Category Archives: Designer Spotlight

Design Strategist

Jennifer Busch

david-01lowres_web1David 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.

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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.

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Designer Spotlight: Christian Davies

Jennifer Busch

1 Davies, Christian_FITCHThe work of British designer Christian Davies’ of FITCH has been recognized extensively in the industry, including multiple first place category honors from every major retail design award in the U.S. His recent experience has covered a wide variety of assignments including Luxottica, McDonalds, Harley Davidson and Tiffany & Co. – with projects in the U.S., Europe, China, India, and Brazil. A recipient of a Chain Store Age 40 Under 40 award and a past Business Week Designs of the Decade winner, Davies recently added yet another accolade to his impressive resume by being named a 2012 Retail Design Luminaire by DDI Magazine.

Interface: How would you describe your design process in one word? 

Christian Davies: Driven.

IF: Where do you turn for inspiration during your creative process?

CD: Increasingly away from the world of traditional design and to things on its periphery. I’m totally obsessed with craftsmen right now, by builders, makers – especially those that use their hands. I want to learn how to make more and more things, to understand that the making is often more important than the object itself and to find ways to bring that into my process. I’m designing and building a garden for the first time in my life and I’m learning so much through that, none of which is really about gardening but more about proportion, sense of scale and the importance of texture and color. I’m coming back to photography after a few years ignoring it. And I’ve never had a good relationship with art, but as I’m getting older that is starting to change.

IF: What do you enjoy most about your work?

CD: The urge to design comes from a yearning to improve things. While I truly believe we are all born creative, I think you know from a very early age if this idea of making things better is something that you enjoy or not. If it is, it’s primal, hard wired, it’s always there, kind of like an itch you can’t scratch. So, the days I enjoy my job the most are the days I figure out how to scratch it. But of course, just like an itch, it’s back pretty soon.

IF: What do you believe to be the primary value of good design to your clients?

CD: I almost don’t know where to start. Good design can achieve so many things. Most of all though, a commitment to good design says something to the world about a company or a brand. It speaks to what drives them, what is important to them. I’m increasingly seeing the word design being used in manifestos and pieces on corporate culture, which is a very good thing. Of course, following through on those words is a little more problematic sometimes. But that’s where designers come in.

5 things inspiring Christian Davies

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IF: Is there anything in particular happening in the design world right now that inspires you?

CD: Lots actually. I’m thrilled to see a return to simplicity, to minimalism. In my work, design is a vehicle to deliver experiences. Over the past few years we have evolved to a point where design is no longer ‘fussing’ with those experiences. Rather it’s just working to serve them up to people in the best way possible. I like that idea very much, the idea of design being a facilitator. Not always having to shout.

But against that backdrop there’s a lovely whimsy creeping back into design too. It feels very ‘20 years ago’ to me but there’s more and more design making me smile now.

IF: What are you currently working on?

CD: Wish I could tell you.

IF: What does the flooring solution contribute to the overall design of a space?

CD: I’ve worked a lot with the flooring industry and there’s almost nothing else that can have such a profound effect on a space. It is transformative in a very visceral way, and it’s always — like good lighting – something that people notice. It’s such a statement, even when it’s designed to be recessive. One of my favorite things to watch is sunlight on a floor, to see how a room changes throughout the day because of the flooring.

If you were able to give one piece of advice to young designers just starting out, what would it be?

CD: I’m seeing a real lack of passion amongst our young designers today. I’m waiting for the next big thing to come around, and I really hope it comes from someone young, but I don’t see the “spark in the eyes” as much as I would like. I teach a lot, which I enjoy a great deal, and its becoming increasingly rare for me to find truly original thinking. Before being constantly ‘connected,’ we had to go on a ‘journey’ to find the things that inspired us. (Sometimes literally.) Now it’s just too easy. And I think its getting worse. I’m reading an amazing book by Kenya Hara right now and in it he talks about the lack of depth in our modern world. As he puts it, it’s not that the human mind can’t process vast amounts of information, it’s just that today, most of that information is not very good. And so I would encourage young designers to come up with their own thoughts.

IF: What is your favorite space that you have ever been in?

CD: Very early in my career I lived in London and I remember the first time I visited the Conran Shop in Brompton Cross. That was a moment for me when it all fell into place and I understood what great design was about. I think I literally spent most of the day there. It’s in the Michelin Building which has such an awesome sense of place and of history, but then the modern stuff just slides in there. It’s an amazing sleight of hand and one Sir Terence has always been very good at. He did it at the Design Museum too, and in some of his restaurants. Sort of blurring the edges just enough that the old and the new sit side by side. I’ve always been a fan of that.


