Decorating Lucky's
Internet Café

"I’m a great believer in luck,
and I find the harder I work
the more I have of it."

Thomas Jefferson
3rd president of the USA


"The background details"

It was Thursday. Fall was just starting in Cleveland, when I got a call from one of my previous clients. He needed a painting crew who could do a weekend job on a place they were setting up in Garfield Heights, a suburb of Cleveland. Equipment was going to be delivered early in the week so the place needed to be ready. I told him I could make some calls and agreed to meet him at the place in that evening.

The place had originally been a supermarket, than some other type of business, and lastly, a temporary office space running some kind of community program. So basically, it was a wide opened space. I asked the client what kind of business was he setting up, and he answered: On-line casino -a type of gaming parlor with a ton of electronic slot machines were people sit and play. I had no idea was that was, but I knew about casino games. So I nodded, and followed up with: -"What's the name?" The reply: -"Lucky's Internet Cafe". Of course.

Fall 2011

lucky's-internet-cafe,-2011,-interior-design-by-john-rivera-resto "Lucky's" was opening on the site of a former supermarket. I Photoshoped the name on this photograph to illustrate how the business sign would look like.

I called my friend, Lourdes Figueroa, about putting together a painting crew. I was busy with other work, and this job only required house painters for a short period of time. It was a weekend job that needed to be done fast, because technicians were coming during the week to install gaming computers. Dozens of desks (playing stations) were already there waiting to be positioned for the technicians. This is why the painting had to happen before the following Monday.

lucky's-internet-cafe,-2011,-interior-design-by-john-rivera-resto My good friend and collaborator, Lourdes Figueroa, recruited a weekend crew and supervised the work.

I had collaborated with Lourdes on theater projects, were she stage managed and did a lot of the promotion. Like most theater people, she new her way around sets, so I knew she could handle a brush -or a roller. But the reason I called her first, was because Lourdes knew everyone around that might want to make a few dollars on short notice. So the next day, Friday, Lourdes and I went shopping for materials and went over the particulars of the job. Other than me doing a stopover, I put Lourdes in change of the project. And sure enough, she had a crew of five by the next day. Hurrah for tough, no-nonsense independent women!

lucky's-internet-cafe,-2011,-interior-design-by-john-rivera-resto The space consisted of a centrally located hub for staff and one big opened space. All the surrounding walls were painted blue, green, and orange, with purple triangular banding on the back wall. Wooden computer stations had already been delivered and marked for installation.

The following day, the painting crew had things well in hand. Weeks before the client had received some decor ideas from my friend, artist Hector Vega, and it was he who selected the painting scheme for all the walls. I checked with him before my initial visit to the site, to see if there was anything else I should check on, but selecting the colors for specific walls was as far as he got. This was a plus for me, since I didn't have to waste anytime with the client deciding on colors. I just went along with Hector's color scheme when Lourdes and I went shopping for paint.

lucky's-internet-cafe,-2011,-interior-design-by-john-rivera-resto Natural light filtered through glass windows facing the parking lot. The main entrance was to the right side of the glass windows.

By Sunday, the painting job was coming along fine, when the client also asked us to install wooden railing on a platform, and apply a clear finish to all the desks. I asked Lourdes if she could take care of the extra work, she said yes, then called a carpenter that she knew to come by to install the railings. As soon as the crew finished with the walls, they tackled the desks -all one hundred of them. By Monday, everything was done, and by Tuesday, the desks were in place. Job done.


Conceptual rendering showing the interior design for Lucky's.

By Wednesdays, the technician were installing the gaming computers. The client needed some cameras installed on the outside of the building, so I called my friend Leoner Lugo to take care of the job. By this point of the narrative it must be obvious to you, my dear reader, that I know a few very skilled people. Because of my involvement with art and the theater, I do in fact know good people who, after their day job, need a few extra dollars and the fun situations awaiting them in some of my projects.

lucky's-internet-cafe,-2011,-interior-design-by-john-rivera-resto A photograph of the corner space served as my rendering's background plate.

Artists and freelancers also have erratic work schedules that favors working late hours, and this is precisely the time I need people to work on some of these projects. Many are not always available for every project, but from the pool of friends, chances are someone will be. What's more, when it comes to hiring, it doesn't matter to me the ethnicity, gender, race, age, or sexual orientation. All I want is punctuality, good hygiene, good manners, and the ability to perform the tasks I required done. As for eccentricities, as long as they don't interfere with the work, I turn a blind eye.

lucky's-internet-cafe,-2011,-interior-design-by-john-rivera-resto Same photograph with decorative elements added in Photoshop.

