New Haven’s trending and iconic restaurant, The Place 2 Be, is recently completed and is truly the place to be. The bold contrast of black and white branding (perfectly executed using AKDO’s Mantra porcelain) within the interior and exterior of the space draws guests in, but the expansive menu featuring brunch, lunch, and drinks keeps you coming back for more. They are known for their brunch boxes, pancake board, extravagant shakes, fabulous events, and incredible atmosphere, in part due to creative visionary Christian P. Árkay-Leliever.
We had the privilege of connecting with Christian P. Árkay-Leliever, the founder of Arkay-Leliever, to discuss his unique approach to creating this experiential space. He shared a behind-the-scenes look at how he helps brands tell their story through design — from the entryway to the fork they use to the menu and the artwork. We dove into his approach to design, the experiences that shape his perspective, and his love of tile.
Arkay-Leliever is a design atelier based in Fairfield, Connecticut. Christian focuses on brand activation and creating the customer experience in collaboration with founders. He cultivates places for people to enjoy and experience — rooted in hospitality, culture, and cuisine. The experience of working with Arkay-Leliever is more than just working with a designer — it’s working with a creative partner to bring your ideas to life.
How did you get started in design?
I’ve always been a creative person, even since I was a child. I studied Interior Design in Toronto and received my master’s in Industrial Design from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. After working in many roles and traveling the world, I discovered the joy of creating experiential spaces. To this day, I consider myself more a creative than a designer — I have a deep passion for building brands, experiences, and community spaces.
Where does your creative inspiration come from?
It starts fresh with each brand and project I work on. I focus on building brand-centric spaces and taking the time to understand the culture. My process is deeply ingrained in storytelling — how can I tell the brand’s story through design, art, furniture, etc.? By asking these questions and building relationships with the team, I can create a tactile space that provides an enriching customer experience. It’s about creating an emotional connection to the chefs, cuisine, and pulse behind the brand to represent their story through design.
Why are you interested in hospitality?
There is so much to learn from experiencing different cultures and cuisines. My passion for hospitality grew from my travels abroad, my love of food and wine, and my commitment to creating an unforgettable customer experience.
How did you get involved with The Place 2 Be?
I connected with the founder and CEO, Gina Luari, through social media. She had reached out a couple of years before we started working together, and now we’ve been collaborating for 2.5 years. She saw my work creating brands relevant to her target demographic, and from there, we collaborated on The Place 2 Be.
What inspired the design for The Place 2 Be?
The founder, Gina, is a very creative individual, and a lot of the design came from her having creative ideas that I found a way to bring to life. We wanted to tie in the brand aesthetic and create a recognizable space — leading us to utilize the askew black and white stripes in the bar, flooring, and upstairs wall, using AKDO’s Mantra porcelain tile. We also brought the porcelain tiled stripes outside into the patio and sidewalk. I firmly believe that where there’s a will, there’s a way. It was a very collaborative process, and we were able to transform this second-generation space into something that felt on-brand with the trending and Instagram-able style of The Place 2 Be.
Why did you opt for tile in this space?
We looked at many different materials and were drawn to tile because we planned to use the material frequently throughout the space, both indoors and outdoors. Tile can hold up to the high traffic and traction expected in the restaurant. We wanted a high-quality material that would be durable and easy to install.
What made you choose the Mantra porcelain specifically?
The Place 2 Be restaurants emphasize a black-and-white color palette. We chose the Mantra tiles because they tied into the branding exquisitely. We wanted to work with a trustworthy company to deliver quality products and impeccable service. I’ve had an excellent relationship with AKDO, and the customer service team goes above and beyond to provide support.
Do you have any other projects you’d like to share with us?
I recently completed a premier Italian restaurant, Materia Ristorante, where we utilized AKDO products throughout the front lobby and bathrooms. I also have two projects in the works, a brewery in Hamden, CT, and a boutique hair salon in Fairfield, CT, where I am featuring AKDO tiles. Stay tuned!
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