You’ve definitely spotted any one of their wondrous designs before.
New York-originated design & concept firm AvroKO is noted as much for its design projects for big names like Ritz-Carlton, Rosewood and Waldorf Astoria as it is for its own wholly owned, operated and designed range of bars and restaurants. These include Saxon + Parole NYC, Saxon + Parole Moscow, Ghost Donkey NYC, Ghost Donkey Las Vegas, The Poni Room, and GENUINE Liquorette, no less. With a unique design harmonising and highlighting on different eras and genres, AvroKO design exudes a mid-century contemporary panache that challenges the high-touch design of the 21st century.
AvroKO was formed in 2001 by four founders — William Harris, Adam Farmerie, Greg Bradshaw, and Kristina O’Neal, all with multifaceted aptitudes in architecture, graphic design, and hospitality management. The firm’s well-versed design operation brought about a myriad of awards (3 James Beard Awards, 8 Hospitality Design Awards, 2 HA + D Awards, and 2 Gold Key Awards, to name a few. Yet some of their most exciting feats still lie in the year to come, as evidenced in their upcoming projects across the continents, and especially in Thailand alone — think, 3 food and beverage outlets in the new Four Seasons Bangkok, and The Standard Hotel in Phuket.
As we gazed at the flair of Thai Lanna-inspired design aesthetic of The Champagne Bar perched on the 57th floor of the Waldorf Astoria Bangkok, it was almost as though we were pulled into the brio of long-lost time and future-world sparkle. But as much as that was dazzling, what actually had us spellbound was the charming William Harris, who happened to be in town looking over his projects in Asia. The man carried an air of sweet gentleness and amiable elegance touched with warmth – much like that of AvroKO’s design patterns. We sat down with the founding partner of the NYC design firm. Read all about his insights and thoughts in our exclusive interview with William Harris below.
We have a long lovely history. There are four partners. We all met in university so we started off as a friendship and we naturally gravitated toward each other and we helped each other out with architecture and art school. And that layered the foundation. Then we went separate ways for a bit and ultimately Christina and I created a company called KO Media Studios, doing strategy and branding for corporations. Adam and Greg also created a firm called Avro Design, an architecture practice. Eventually, we reunited in New York and one project came up that needed a holistic suite of services and we had all those skills amongst all of ourselves. It was strategy branding, digital, interior, architecture for a fashion service company in New York. So we just tried working together and we found it to be so pleasurable, so fun and inspiring, that we just decided to keep doing it. Eventually, we just mushed our company names together and that’s where the AvroKO name was born. That’s our beginning.
I am very excited about a project we’re doing in Auckland, New Zealand. We are doing an InterContinental Hotel. We strategise the food hall and the most exciting part is that we bring four of our own restaurant brands to Auckland: Saxon + Parole (American Grill), Ghost Donkey (tequila and mezcal bar), The Poni Room (American Izakaya), and GENUINE Liquorette (bar), all of which we are deeply passionate about. They are the real expressions of our passion and interest in the hospitality industry. So it’s a unique mix of experiences and to have them all within this larger ecosystem, it’s really exciting and great to see our brands live beyond New York and bring our sense of hospitality to other parts of the world.
I often find inspiration from the streets. I love the unique, humble, unexpected moments that aren’t traditionally fussed over or called design, fashion, or art. I just love walking on the streets in different cities and just seeing colours, textures, weird connection details, and interesting juxtapositions that can only happen through the chaos. Those could be the moments where you just get real excitement where millions of different dots connect.
The creative process is ultimately a layering process for us.
We work with something that we call design pillars and we typically use three design pillars that we created. There’s a reference point and it’s a bit of a roadmap for designers to follow as well. It’s a loose compass but one is typically a space reference. It’s a sense of a typology of forms and it can be incredibly abstract, it can be a textile factory, a cathedral, or what have you.
The next reference is the time frame, like what would be the distant future or some sorts of era that we can sort of hang our hats on; always with a modern spin though.
And then the last pillar is what we call a muse, and that might be a personality, a story or it might be the muse for the space. And ultimately we’ll melt and layer up those pillars all together. That’s part of our creative process.
I’ll mention one from the past and one from the present. One of my favourite architects, designers, and interior persons is Carlo Scarpa. He is brilliant and very inspiring. Another contemporary that I really like, who’s also a wonderful fellow as well, is Axel Vervoordt. His work is soulfully beautiful and his projects always have beautiful pieces. So I always have art envy when I see his projects.
Going back to Carlo, Castelvecchio Museum which he did is one of the spaces I secretly wish I had designed [laughs]. I just love the details and the materiality is raw and beautiful.
Yes, we are all linked as partners, like one big family. But we have different personalities and that’s what makes our work so rewarding and rare. I would say my contributions are sort of artful contributions. I am both an artist and designer and I think I bring a certain aesthetics, eye and attention to details that come in handy at times.
It’s always evolving, isn’t it?
When we first started, it was a shift from almost commercialised, plastic types of spaces, lots of colour glasses. When we started, we started to bring in an industrial approach then, a bit more raw. And now as we evolve, and the world evolves, I think design has becoming much more bright, airy, and colourful; certainly with a lot of influence from young generations. Also, I think, from the industry standpoint, revolution in design has become much more fluid and almost blurred, like the blurring of lines of different practices. Whether it’s the merging of hospitality within retail or office or residential, so I think programming and the typology is starting to become more of a mashup, which is exciting because it leaves a lot of room for interpretation and unique creation.
I don’t like to think of trends so literally. But I think hyper-locality and sustainability are something that would continue to really become prevalent and I think the design will shift in order to serve those needs because, in my opinion, design ultimately is in service of a bigger idea. There will be a lot more responsibility in our design and the way we live our lives.
So we’re working all over the world, and we are very fortunate and feel very lucky to be doing that. I think there’s a lot of great relevant stuff in our backyard here so we are excited to be doing The Standard Hotel in Phuket, which is coming up. We are developing that now and it’s very exciting to bring the US brand and reinterpret it with the resort’s location so it’s really fun to push boundaries to create a rich, new experience. We are also doing a Capella Hotel in Chongli, China just outside of Beijing. It’s a ski resort destination, which will be really amazing. Those are two that I’m particularly excited about in this region.