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We Are One

Jennifer Busch
Gallerie Bar & Bistro detail at Hilton Columbus Downtown Atrium in Columbus, Ohio. Photographed by Nathan Kirkman

Gallerie Bar & Bistro detail at Hilton Columbus Downtown Atrium in Columbus, Ohio. Photographed by Nathan Kirkman

In the 10 years since they founded their young design firm, rising hospitality designers Lisa Simeone and Gina Deary of Chicago-based Simeone Deary Design Group can count such projects as Chicago’s elegant Elysian Hotel (now the Waldorf Astoria Chicago), the Hilton Dallas Park Cities, and the JW Marriott Indianapolis to their credit. Currently they are working on Loews hotels in Chicago, Nashville, Tenn., and Orlando, a new restaurant concept with Richard Melman of Lettuce Entertain You fame, and a JW Marriott and a Westin for White Lodging in the red hot city of Austin, Texas. They’ve also started a residential design studio. Interface talked to this busy pair—who approach their work as a team—about the formula for success behind their prospering firm, their fascination with technology, and the all-important role of design in the hospitality sector.

IF: How would you describe your design process?

LS & GD: After we meet with the client and understand their criteria, we do research on the location, the building architect…we dig into the property to find out what is going to make it grow in the community. For us a project is as much a branding and positioning exercise as it is an interior design assignment.

14 Brush Creek Ranch Inspiration ImagesWEB

Brush Creek Ranch inspiration images

We start our critical thinking by digging into the location, and then we create a concept that is really representative of what we are thinking. That’s when we get very creative. We open up our minds to what inspires us, and we filter all this through our story.
We make very succinct decisions around every element in every phase. This elevates us above trends, so we are creating a sense of place and not just a sense of currency.

IF: Where do you turn for inspiration?

LS & GD: Inspiration comes from everywhere! It comes from fashion, jewelry, metalwork, film noir, Hollywood. Anything we find in culture we can use. We have been inspired by Jane Austen, pin-up girls, architecture, nature. We are really into how people lived at certain times. For each project we run these ideas through the filter of our concept and see how things settle out.

IF: What do you enjoy most about your work?

GD: I most enjoy the people I work with, and watching them grow and mature, and thinking that Lisa and I are helping that happen. Also, I am exposed to so many people and places and ideas and things. It makes me a much better designer and helps me grow too.

LS: I am inspired every day working with such a creative group of people. We have such a sense of camaraderie here. Being inspired and inspiring other people is what gets me up every morning.

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IF: What do you believe to be the primary value of good design to your clients?

LS & GD: Design is how our clients touch their customers. The experiences we create for them help them reap monetary benefits. Are clients seeing proof in the numbers? They are! If we do a great design, that design becomes a marketing tool.

IF: Is there anything in particular happening in the design world right now that inspires you?

LS & GD: Technology. It moves so fast. The doors are flung open on the things we are able to achieve. It has become a real vehicle for expressing ideas.

IF: What is the biggest challenge facing the design profession today?

LS & GD: The biggest challenge is the speed at which projects are being built and financed. How do designers keep up with that? The creative process isn’t given enough time. Our own challenge is how to morph our process to be just as competitive and creative, and still fit into that excelled, demanding way of doing business.

IF: If you were able to give one piece of advice to young designers just starting out, what would it be?

18 Gina Deary HeadshotWEB2GD:
Everything is a learning experience. School opens the door but once you walk through that door there is a lot you still have to learn. Nothing is beneath you. Get every experience you can. And don’t be afraid to fail.

19 Lisa Simeone HeadshotWEB
Try to intern as much as possible. Understand the many different types of firms and facets of design. There is a lot of pressure to conform but be true to yourself. Don’t be timid. Let the bold idea out.

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Behind the Evidence

Jennifer Busch

Roz CamaRoz Cama, FASID, principal of Cama Inc. has built an influential career around healthcare design, a segment of the industry that many designers shy away from as being too complex or too institutional. But Cama knows that nothing can be more rewarding than creating built environments that effect and inspire healing and wellness. Interface caught up with Roz shortly after she was named ASID’s 2012 Designer of Distinction to talk to her about her illustrious career, her still-thriving design practice based in New Haven, CT, and how designers like her are elevating the conversations about healthcare reform to a higher level of thinking.

