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NiteTalk: Lionel Ohayon on Manipulating the Nightlife Experience

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NiteTalk: Lionel Ohayon on Manipulating the Nightlife Experience

When is comes to nightlife, most people are interested in the crowd, how long the wait is for the bathroom line and whether drinks are affordable. The interior design of a particular bar or lounge is secondary to most layfolk -- but design is at the core of a venue's ambiance. Lionel Ohayon, founder of ICRAVE Design, is not only aware of an interior's importance, he is responsible for the soul of the space and the justification of a square foot.

NiteSide recently caught up with the man behind some of the city's hottest hangs (Provocateur, SL, and Tejune to name a few).

What do you look for in a nightlife establishment? What I look for in nightlife -- authenticity, sense of humor, subversion of the everyday, the merging of spectacle and spectator.

Where do you find yourself frequenting and why? I travel a lot. For me, finding a new place that engages me in a new way is always the most exciting find. Lately, I find myself gravitating to outdoor, large-scale adventures. The most obvious is Burning Man, but being on a boat or in the forest l find equally compelling opportunities to step outside the conventional night. I probably have just been in nightclubs too long. Somehow being in nature always creates a completely magical experience.

In the studio, we try and focus on designing the experience not the space. Somehow I’m learning that today with technology, the manipulation of experience is more accessible than ever. I feel we will start to see some pretty incredible environments that challenge our understanding of what nightlife space in the future hold.

Your most recent projects, Provocateur and Simyone Lounge, have two very different aesthetics. What were your inspirations for both, and which one is more along your personal nightlife style? Each project we do is a collaboration with the operator. We try to give each one its own identity and personality. Provocateur was designed to cater to a feminine aesthetic. We had fun with this notion and imagined a dollhouse environment that lent a degree of fantasy. There are two main spaces that comprise to make up the experience. The exterior space is compelling in that the graphics that create the strong visual component are dreamscapes, not answering any questions. The extension space has a garden quality to it implying a view into a series of seductive and subversive spaces allowing guests to peer into these personal private moments in a voyeuristic manner. Once the guests enter in the interior space the implication is much more direct. The patron has entered into one of the vignettes they were looking into in the garden and challenged to engage in the implied fantasy. This is a place where you become the object of fantasy.

SL is a very different world. Its DNA is very much derived from its location -- Meatpacking District -- a sultry speakeasy feel thats scale allows for intimate interaction with other guests. In approaching the design we looked at the many life cycles the district has been through and used this pattern of life and decay as the driving principle for what the feel would be. By revealing the several layers that existed in its previous lives and adding the new layers that allow it to operate as a premiere lounge, we reinforced the seduction of these New York found spaces. We chose to use X-rays as the insert layer because in many ways they are metaphors for how we approached the design of the space, revealing parts of the building that are there but one does not see.

It is impossible for me to say what my nightlife style is. If anything I would answer a place needs to have a soul and needs to engage patrons to relinquish some degree of inhibition.

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