Lionel Ohayon is one of the most renowned names in hospitality design. Since starting his firm ICRAVE ten years ago, he’s fast become one of the crucial movers and shakers behind The Meatpacking District’s repositioning and New York’s restaurant and nightlife scene in general. Responsible for projects such as Arlington Club, The General, Lavo, Catch, Asellina, Abe & Arthur’s,Tenjune, and STK (to name only a few), Ohayon has no doubt put his stamp on food and hospitality. We couldn’t help but sit down with the designer and innovator to discuss his vision and inspirations…
What are some of your favorite classic places?
The Pantheon in Rome, Washington Square Park in New York, and of course, Katz’s Deli.
Where do you go for inspiration?
Everywhere. There’s inspiration upstate, in the city, and on vacation. I get inspired by the most random things. It could be a compelling ad that I walk by, people watching, or movies. Ideas can come from anywhere, but the streets of New York are among the best places in the world to spark an idea.
How did ICRAVE come to fruition?
I started ICRAVE back in Toronto after I graduated university. I just liked the idea of what the name implied – “I Crave” – to desire, to crave something – and what that means to a person beyond the feeling of “I want.” It wasn’t until I moved to New York that I went further and incorporated the copyright symbol into our logo. Everyone knows what it means – that you’ve made something that’s worth protecting. That was in line with the idea that our designs are valuable and worth protecting. There is a reason the company is named ‘ICRAVE’ instead of ‘Lionel Ohayon Studio’. It’s important that people at ICRAVE feel like they’re a part of the company and that they can take ownership in it – it’s not just about my ego. And we try to run the office that way – it’s much more of a creative collective than a hierarchical office space.
Could you take me through your process a bit?
A project will come in and we’ll evaluate whether we’re reinventing or re-imagining something that already exists, or if we’re creating a brand new experiential narrative. So at the very beginning we spend time deciding what kind of exercise will allow us to go on a journey to get new ideas. The initial exercise can be anything – a writing exercise, a conceptual exercise, or a design exercise. Then we set a time for them to present their models and findings, giving us twenty or more different solutions to the same problem, and we take them through a series of steps that will lead to a single emerging idea. Once we have that idea, and we believe it’s something new that solves the issues that we need to address, we’ll put a team together and come back to what the project actually is, put a concept narrative together, and work from that narrative. Sometimes we’ll put a select team together; sometimes we get the whole office involved. ICRAVE is modeled after the architecture school that I went to and it sort of functions like a school environment. We like to find ways to take the office outside of the normal process of starting a project.