IF:  Recently you were the recipient of ASID’s Designer of Distinction Award. What does this honor mean to you?

2012 Designer of Distinction Award

2012 Designer of Distinction Award

RC:  As a healthcare designer I am honored to have my life’s work acknowledged by my peers who hail from all design sectors. The healthcare design sector does not always get its due, our budgets are typically lean and innovation in the design of our environments has been slow. The evidence-based design movement changed the conditions that held us back and in the last 13 years has allowed us to leap forward.  I am blessed to have been able to be at the right place in my career with access to the best clients and industry leaders allowing me with others to define and illuminate this game changing design methodology. The ASID 2012 Designer of Distinction Award is acknowledgement that the fruits of this effort have been appreciated farther than I would have ever imagined. It is humbling and I proudly share it with so many who have pioneered with me in this sector.

IF:  How have you seen the design of healthcare facilities change over your career as a design practitioner? 

02 princeton-rendering-patient-room-plan

The IOM report on safety gave way to the legislation of the single bedded room, proven to improve more health outcomes than any other evidence-based design intervention. University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro, HOK|RMJM|CAMA 2012

RC:  When I began interior design in the late 1970s, design of the healthcare environment was driven by advancements in diagnostic equipment and the specific needs of the physician, known as nothing more than utilitarian institutional design. Reform in coding for clinical reimbursement or DRG’s gave the patient consumer choice in medical providers and the patient-centered care movement was born. This movement allowed design to respond to the customer’s perception of care through their experiences within the built environment. Industrial designers were liberated to develop offerings that aligned product with trends seen in hospitality design, but unfortunately tooled for corporate design. It wasn’t until the late 1990s when the Institute of Medicine created a game changer forcing shifts in healthcare delivery in order to improve its quality. It was then that the designer’s voice became an integral part of a multi-disciplinary conversation. Health reform is now looking for all stakeholders to deliver a more efficient and effective care model that reduces care delivery costs and accountable care will look for any innovation that contributes to the improvement of each person’s health status. Evidence-based methodologies have proven the positive effect design has on every part of a human’s life.  That we cannot be exempt from these conversations has been the change I am the most proud.

IF:  What do you think are the primary challenges facing the design profession today?

RC:  We are in a vortex of change in a rapidly developing world. Global connectedness, economic power shifts, political confusion make the waters muddy right now to see our challenges in their proper light. What I do know is that as a singular voice designers will not have to let others determine our fate. With an evidence-based approach we can be players in multi-disciplinary conversations and participate in the design of an emerging new order. We will need strong leadership and a better baseline of knowledge about the impact design of the built environment has on society and our globe. Those who will reach to a higher level of thinking and measure that which impacts human survival will influence the change needed for our next era of societal development. I want designers to be part of that conversation and influence the development of a new generation of built environment along with a kit of parts needed to sustain man and earth equally. I predict Biophilic Design will impact the field of building design more than any other evidence-based focus.

Regenerative Institution: Renovated Hospital of the Future 2025 Design Charette, MASS Design Group|CAMA, Inc.

Regenerative Institution: Renovated Hospital of the Future 2025 Design Charette, MASS Design Group|CAMA, Inc.

Evidence-Based Healthcare Design (John Wiley & Sons 2009)

Evidence-Based Healthcare Design (John Wiley & Sons 2009)

IF: What do you consider to be your biggest professional accomplishment?

RC: To have positioned myself to always be a part of the design profession’s big conversations.  My access to these conversations has been primarily through my volunteer leadership positions in the design profession with ASID and healthcare design industry with The Center for Health Design. This involvement has allowed me to push my thinking, and the evidence-based design movement. It has allowed me and my team access to some very important design projects in the field creating opportunities for thought leadership and influence within the field.

IF:  What is the most inspiring space you have ever been in?

RC:  The Beinecke Rare Books Library at Yale University here in New Haven. Designed to protect the wellbeing of rare books, Gordon Bunshaft’s inspirational setting teaches a valuable lesson in the philosophy of beauty where access to the most nurturing qualities of one’s habitat can avert extinction.

Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, New Haven, CT

Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, New Haven, CT

IF: What would you like to leave as your legacy?

RC:That the application of an evidence-based design methodology for the built environment has as much impact on human survival as the fruits of nature. That said I have miles to go before I rest on any laurels…

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Designer Spotlight: Luca Panhota, Gensler Brazil


Luca Panhota is the Office Director for Gensler Brazil. The office is located in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Q: What are the challenges and opportunities commercial interior designers and architects face in the South American market at this time?


