David Ashen’s eponymous New York-based firm, dash design, has been delighting the senses since 2001, from the global retail concept for Godiva Chocolate, to a nation-touring pop-up shop for rapper Jay-Z’s Rocawear brand, to the 2003 reinvention (now defunct) of the infamous Limelight nightclub on 6th Avenue in Manhattan. Yet for all Ashen’s seemingly “cool” connections, what lies underneath is a regular guy who feels strongly that “design equals strategy” and believes first and foremost in creating projects that are innovative and thoughtful for his (mostly) hospitality, retail and restaurant clients. The fact that his work regularly draws media attention has not changed his attitude—a noteworthy point in this era of design stars—that his work is not about him. “My success is solely about whether our work helps my client succeed,” he says. And inevitably, it does. Interface caught up with David Ashen in New York City to find out more about his winning ways.
IF: How would you describe your design process in one word?
D Ash: Strategic
IF: Where do you turn for inspiration in your creative process?
D Ash: I need to get out of my office. I like to walk around. I walk into stores, exhibits, to see anything visual. I like to drive. I get in my car and I drive around neighborhoods to see what’s new. On Saturdays and Sundays I drive through the boroughs [of New York City], and try to stay a little off the beaten path, or I drive to my country house.
IF: What do you enjoy most about your work?
D Ash: I like interacting with my clients and getting into the problem solving, understanding their businesses. I like developing the big idea with the client, then stepping back and watching it all get executed by my team. The most joyful part is developing the relationship with the client and helping them grow. And I like to learn from each project.
IF: What do you believe to be the primary value of good design to your clients?
D Ash: I think design is one layer of a formula. It’s an ingredient…a really solid ingredient. In retail good design will help drive your customers to buy things. In hospitality it will make people feel good. If it looks good and functions well it should drive some experience or behavior you are trying to elicit.
IF: What are you currently working on?
D Ash: I just finished a retail banking concept for Akbank in Istanbul, The Lexington Hotel in New York, and a restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Shanghai. I am working on a hotel renovation in Aruba, the second Urban Farmer restaurant for Sage in Cleveland, Mikimoto in Hong Kong, and the next generation of Godiva stores. I’m also working on a restaurant for Iron Chef Jose Garces, in Moorestown, NJ. [Interestingly, Ashen has designed hotels and stores in New York City, but never a restaurant.]
IF: How does flooring contribute to a space?
D Ash: We often start with the flooring. It is sometimes the hardest surface to work through. Floors and walls set the tone for a space. Carpet is often very personal. In hospitality, carpet either makes a statement, or it doesn’t make a statement.
IF: If you were able to give one piece of advice to young designers just starting out, what would it be?
D Ash: Listen.
IF: What is your favorite space you have ever been in?
D Ash: I had a weird, spiritual experience in La Tourette, a convent designed by Corbusier. I visited the chapel there when I was in grad school. The space was so specifically designed for sound and light. It could only work for what it was designed to do.