We became something like a little club together,” explains Adam Farmerie—one of the four partners and founders of the international design and concept firm AvroKO—of the team’s early days at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Penn.
Eventually, that small-town collaboration spanned the globe, as the designers went off to study abroad (travelling frequently to meet and work on school-related projects). But once Farmerie, Greg Bradshaw, William Harris and Kristina O’Neal graduated, establishing themselves as an actual firm was really just a formality. “We decided to make it official,” Farmerie adds.
Today, the firm is working across seven countries and 13 cities worldwide and has grown to a staff of 70, with studios in New York City, Bangkok and most recently San Francisco.
But for these four friends, their studio has always felt more like a collective rather than big-time business. That, they say, has always given them an edge creatively.
“It’s a lot like making art, really,” says O’Neal of their interiors, which all tell a unique story of their own. AvroKO’s emphasis on the narrative of a space is why they aren’t just a design firm: they’re brand gurus.
“Creating a psychological and emotional thread in a space is very important to us, and it’s oftentimes best achieved by crafting a story that gives structure but is subtle and open enough to allow guests’ perceptions and experiences to further complete the picture,” O’Neal explains. “You have to give visual cues to create meaning, but then allow room for the story to unfold as individuals engage in a space, and ultimately complete the story themselves.”
Travel is a passion that’s never left their hearts and to this day plays a huge part in crafting these interior stories. “The majority of the objects we source and modify are bought specifically with a project in mind. Travel is a part of our every week, and we love it and possibly need it. We rarely go anywhere without setting aside days for inspiration, sourcing, and diving into the restaurant, hotel and bar culture—even in far flung places,” Harris says.
They utilize their “design-through-storytelling” approach with the AvroKO Brand Bureau, applying it to everything from interiors to simple marketing collateral they can create for the hospitality and food and beverage industry names they partner with.
Providing such a vertically integrated approach also forces the foursome to wear many different hats.
“Everyone has to be in the mind-set that they will be on all sides of the design equation and that includes interiors, furniture, branding, strategy and then some. Because we are keeping one line of thought for each project, the design work is not that disparate. The team as a whole dives into the same well and everyone comes up with a different result for their piece of the project. It just makes the process more fun in the end,” O’Neal says.
The four meet every few days for “project pin ups” that make each other subject to edits on their work. They discuss the approach, design and details of all studio projects. “And each partner shakes things up a bit,” says Harris. “We are used to drawing on each other’s drawings, saying when things aren’t working and debating when necessary.” This magically hasn’t resulted in as many arguments as one might think; while they agree on the importance of discord, they are all admittedly very similar people.
“It’s healthy, and after many years we know how to be in a partnership,” Harris continues. “We don’t always agree and sometimes there is frustration like in any good work marriage, but in the end we have built the tools to work out exciting solutions.”
No marriage is an easy one. Anyone who tells you otherwise is not to be trusted. So we decided to play our own little version of the Newlywed Game with AvroKO’s four partners to get all the dirty details on how this four-way partnership works. After all, a little honesty never hurt any relationship. Right?
Who’s the most dramatic?
Adam is definitely the most dramatic. We are pretty sure he should have been in a band or on the stage in some fashion, but alas architecture had his heart.
Who’s the hot head of the group?
Greg isn’t a hot head, but he loves perfection and that can cause some moments where you don’t want to come up short on the details or you may get a talking to.
Who’s the voice of reason?
Kristina is both the psychologist and the sooth-sayer for the company. She makes the maps for how we are going to grow technically or creatively, and we follow them.
Who’s the dandy?
William is the prettiest one in the group and the best dresser to boot. He’s masculine too though, which we’re not sure makes him a “dandy” but maybe more urban-metro-coolish?
What’s the craziest thing you’ve all done together?
We have 20-some years of crazy together. Wow,
pinpointing one thing would be tough.
Who’s the best sketch artist?
Greg is hands down the best with the pencil. He sits and sketches at every meeting.
Where’s the most inspirational location you’ve traveled to?
We just got back from another run in Moscow and
we are in awe of the city. It’s rich, dynamic and in
the midst of a renaissance of the younger generation. We love it so much we are bringing our restaurant Saxon + Parole there now.
What does there never seem to be time for?
Hanging out and just discussing “philosophy.” If we could, we would spend
20 hours a week just gathering ideas, taking walk-abouts, debating the why’s
of the work, etc. We guess that would be more of a hobby than a business
Complete the following sentence: “Our business would be perfect if we
could just agree on________”
It’s not going to sound true, but there has been so much support and patience
over the years for disagreement between the four of us, it’s hard to think about
needing to agree. Not that it’s easy, but the disagreements yield some great
product at times. We doubt we would want to muck with that too much.
Are the four of you a case of opposites attract or are you very similar in
We all come from the same backgrounds, are generally the same age, and
have been working together for our entire adult lives. While we are really very
different in terms of temperament, we are pretty congruent on most other