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.”