A couple of weeks had passed since the opening of Lucky's, when the client asked me to stop by. The place was humming and business was good. Good enough to expand the operation by opening the kitchen. There was indeed a kitchen, but the place needed work. The new plan was for the client to get the equipment worked on, and for me to put together another crew to paint the kitchen and back rooms. But the real job was going to be cutting an opening through the wall between the kitchen and the game parlor, so that a food serving station pass-through could be constructed.

lucky's-internet-cafe,-2011,-interior-design-by-john-rivera-resto The dozen metal ceiling support post would be decorated with a design of poker cards, LED lights, and white sheer curtains gathered at the bottom.

In addition, the client wanted ideas to decorate the rest of place since the surrounding high walls looked plain. At home I spent a few hours of researching online photographs of similar places to get some decor ideas. In the end, I dropped the search since everything I saw was pretty awful or just plain amateurish. Instead, I went back to the photographs of the place and worked a few ideas inside my head. Nothing came to mind that could be purchased in stores -this is what the client had suggested. So I discarded that idea and decided to start with a blank slate.

lucky's-internet-cafe,-2011,-interior-design-by-john-rivera-resto Conceptual rendering showing design elements scaled to actual size. In addition to the post decorations, large back-lit graphic images would decorate the surrounding walls. These second stage of designs were supposed to be implemented at a later date.

When it comes to decor you have to have a theme, a budget, and a deadline. For this job, the theme was casino games, the budget was small, and the deadline was flexible -the kitchen and pass-through was immediate, the rest of the decor could wait. So I planned on creating a cohesive design for everything, and then do the job in two stages: firstly, the kitchen and pass-through, and secondly, the rest of the decor. Now all I had to do was come up with a design that was uniquely impressive but not expensive, that made the place look more like a real casino.

lucky's-internet-cafe,-2011,-interior-design-by-john-rivera-resto All the "casino" references came from Google Images. Large scale reproductions would then be drawn and hand-painted on plywood panels, and then the designs cut out for display.

It didn't take me long to settle for casino games imagery, specifically, gaming icons: playing cards, dices, and slot machine symbols. This would do very well indeed. But I also realized that the missing element needed to make the place sparkle like Vegas, were lights. So I planned on integrating LED lights -and color lights, into the designs. Now that I had an imagery source, I needed a delivery format, one that was large and inexpensive. So I settled for graphic shapes that could be painted on sheets of plywood, cut to shape, back-lit with color LEDs, and then hung on the surrounding walls.

lucky's-internet-cafe,-2011,-interior-design-by-john-rivera-resto Conceptual rendering of design for pass-through serving station.

Then I thought of a design to cover up the dozen metal support posts scattered all over, by adding a playing card graphic four-sided box on top (with twinkling strip lights handing from the edges), hiding a LED lamp inside the box, surrounding the lamp with sheer fabric that extended down the poles, gathering the fabric at the bottom, and then letting the magic happen. Then, with designs envisioned, I did several conceptual illustrations in Photoshop to show the client.

lucky's-internet-cafe,-2011,-interior-design-by-john-rivera-resto Finished design for pass-through serving station, consisting of an awning, side shutters, and serving counter.

Coming up with a design for the pass-through was fairly easy. Since this was going to happen on the back wall, it needed to command attention. So I envisioned an art-covered awning over the space to make it a festive focal point. Since the pass-through would be closed during certain hours, I also decided to add graphics to the accordion windows that replicated the art on the walls. And so, I created a few more conceptual renderings, and a construction blueprint for the pass-through. When I showed the renderings to the client, he immediately approved them, I collected a deposit, and then proceeded to hire a crew.

lucky's-internet-cafe,-2011,-interior-design-by-john-rivera-resto Completed pass-through serving station. It is an exact construction of the conceptual design. Everything was built and painted at our shop, then transported and assembled on site.

