10 Questions With... Matthew Goodrich of AvroKO

Take a Saturday afternoon spin through Manhattan’s Chelsea gallery district and there’s a good chance you’ll spot Matthew Goodrich. “I’m happiest wandering through museums and galleries, learning about the human experience through objects and artifacts from other periods,” the AvroKO chief creative officer says. Indeed, his focus on art and human connection, layered on top of studies centered on Quakerism, art history, and exhibition design, have led to his creation of such noteworthy hospitality hotspots as Gotham West MarketAmada, and new hotel brand Arlo (read about Arlo Hudson Square in our November issue). He tells us more about his trajectory.


Interior Design: Tell us about where you grew up and where you studied.


Matthew Goodrich: I was raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia and attended Germantown Friends School. The curriculum was grounded in the Quaker beliefs of mutual respect and inclusion, which shaped my orientation to the world. It also had an excellent arts curriculum—I took drawing, painting, graphic design, and even art history in high school. For college, I went to Skidmore for a BA in art history, and also took many drawing and painting courses while there.


ID: You formerly worked with artists Laurie Anderson and Glenn Ligon. Why and how did you switch to interior design?


MG: After college, I moved to NYC to work as an assistant to various artists, helping them make paintings and sculptures, and installing exhibitions with them. It was fabulous to work so closely with those I had studied and admired in college, and to be included in their creative process. At the time, I thought I’d be an artist myself. I worked for Glenn the most, even helped prepare his first big survey show, “Unbecoming,” at the ICA in 1998. Glenn jokes that he drove me out of the art world, but the truth is that my experience with him caused a major epiphany. I realized that the open-ended, limitless artistic process didn’t suit me. I needed the fixed parameters of a design problem, and I preferred collaborating to solve problems. I was completely enthralled with the process of putting together that big show, and I decided that was my calling. I enrolled at Pratt for a master’s in interior design, concentrating on exhibition design.


My first job in design was at Object Agency. The principal, Jon Otis, was my professor at Pratt, and continues to be a mentor to this day. He was the one who suggested that I would be a good fit at AvroKO and introduced me to the partners.


ID: Do you and your partner, Barnes Foundation Executive Director Thom Collins, collect any particular artists or mediums?


MG: We both love conceptual work that reflects on contemporary social experience. We have a large collection, primarily of works on paper. Many pieces are by artists who I have worked for or Thom has worked with. Some recent favorites are sculptures by Andy Coolquitt and Josh Faught and a drawing on cardboard by an outsider artist.


ID: How does your design process for a project as large as the Arlo begin?


MG: We dig deep into history and context at the beginning of every project. We also explore behavior and interaction. For Arlo, we knew there was an unusual model for the guest experience: small guest rooms. We wanted to encourage guests to spend less time in their rooms and more time in the public spaces, where they had opportunities to interact with each other. So we began by looking at unusual, visionary communities like artist colonies. We spent a lot of time in brainstorm mode thinking about ways that our design could encourage connection, contact, and build the sense of community among people who were meeting for the first time. Once we had some great ideas and historical precedents, we started to weave together the whole experience from big picture down to small details. Because the rooms were small, we spent a long time working out the ergonomics so guests would feel that their needs were anticipated and they were cared for. We did several rough mock-ups in full scale, then several iterations of finished mock-up rooms to get things streamlined.


ID: Other than Arlo, what are a few recent projects?


MG: We recently finished Amada in downtown NYC, the third restaurant we’ve designed for chef Jose Garces. We opened two new bars that AvroKO owns and operates, Genuine Liquorette and Ghost Donkey. I also moonlight on exhibition projects for longtime artist friends. Thom and I collaborated with Michele Oka Doner on the design of “How I Caught a Swallow in Midair,” the last show he curated at the Pérez Art Museum Miami. And I worked with Michele to design her booth for PAD London.


ID: What was the impetus to launch Brand Bureau?


MG: For years, big companies approached us about bringing our design to roll-out projects, but we felt it would compromise our carefully crafted, one-of-a-kind approach. Eventually, we realized that if we found a way to share our learning from our years of designing and operating restaurants, we could have a positive impact on global hospitality practice. With Brand Bureau, we’re building an agency to provide strategy, branding, and interior design that’s scalable, working with companies like Barnes & Noble, Hyatt, and Four Seasons to shape the future of hospitality. We’re also helping build brands from scratch, like Carla Hall’s Southern Kitchen in Brooklyn.


ID: Which project are you most proud of and why?


MG: Gotham West Market was a huge challenge. It moved extremely fast. We were learning so much along that way that every step of the process was painful. It was only after it opened that we realized what a paradigm shift we were developing. Now we’re working on nine different markets around the world, and drawing on that hard-won experience every day.


ID: A secret source or favorite Philadelphia restaurant you’re willing to share?


MG: Thom also grew up in Philly, so it’s been fun for us to get to know it again now that we live there part-time. Two of our favorite restaurants there are Serpico and Wm. Mulherin’s Sons and we make weekly pilgrimages to Rikumo, a Japanese housewares shop. When we lived in Miami, we often visited mid-century furniture gallery Glo—when we there last spring, we bought a vintage modern dresser that had been lacquered white.


ID: Latest design obsession?


MG: I recently discovered the graphic and poster designs from the 1960’s by the late Tomoko Miho. I’ve tracked down some of her vintage prints to install at Arlo NoMad and I’m searching for more.


ID: Latest interiors pet peeve?


MG: The extreme acceleration of the design process is a huge challenge for our industry. The pace is a major threat to the quality of our craft. Because so many of us are looking at the same constant flood of digital images, including Pinterest and Instagram, design trends are getting saturated quickly—it feels like we’re all swimming in the same tiny pool. We need to make more time for the creative process, to look outside of design for inspiration—to history, science, the arts—in order to create design that will be distinguished, contextual, and locally relevant.

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