GRAY Awards 2018 | Judge Spotlight
By Renske Werner
SOME SAY THREE IS A LUCKY NUMBER, BUT FOR NEW YORK-BASED DESIGN FIRM AVROKO, FOUR IS WHERE THE MAGIC'S AT. That’s how many partners head up the critically acclaimed firm. With more than 40 commercial projects under their belts and current work happening in 14 different countries, you could say that the numbers are in their favor.
Working with an approach they’ve dubbed “hospitable thinking”—a combination of scientific rigor and philosophical core truths about what makes people feel good in environments—AvroKO starts each project with concept stories that then guide every facet of the design process, from the initial rough sketches to the furniture and silverware and all the way to the polished branding. Take Genuine Liquorette, a NYC-based cocktail bar conceived as a California bodega-style liquor store. “We each bring unique abilities to the table,” says William Harris,who heads up the firm alongside Kristina O’Neal, Adam Farmerie, and Greg Bradshaw. “This convergence of personalities and talents has kept us nimble.”
Stepping into an AvroKO project is a transformative experience. Whether it’s Beauty & Essex, the delightful New York speakeasy built behind a faux thrift shop, or the laid-back luxury of L.A.’s Faith & Flower, each of the firm’s projects carefully mixes playful elements with expert balance, cohesion, and meaningful details. Less skilled designers might stumble over the thousands of minutiae in each space (in addition to restaurants and bars, their lengthy portfolio includes hotels, food halls, and corporate offices), but the AvroKO partners have a strong history rooted in trust and years of creative collaboration.
The foursome met in their formative years at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and formally banded together in 2001 to design the erstwhile PUBLIC restaurant in Nolita. Seventeen years and more than double that many commercial projects later, AvroKO has established outpost offices in San Francisco, London, and Bangkok and is still pushing the design industry forward with an embrace of maximalism at a time when most others are touting a less-is-more aesthetic.
Today the partners attribute part of their success to their shared commitment to personal happiness: they meet regularly as a group to ensure that each person is pursuing projects that please them. It’s a move that not only keeps firm members invested in their work but also churns out commercial successes. From luxe finishes (leather, marble, gold accents) to over-the-top custom lighting and delightful details (the bathroom walls at Momotaro in Chicago are decorated with 991,000 individual blue-ink pen strokes), AvroKO’s projects transport customers to unexpected places with decadent, sense-encompassing design. With their New York home base and worldwide portfolio, the AvroKO team took something of an outsider’s standpoint on the GRAY Awards submissions, noting that the projects seemed both contemporary and global rather than stuck in a stereotypical woodsy aesthetic. “We were most excited to see that the work submitted didn’t necessarily feel regional in any particular way,” Harris notes. “It was the fresh materials, new building techniques, and humanistic integration of technology that resonated with us.” Adds O’Neal: “Modernism seems to still be a strong driver in many of the projects and pieces.”