The Super Six
The Super Six:
LB = Leah Blackman
AM = Anthony Mrkic
LO = Lionel Ohayon
DT = David Taglione
GM = Greg Merkel
SB = Siobhan Barry
Q: What year did you start working at ICRAVE?
SB: I started working with Lionel before there was an ICRAVE. We can actually go way back to ’97, when I first moved to New York. Lionel had already moved here – we knew each other from the University of Waterloo School of Architecture in Ontario. We had a lot of friends in common, back in the day, his roommate dated my girlfriend. When I moved down here, he was working on some retail projects he had in Toronto. I had another job but did some work for Lionel on the side. Then, in 2001, I saw Lionel shortly after September 11th and he told me about a project he had on the burner. It was called “Pangaea”. Pangaea was the first club that I worked on with Lionel and Nick, who was the partner in charge of construction at the time, and they were planning to set up ICRAVE and O+D. This was the build-up between September 11th and January 2002, we opened a club, I left my job, and then January we launched the firm.
GM: Leah and I started the same day: January, 30th 2006.
LB: I actually started a day after you (Greg). So, January, 31st 2006.
AM: I had two start-dates. My first stint was October 2004 to September 2005 and the second was from July 2007 through to today.
DT: I actually interviewed with Anthony, who took me on site that day. I believe it was March 2005.
AM: That’s right.
Q: Where was the ICRAVE studio located?
AM: 19th street in NYC. 5410 Wilshire in LA. The Meatpacking District, then here.
LB: 411 West 14th Street was the address in the Meatpacking District.
GM: Meatpacking – 14th street. I have fond memories of walking past the fetid smells of Western Beef (now Hugo Boss) and the rancid pools of rainwater/beef fat mix. The streets of the Meatpacking used to be literally slick (as in fall down slick) with beef fat.
Q: How many people worked at ICRAVE?
AM: NYC – in the feature photo above. LA – 4 of us.
DT: 6 people not counting the construction arm; Anthony, Phil Swain, Shawn Hope, Siobhan, Lionel, Illich.
LB: I think I was the 9th employee.
GM: Not entirely sure. Likely around 12? Or, if Leah was the 9th, then there would have been 7.
Q: Where does the name ICRAVE come from? Was that always the name?
LB: We’ve refined the logo a bit over the years, but it was always the name since I started. Lionel invented it when he was in college (I think) and the copyright © denotes the importance of protecting the design. Early iterations were as eye-crave.
LO: I didn’t want it to be a person’s name, I wanted it to be an idea. Early iterations were, as Leah said, “eye-crave.”
Q: ICRAVE started as a design-build studio, what were some of your most memorable moments from that time? Why did you choose to work here?
AM: Opening night at AER and building Koi at the Bryant Park Hotel.
DT: Speaking of Koi, my most memorable moment was my interview with you (Anthony). We met and then we went to Koi at Bryant Park to walkthrough the job site. I got a call-back interview to meet Lionel and they kept coming out and telling me that Lionel was just a bit late and should be in soon. Over 3 hours later I had my interview. Lionel asked what job I wanted in 5 years and I said his. 5 years later I learned that is not the job I wanted at all.
SB: (laughter) Since most of our first projects were nightclubs done as design-build, we didn’t have time to do full construction drawing packages. We would be standing in the field with a subcontractor and making paper napkin sketches and running around on walkie-talkies. It was great. And our deadlines always turned into parties because that’s when the clubs would open. I remember painting stripes on the DJ booth at Dorsia about an hour before the place was supposed to open to guests. I wonder if anybody ended up with stripes printed on their back that night.
LB: Definitely a few! (laughter) I actually started on the client side. I was a young, hungry kid managing design and construction for one of our clients, Sushi Samba. We were reviewing a budget with Nick (Lionel’s partner) and Lionel and one of the numbers didn’t look right to me, so I called bullshit. After that meeting, Lionel pulled me aside and said, “if you ever want a job, give me a call”. I called him a few months later and the rest is history.
GM: Also, a very memorable moment for me personally was installing every horn in the original STK and trying to figure out how to do them. It was me and this huge hulk of a man that was fresh out of Rykers and in the end it was hot glue that did the trick.
SB: STK was our first big project. The meatpacking district was just starting to explode, and it was great exposure. I think there were a few years where it felt like we never left the MPD, but then things really started to take off. STK’s success led to us getting a project with W Hotels, and about that same time, Disney hired us to work on their new cruise ships. It was a pretty intense period of change and a major adjustment as we had to grow up a lot, but it was pretty wild.
