Restaurant designers AvroKO find recipe for success in Hong Kong

New York designers AvroKO use their own restaurants as test beds for their wacky fusion of the retro and the contemporary

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 July, 2013, 2:43am

New York design firm AvroKO doesn't merely design intriguing and stylish restaurants and bars - it owns and operates them too.

The firm, established in 2000, is made up of architects Greg Bradshaw, Adam Farmerie and graphic designers William Harris and Kristina O'Neal.

They met at college and reunited to merge their respective multidisciplinary skills in the world of restaurant interiors.

Their first project, Public, a 1930s-inspired restaurant they still own in New York's NoLIta neighbourhood, won awards for restaurant and graphic design.

AvroKO went on to cement a reputation as the tastemaker of highly creative and efficient restaurant aesthetic concepts with a series of projects.

They include The Stanton Social on the Lower East Side, sporting interiors that pay homage to the neighbourhood's once vibrant dressmaking and leatherworking businesses - think leather straps and a herringbone-patterned wine wall in the dining room and lounge with vintage kimono-inspired "dressing screens" in the upstairs lounge.

The firm soon moved on to international projects and, having spent time in Thailand sourcing wood and ceramic items for various projects, established an office two years ago in Bangkok. "We also have a bit of an attraction to the grit and unruliness (sometimes) of it all," said Harris. "It's invigorating and edgy, and so it speaks to us."

More recently the team designed the rustic yet sophisticated interiors at modern Catalan restaurant Catalunya in Hong Kong.

The 8,000 sq ft venue near Happy Valley Racecourse features an AvroKO-designed brass and glass chandelier over a centrepiece roast-pig carving station, a walnut bar and, with a nod to Spain, curved red-leather banquettes in the formal dining area.

"Owning a restaurant doesn't affect our aesthetic, but it certainly informs our approach to operations and functionality in a space," said Bradshaw.

"We have six venues now, and that experience is invaluable. We also use our spaces as test beds to really push ideas and programmes that eventually inform our other projects. We are always looking to improve and innovate, and there is nothing like having your own evolving spaces to help you in that process."

The firm's idiosyncratic fusion of retro and contemporary style is largely driven by their passion for travel and sourcing unique objects and materials.

"We always love to throw in a conceptual curveball to create something exciting and unexpected," said O'Neal.

"That is usually inspired by something we've recently encountered that has resonated with us, whether it be art, fashion, film or some obscure place or piece of architecture we've discovered in our travels."

The team is also fanatical about never recreating a design concept, preferring instead to research a venue's location to unearth unique and unusual aspects of its history and culture.

"Our work is most defined by its connectivity," said Harris. "There is a palpable feel of consideration and a passion for connecting story to detail to function to guest experience."

Although one of the first to introduce the phenomenally popular and much copied industrial-chic sensibility to restaurant interiors, the look of AvroKO's more recent projects exhibits a distinct evolution towards more polished, luxurious touches.

Harris pointed to their design work at Carnevino in Hong Kong as an example of a more luxe look that still maintains their core DNA as a design firm.

Diamond-quilted leather, antique butcher-block tables and a statement white marble bar are inspired by the spirit of classic luxury European car racing.

Experience in different countries over the past decade has also made the team adept at integrating function and transformability into their projects, said Harris.

"For example, Hong Kong restaurant Socialito's programmable LED club lighting is seamlessly and unknowingly integrated into the elegant dining lighting fixtures. The transformation from dining mode to club mode is a surprise to many who experience it."

The firm now has several notable projects around the world, including the restoration and interior design of a 100-year-old, 38,000 sq ft former Thai royal residence in Bangkok, where the team is responsible for outfitting four double-storey suites and creating many intimate food and drink zones throughout the four interconnected buildings and courtyard.

They are also creating the brand and interiors for Japanese architect Shigeru Ban's new structure as part of the Shangri-La Jing An site in Shanghai.

"New York is also buzzing right now," said O'Neal.

"We have three boutique hotels in the works, a rehabbed school, which will become 20 residential units, and a market in Midtown with eight other chefs and restaurant groups taking part along with us and a new Italian steak house.

"It's been a big year."