Lionel Ohayon Reveals the Importance of Design

Club design is as much an art as it is a science. Many factors go into the decisions that define the final product. Clubs must first and foremost be safe. They must flow correctly. Point of sales must be in the correct place. Back of the house must be ample and nearby for proper service. The materials used must be durable as clubs are as abused as subway cars. Lighting must maximize the positive, minimize the negative and provide excitement. Sound must be placed correctly and be of the right size and have oomph only where oomph is needed. Tables and banquettes must be designed to cater to bottle buyers. After all these and many other considerations design must provide the "WOW" factor.

It is the wow that has people talking about the place, photographing and writing about it for magazines, newsletters and blogs and it must generate excitement every night. Design is as important as DJ's and experienced operations. To create unique designs, to constantly reinvent the wheel is the job of Hospitality Designers. This bunch of characters has knowledge that transcends books and common experiences.

Lionel Ohayon is at the helm of ICRAVE (, one of the foremost design firms in the country. Lionel started the firm eleven years ago as a two person operation. He now has 40 plus employees and a design portfolio that dominates the business. Nightclub & Bar caught up with Lionel to see what he has been up to these days.


Nightclub & Bar (NCB): You design hotels, restaurants, airports, casinos, retail and even offices. What is unique about nightclub design?

Lionel Ohayon: Designing nightclubs is unlike anything else. People going to nightclubs are already predisposed to be transported to a place where anything can happen, to be outside of their own comfort zone. Our job is to help them find ways to relinquish their inhibitions and learn something about themselves; challenge their perception of their own limits. That's what we are designing to achieve. Our work lives in designing the experience. The interior is only one element of that focal point.

From that perspective, you can see how ICRAVE has unfolded and soon, we will be unveiling other work that exists in an ephemeral world but at an urban planning scale, challenging our perception of what the city of the future may look like and what each of our hand in shaping that future may entail.

(STK Las Vegas one of ICRAVE's Clients)

NCB: You stated that you never engage in a project more than three times. Explain how you came to this.  

Ohayon: For us, design is a word that encompasses a lot of different things. However, one thing that is imbued in all of our work is the idea of creating something. That's why I incorporated the copyright symbol into our logo. It’s the mission of any project at its core.

If you do a project once, you may be raising the question about what it is, for example, a nightclub project you may ask yourself how do I erase the line between spectator and performer? Your solution is an answer. The second time you are confirming or perfecting that idea, and the third time, should be the last time you engage in that problem because you'll probably be going back to the playbook if you do it again.

I have been conscientious about this and in some way try to attack the problem from a different perspective so it’s new again. We also really examine why we are taking a project, and what we may be getting out of it.

NCB: ICRAVE implies a certain hunger to create. Are you still as hungry as you were say 10 years ago?

Ohayon: I'm pretty sure that I’m hungrier than I was 10 years ago. The difference is that my appetite is fed by trying new things that aren't necessarily in the box of experience that we have been engaged in for the past decade. I think this decade of work is going to be characterized much in the same way I hope people think about of first decade of work.  That is, a willingness to try new thing. This time around, we will be working in many mediums beyond architecture and the built world and building a new idea of what a creative experience company can be.

NCB: I am told you are personally involved in every project. How do you manage your time and maintain creativity?

Ohayon: ICRAVE is an open studio environment. Every project starts off with a creative session in which we define the problem, and set a course to find a creative solution. So, I'm always involved in the inception and the original design idea. I have an incredibly talented and dedicated team at ICRAVE and have always felt that you lead by inspiration.  I am delighted when I watch a project evolve and I am only there to give occasional ideas, but the studio knows that the best idea wins at ICRAVE, whether that's me, a senior designer or an intern.

You asked, how I maintain creativity; I really don't know how to answer that. You need to trust the people around you and focus on building ideas or making the ones presented to you better. I have noticed since teaching MFA Design students at Parsons that the studio at ICRAVE and the one I taught at Parsons are really very similar; Keep curiosity as a virtue.

NCB: Your thesis was 'Where we Work, Where we Live, Where we Play.’  How valid is that thesis today? Are there major breaks from it after vast experience?

Ohayon: My thesis examined how virtual space will affect real space. That was in 1994 when we called it Cyberspace.... I cannot tell you how much each day I realize that I am still examining the same concepts. For the past couple of years I have been developing projects that are looking at defining the physical manifestation of our virtual lives. I feel extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to call what I do work.

NCB: What sources inspire you? Art, fashion, film, etc.?

Ohayon: Sources that inspire me come from all over the place. Art, music and film for sure, but also literature and technology; passion and conviction as well. I have a pair of Julie Kent's ballet shoes hanging from my desk lamp. They remind mind of the hard work, dedication and grace required to achieve something remarkable.

NCB: You have completed hundreds of projects.  What is your favorite... the one that makes you feel warm and fuzzy?

Ohayon: My favorite project is the studio I've built. It’s amazing to come to a place with such a vibrant creative energy and no ego. It’s a fun place to be.

NCB: Any goals not fulfilled?

Ohayon: Many goals yet unfulfilled. Stay tuned.



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