Creating Authentic Experiences at Knoxville’s Newest Restaurant, Celestina Mexican Crafted

Explore the restaurant design that blends warm, inviting tones and clean, contemporary lines.

By Brandi Koloski

Photography by Aaron Ingram

Brooke Barstools with Brooke Chairs in restaurant.

More than your average Mexican restaurant or Americanized taqueria — Celestina Mexican Crafted is bringing a taste of authentic Mexican cuisine to Knoxville, Tennessee. Originally from Mexico, the passionate couple behind Celestina had a clear vision: to blend the flavors of home with modern setting. Using the couple's concept as a guiding light, Knoxville-based firm, Presson Interior Design, was tasked with translating the vision to reality.

The Creative Force Behind Presson Interior Design

With over 20 years of experience in the industry, Deb Presson's journey into the world of design began long before Celestina's inception. With a degree in Interior Architecture from University of Tennessee, Deb honed her craft in Nashville and Charlotte before returning to her roots in Knoxville where she formed her own firm. While Presson Interior Design's portfolio boasts a mix of projects spanning boutique, commercial, and high-end residential projects, restaurant and hospitality design truly ignites Deb's passion — making Celestina a truly intriguing project.

Authentic Dining with a Touch of Modernity

The project began with a deep-dive into the client's backstory and aspirations for the space. The owners, with four successful restaurants already under their belt, were well versed in the creation of dining concepts. While their existing restaurants were also rooted in Mexican fare, the owners had a different vision for Celestina. They hoped to create a dining experience that celebrated their Mexican roots while embracing a more contemporary aesthetic. Their goal was to offer a taste of authentic Mexican flavors in a setting that felt fresh and modern — steering clear of cliché décor commonly found in Mexican restaurants.

In response, Presson envisioned an overall design that would blend warm, inviting tones with clean, contemporary lines. The space was to exude a sense of comfort and familiarity while still feeling edgy and modern — a delicate balance that Deb and her team were eager to achieve. In turn, Presson opted for a palette of green, terracotta, and warm neutral hues, commonly found in the landscapes of Mexico, accented by subtle pops of color that added visual interest without overwhelming the senses. The result is a space that feels natural and focuses more on the food and diners themselves, while remaining familiar and fresh.

Immersive Details

The goal was to create a cohesive, immersive experience that would transport diners to the streets of Mexico while still feeling distinctly modern. Collaborating closely with the owners, Presson incorporated thoughtful design elements to align with their vision — from wall details created from authentic Mexican sombreros to textural rattan lighting and custom neon-look LED signage, every element was considered to create an immersive dining experience. Custom artwork added additional layers of depth, creating an environment that felt both cohesive and unique to Celestina. Even practical challenges, such as concealing unsightly structural columns around the bar, were transformed into design opportunities that not only improved aesthetics, but improved functionality of the bar.

Focal Point Furniture

Reinforcing the authentic feeling of the restaurant, references to Mexican culture were woven throughout. With an emphasis on clean lines and modern elements, Presson's furniture and finish selections aimed to tell a story. More notably the incorporation of Ferdinand Barstool which not only added charm and durability to the space, but acted as a nod to bull fighting. Inspired by Ferdinand the bull, the Ferdinand Barstool features a strong yet minimal back detail that playfully hints at the horns of a bull. More than just a stylistic choice—it aimed to infuse the space with a storytelling element and character that contributed to a memorable dining experience.

For Deb, the most rewarding aspect of the project was the integration of design elements that created an inviting yet sophisticated space. As the doors of Celestina Mexican Crafted open to welcome guests, the result is a new take on the traditional Mexican restaurant aesthetic. Its vibrant colors and contemporary aesthetic allow patrons to find not only a fresh dining experience but a celebration of culture.