At New York firm AvroKO, there are four captains—no copilots
Raul Barreneche -- Interior Design, 11/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
With a name inspired by a World War II–era aircraft manufacturer, AvroKO is a 16-person idea engine. This multifaceted New York firm's business combines architecture, interiors, graphics, branding, media, and packaging for two types of clients. The first type includes such internationally recognized names as Adidas, Banana Republic, Sony, and Jennifer Lopez, on whose makeup launch the firm worked. The second group of clients is composed of Greg Bradshaw, Adam Farmerie, Kristina O'Neal, and William Harris—AvroKO's own founders.
Instead of waiting to land their first restaurant job, the four partners have proved their bona fides by developing, designing, and managing NoLIta's hip Public, which won two James Beard Foundation awards. (The AvroKO studio is upstairs, so the partners can be found hanging out at the bar after work, and Farmerie is often in the kitchen, helping out the chef, his brother.)
This self-propelled project has led to commissions for outside clients, the latest being French-Vietnamese restaurant Sapa, but AvroKO hasn't entirely abandoned the do-it-yourself approach. The firm's current effort involves a residential real-estate development in Greenwich Village.
How was AvroKO born?
KO: Greg and Adam had a firm called Avro Design, and William and I had started a company called KO, which did branding and came up with ideas for products. The two entities merged in 2000.
WH: That way, the four of us could have a more immersive experience, not being relegated to one aspect of a job.
KO: We create the brand and sometimes even hire the staff.
Is Public restaurant a typical AvroKO project?
WH: Absolutely. We had our hand in everything.
AF: I did some welding. We also flew in friends from all over—architects and fabricators.
GB: I built the communal table. Four minutes before the opening, I was installing light switches.
AF: We designed and built the place in three months. When you're your own client, the decisions are internal, so everything is quicker, especially the financial questions.
Why a restaurant?
AF: It's an idea I think a lot of architects kick around. Plus, my brother Brad had been a chef in London, and I wanted to get him back. Of course, doing a self-propelled project is always a firm-wide choice.
How does your collaboration work?
WH: We ping-pong ideas off one another. It's rare to have four equal creative partners. We all have different perspectives, but there's not a lot of disagreement. It's truly a melting pot of ideas.
GB: Or a filtering process. Everyone offers ideas, and we run with them.
KO: Nobody ever "owns" a single design. We all put our stamp on it.
AF: Having three other pairs of eyes that you trust makes the process more effective. William and Kristina's background in art direction keeps us from getting "architect-y."
Was this shared process hard to develop?
AF: It's a business model that we fell into. The projects came out of our relationships, building on everyone's strengths.
WH: We've been figuring stuff out as we go along, because we've had no real model to look at.
KO: You can't have a huge ego—I know very few creative people who'd be able to work the way we do, and we've had to make sacrifices. Once we got it, though, we realized that it's genius.
What's coming up next?
WH: More restaurants and bars, brand development for a Baby Phat fragrance, and a house in São Paulo, Brazil, as well as another self-propelled effort. We bought two Greenwich Village apartments that we're turning into units for our Smart Space Project real-estate concept.
KO: The idea behind it is to get maximum utility out of your typical New York apartment—making the kitchen disappear or putting two sinks in a tiny bathroom.
WH: They'll be for sale by early 2005. After that, we hope to do an entire Smart Space building.
What do you do for the cosmetics industry?
KO: We develop brands, create mood pieces, and design packaging, too. It's lots of work, figuring out brand psychology. Then the client's advertising agency translates our ideas into print ads.
How do you brand yourselves, given your wide range of work?
WH: People usually hire us for something they already know we do, and it grows from there.
Do you want to become a big operation?
KO: A midsize shop of 30 people is the maximum. We've turned away a lot of work in the last year.