All the parts for the pass-through were constructed and painted at my workshop. I had two artists assisting with the painting, Denise Aviles-deNoble and Joey Santana, once I had cut all the wooden sections. After the pieces were primed white, I drew on them the designs and they proceeded to paint them. The final outlining of the graphics in black was done by me since this required the experienced hand of a sign painter -which I have.

lucky's-internet-cafe,-2011,-interior-design-by-john-rivera-resto Accordion windows slide open to reveal the kitchen.

At the site, with the assistance of an experienced carpenter-plasterer, we cut through the wall only to discover that major electrical lines were at that exact spot. So I called another electrician friend to route the lines out of the way. This, of course, meant more expenses and a few extra day's delay, but these are things to be expected in renovation jobs -which I explained to the client when I handed him the additional bills. Shit happens.

lucky's-internet-cafe,-2011,-interior-design-by-john-rivera-resto The accordion windows were created from re-purposed one-foot wide hollow closet doors. The awning was constructed out of plywood and wooden boards.

With the electrical problem taken care of, the rest of the crew continued patching and painting the kitchen walls. Then we assembled and installed the pass-through pieces that we had constructed at the shop. The finished piece was a beautiful work of decorative art. One thing about me is that I don't usually get excited with the finished product, because I have already envisioned it in my head and in the conceptual rendering. So the finished product, at least to me, is nothing more that the realization of an idea that I have been living with for days. The "wow factor" is lost to me.

lucky's-internet-cafe,-2011,-interior-design-by-john-rivera-resto We used semi-gloss water-base paints for the woodwork, and artist acrylics for painting the designs.

During the initial painting done by Lourdes' crew, the restrooms had been painted. But I also added a few decor touches to make them special. Again, I went for simplicity and low cost: a playing card design painted on the stall door, and a window with a view by the sink. This last one would be painted on the computer, printed on vinyl paper, and pasted to the wall. Simple but effective. This is the beauty of designing from scratch -your imagination is the limit; anything is possible.

lucky's-internet-cafe,-2011,-interior-design-by-john-rivera-resto The finished piece is a work of art that is practical, aesthetically pleasing, and faithful to the theme of the place.

The final component in my decor scheme, was a rest area toward the front of the space. This area was immediately visible from the main entrance, so it had to be "wow". To centered the design, I created a large window with a city view and flanked it by lighted curtain columns. The image would be created on the computer, printed and applied like wallpaper. Then a center rug would be alligned with the large window, and furniture added to make the sitting area into a beautiful tableau. The rest of the design pieces will consist of repetitions of the same icons and motifs.

lucky's-internet-cafe,-2011,-interior-design-by-john-rivera-resto The public restroom were painted white and a glossy orange. A wallpapered image was designed to make the space less claustrophobic.

lucky's-internet-cafe,-2011,-interior-design-by-john-rivera-resto A printed image of a window, opened to a peaceful landscape, creates the illusion of a view to the outside.

lucky's-internet-cafe,-2011,-interior-design-by-john-rivera-resto The stalls were a focal point, the first thing visible upon entering the restrooms.

lucky's-internet-cafe,-2011,-interior-design-by-john-rivera-resto The stall doors became playing cards. A very simple and elegant solution that made a very humble space look unique.

After completing the first stage of the design job -creating the pass-through, I took time off from the job until the client decided to continue with the second stage of decoration. This was fine with me since I had other jobs to attend to. Then, in less than two months, I heard the following news: Lucky's had been sold. It so happened that my wily client had his ear to the winds of change, brought about by the political mood on online gambling, the forces opening a new casino in downtown Cleveland, as well as other like venues in the state. So he decided to leave this type of business behind while the pastures were green. Good move.

lucky's-internet-cafe,-2011,-interior-design-by-john-rivera-resto In addition to the gaming area, we also cleaned, patched and painted the back rooms and kitchen. We worked long hours so, from time to time, I took short breaks wherever I could.

lucky's-internet-cafe,-2011,-interior-design-by-john-rivera-resto Before we could implement the second stage of wall decorations, Lucky's was sold to a new owner only months after opening. So all that's left of Lucky's, are these photographs and good memories.

Well, that was the end of this story. But I did enjoy the challenge of this design and making some of it a reality. This is the type of job that helps break the monotony without getting boring. This is so because you can do them within a month's time. It's like putting on a show in which you are the writer, the producer, and the director. You enjoy a good run, and then you move to the next project. So in retrospect, I can honestly say, that: -"I have been a lucky guy."


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