecedented 337-foot chandelier hangs with exotic plants spilling from its sides. Patrick Blac – who also inspired One Central Park’s vertical landscaping – not only designed the ellipse-shaped Rainforest Chandelier for EmQuartier but also included two garden areas and a fully landscaped bridge connecting the mall to other surrounding buildings. 

We couldn’t be more proud to have brought vertical landscaping to the Scottsdale and Chicago communities like many other projects have done across the globe, enriching communities and fostering a connection to nature found little elsewhere.

Green Space Spotlight: Optima Lakeview

Open green space can be a difficult convenience to find in many Chicago neighborhoods and properties. However, that isn’t an issue with Optima residences and buildings; we strive to welcome the lush and lively Chicago greenery inside our doors. Our newest development, Optima Lakeview compliments the neighborhood surrounding it with outdoor terrace landscapes, a vibrant sky deck, and nature bridging indoor atrium. 

Optima Lakeview offers communal spaces outdoors that otherwise would be hard to find in the bustling neighborhood for many. Landscaped terraces, full of ornate and healthy foliage provide lush welcoming spaces for many to enjoy the modern architecture that surrounds them over a warm fire pit and private grill for year-round grilling. 

The highlight of Optima Lakeview, however, is its 3,600 square foot indoor atrium. Acting as the heart of Optima Lakeview, the atrium allows for integrated access to both units and amenities. The expansive space, designed by Optima CEO David Hovey Sr., welcomes visitors from the lobby with abundant floor-to-ceiling greenery utilizing Optima’s signature vertical landscaping. Abundant natural light floods the space as glass ceilings open the room to the sky deck and rooftop pool above. For residents, the landscaped center of the atrium that is home to an abundance of vegetation invites the guise of living in an oasis.

Optima Lakeview three-bedroom model residence

Like the green spaces in our other developments, Optima Lakeview’s supply of lush greenery allows our residents to enjoy a wealth of benefits. Green areas in urban environments help absorb excess heat and pollution and provide residents with ample space to stretch and engage around vegetation, improving cardiovascular health and relieve stress. And while urban living is often individualistic, grand communal spaces like Optima Lakeview’s atrium and sky deck promote community and social cohesion.  

At Optima, we are dedicated to bringing the outdoors into our communities. The picturesque private terraces, one-of-a-kind indoor atrium and other lush amenities at Optima Lakeview welcome that outdoor experience and allow us to fashion a sanctuary of our own. 

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