A: In today’s market there are both exciting opportunities as well as challenges to overcome for architects and designers. One of the main challenges is that the South American market was dormant for some time, but it has picked up and is expanding quite quickly.

Related to this, the value of design has not necessarily been recognized in the same way it has been in other countries, so as architects and designers we place an emphasis on collaborating with clients in South America on solutions that drive the benefits and impact of design today. Design is now front and center. Where it may not have been valued before, clients are now more than ever recognizing the significance of the power of design. The design of corporate interiors has developed over the past 10 years and has also become a mainstream business in most countries in South America. At Gensler we provide a strategy and rationale in the design that reflects client’s work modes, process and their brand. This goes beyond selecting palettes and furniture, but truly understanding how our clients work and providing a workplace that promotes high performance. We instill in our clients that design is a critical factor in maximizing the return on their investment.

Another common challenge is that materials, which are readily available elsewhere, are harder to come by in South America given the import tax. Designers therefore have to develop innovative design solutions for clients; utilizing available but often limited, material selections.

While there have been challenges, I also see a light at the end of the tunnel for the design industry here and opportunities in the rich, multi faceted South American business arena. With the market picking up, there has been an increased demand for international design professionals and global design experience. I am native to Brazil, and intimately familiar with the South American approach to business, but also provide clients with a valued international professional experience.

Q: You have worked extensively in both North and South America. What do you see as the primary differences between design practice in these two geographic regions (design trends, best business practices, methods of project delivery, etc.)

A: Working with a variety of international clients on design projects in both North and South America, I have seen first hand that there are differences in design practices. Firstly, there are variances in project delivery. In North America, there are defined stages of the design process that include concept, schematic, design, construction documents and administration. In South America, the process is less defined and it is typical to just create drawings for a design build delivery approach. International firms like Gensler, who are practicing in South America, are able to differentiate themselves by showcasing staged methodologies that originated in the North America practice. By using a process-oriented delivery approach we are able to redefine what’s possible for clients through design that is inspirational, financially beneficial and performance-driven.

There are also differences in design trends, especially as they pertain to office space. In North America, it is typical to find twelve to fifteen square meters per person and in South American (eg. cities, such as Sao Paulo), seven to ten square meters is seen as a premium. With the existing import tax, South America still only has access to about 40 percent of the materials that can be found in North America. But, I am thrilled that there is a paradigm shift occurring with the uptick in the market, and design is becoming more valued in South America. Clients have started to request, by name, products such as Eero Saarinen chairs as they are now recognized as a design status symbol.

Q: What advice would you give to young designers about the value of an international/global perspective in design practice in the years to come?

A: For architects and designers, the value of a global design perspective is priceless. I recommend that young designers look beyond what they are taught in school, and use their curiosity to explore. They should travel and see the world; to open up their eyes to what else is out there. Within the firm and office, I can often tell those who have traveled versus those who have not as they demonstrate a different perspective on global issues and understanding of today’s design influences. Also, I highly suggest that young architects and designers be fluent in English, as it is key to be able to communicate with local and global clients. And, today English is the most highly spoken/understood language in this industry.

Q: What inspires you in your work? What is the most inspiring interior space you have ever been in?


A: My design work is inspired by the idea that ‘less is more’. For me it is the spaces with clean lines, strong design concepts, and a sense of minimalism that make you feel most comfortable and help motivate creativity in your own work. Projects are meant to be beautiful, comfortable, and functional places in which to work and live. The spaces in which the interiors have a connection to their exteriors tend to be the best and most successful interior spaces as well.

I have traveled extensively, and seen a wide variety of inspiring and beautiful spaces, but it is my own home in Sao Paulo that continues to provide me with the majority of my inspiration. My home is a place of comfort for me, but also a reminder of my worldy travels, as it showcases the trinkets and items collected throughout years of being abroad.

Q: What would you like to leave as your legacy?

A: I worked for a global corporation in the business world for 15 years. After working there for over a decade, I recognized that I wanted to pursue a new career direction where I could have an impact on future generations and make a difference in the world. At that point, I made the decision to go to architecture school. As an architect, I felt that I could design game changing spaces for people to work and live, and they would leave a lasting impression. Now, as the Office Director for Gensler Brazil, I also have the opportunity to guide and work closely with the firm’s young architects and designers. I hope to assist in inspiring those who are the future of the architecture and design industry, and that I can help them define their own career path.


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