Q: Why did you choose to work at ICRAVE?
AM: For me it was the age of the group, their interests and what they pulled off up to that point.
LB: I agree with Anthony. When I started at ICRAVE, I thought it would be a stepping stone. I knew I was taking a risk because the company was young and had a start-up mentality, but I realized quickly that there was a lot for me to learn and a lot that I could contribute to, and that continues to evolve every day.
DT: I needed work and wanted a place that could grow with me. I wanted to work in an environment focused on design and was really active in how to make it happen.
GM: I was out of work as well, and ICRAVE seemed like it could be fun.
Q: How has the studio culture changed since then? What has remained the same?
AM: Has the studio culture changed since then…? Not really. We’re vocal when we need to be or wanted to hear another opinion. We’re not just dreamers/talkers, we’re do’ers.
DT: I’m with Anthony, not sure if it’s changed as much as it has evolved. It still has some of the DNA of a school but it’s evolved and figured out some of the curriculum… oh, and it was much more fun back then… you missed out.
LB: Yeah, we’ve definitely grown up. People started getting married and having babies, and burning the midnight oil became more challenging, but I think the vibrant spirit of innovation and reinvention has stayed the same. People meet their best friends at ICRAVE and that happens because we hire not only for talent but for character.
GM: Like Leah said, everyone that was originally involved or involved from early on has grown up with the company. Our collective goals and desires have changed overtime. We used to go out and party a lot. Now we are a bit older and having kids, so priorities have shifted. But the desire to have fun and have the environment be a fun place is still the same.
Q: What was a memorable (favorite) project that you got to work on? Why?
AM: Probably “Villa.” It was small and felt special and I really liked the client.
LB: I manage the business at ICRAVE, so my work is a bit different because I’m not designing projects. However, a few memorable contracts that I was instrumental in landing were the JetBlue Terminal, the Disney Dream and Fantasy Cruise Ships and the Josie Robertson Surgery Center. These projects were real opportunities to showcase innovation and reinvention and we were able to show the world what we do best.
LB: There are so many incredible memories. I’ll never forget ICRAVE’s collaboration with James Cameron on Light Storm.
DT: Oh man, yeah, working with James Cameron is hard to forget. For me, it was probably Max Brenner. Just because it was my first real solo project where I had to work with the client to make it all happen. Also, I met Leah on that job since she was working as the client’s representative.
LB: That’s right!
DT: You always remember your first. Plus, I remember surveying the basement by myself and walking to the other side of this wall to measure it and on the back side of the wall the sheetrock was removed and there was about 20 machetes neatly aligned and inserted between the horizontal metal stud and sheetrock. I learned a ton working through the build and coordination on that project.
GM: STK horns are still very memorable. It was the first thing I really saw all the way from start to finish – like David was saying – and I also got to actually install them all by hand.
Q: What crucial changes were made in the past ten years that have shaped where we are now?
AM: Moving away from design build and not being afraid to be with the top clients/designers in the marketplace.
DT: I agree. Definitely the breakup of design and construction for one, but really it’s more about crucial projects that have changed things more than anything.
LB: I would say moving to our office on Broadway. We designed our space to be a hospitality environment where we could host clients, throw parties, and collaborate with our peers. The space faces Broadway, and has an incredible amount of natural light. People now come to work every day feeling inspired to tackle the next challenge in large part due to the space they’re in.
GM: Bigger and better projects. A commitment to always trying to do new and cool things.
Q: What lessons have you learned along the way?
GM: Too many to mention – but I continue to learn all the time how to be a better designer and a better business person.
AM: You always have to work hard and respect the work – anything that looks easy usually isn’t and you always need to be willing to grow.
LB: Be nimble. Be patient. Inspire.
Q: What is the number one piece of advice that you’d give to new ICRAVE’rs?
AM: Make sure you have passion for “it” – whatever “it” is – that’s what really gets you up in the morning and work so hard over and over and over again…
LB: Make sure to carve out space for work/life balance, so you can be happy in your work. You spend the majority of your life at work, so make sure you’re passionate about what you’re doing!
DT: Bring your energy, bring your ideas, your love of collaboration and desire to make something happen and this place will give you just what you want.
GM: Bring your ‘A’ Game. You’ve got to have ideas – and it is tough. It is hard coming up with shit every single day, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. So if you want it, you’ve got to bring it.
LB: I feel like I use this all the time but you’ll never get an A, if you’re afraid of getting an F!