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AvroKO on NYC "Sensibility and Soul," Pearl Ceilings, and Ghosts

Welcome to Dining & Designing, a new column in which Curbed National joins with the forces of Eater National to profile and explore the design of restaurants. Your fearless leader through this untamed wilderness will be Julie Earle-Levine, an Australian, NYC-based writer who has contributed to The Financial Times of London, New York Magazine, and the New York Times, among others. She has both a passion for real estate and a passion for eating. This will be fun.

NYC-based design firm AvroKO has turned heads for its roster of restaurants, bars, and hotels, including the swank recently opened Beauty & Essex in NYC and Lily and Bloom in Hong Kong. The firm consists of four partners (William Harris, Greg Bradshaw, Kristina O’Neal and Adam Farmerie) and holds with offices in Nolita, Hong Kong, and Bangkok. They have a slew of new projects on the go, including Al Modo, a new Michael White restaurant in Hong Kong, an NYC hotel fashioned in one of John Jacob Astor’s old haunts, and a 12-room boutique hotel in an old Russian Embassy building in Bangkok. Here we talk to all them about stuffed hippos at La Specola, long hauls to the bathroom, and their dreams of doing a country house for Tilda Swinton.

You’ve been together for a decade. Do you ever quibble over design?
O'Neal: I think we disagree the way you might imagine in a four-way marriage. There are just some topics we'll never be congruent on, but we have developed a coping system for letting go of an idea if you can’t rally at least two partners to the cause. Despite all that, Greg typically wins.

What do you consider to be the best-designed restaurants, and why?
Farmerie: Hakkasan in London by Christian Liaigre is still one of our favorites—down a dingy alley in a very uncool part of London in a cellar. It’s so transformative and 10 years later, it still looks and feels good.

Harris: The China Club in Hong Kong. I absolutely love the contemporary art mingling with the antique Chinese detailing. It's a great example of two worlds colliding in a beautiful way.

How about hotels?
Harris: The Chedi, Chiang Mai, in Thailand, because it’s warm and modernist—sprawling and absolutely awe-inspiring while still maintaining that intimate Thai feel.

Are you doing a lot more work in Asia now?
Harris: We are doing quite a bit of work in Asia—probably close to a third of our work—including Al Molo, as well as some fun projects and collaborations in Bangkok, Shanghai, Beijing and Singapore.

Lily and Bloom in Hong Kong looks stunning. What was your inspiration here?
Harris: The owners wanted some New York sensibility and soul to the space. It was difficult because it is tucked into the fifth and sixth floors of an officey-looking building. We drew inspiration from physical streetscapes and the downtown street life that emerged in great cities near the turn of the 20th century—with New York as a big focus, of course.

If you had to describe Beauty & Essex, what would you say?
O'Neal: It’s late Diana Vreeland, early Elsa Schiaparelli jewelry, Deco department store, and townhouse, and all in equal parts. The preliminary design mission was what we called “shabby-chic doyenne."

Bradshaw: We get a lot of feedback on the textures of the space, which isn’t the norm for our projects—the double-height space of white pony walls at the entry staircase, the ceiling of pearls in the main lounge, the bar made of cut glass. Actually, people talk a lot about not being able to keep themselves from the petting the pony.

What's the Russian building in Bangkok like?
Farmerie: Crazy. Any architecture that is half Thai and half Russian is going to look and feel a little schizophrenic, but in a good way.

Harris: They are having us build with “ghosts” guiding parts of the design program and this is definitely new to us. Brings up some cultural conditions, [but] we are up for the challenge.

If you were to re-design Chef White's own living room, what would it look like?
O'Neal: Maybe we would blend old-school Brunelleschi with a dash of Lapo Elkann. Michael’s got class.

Head over to Eater National for the rest of the interview. >>