With a forward-thinking vision for a university bistro, Toronto-headquartered DesignAgency was born. Two decades after serving steak tartar to students, business is booming for founders Allen Chan, Matt Davis, and Anwar Mekhayech, who can rattle off hostel brand Generator Hostels, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, St. Regis Hotels & Resorts, and culinary brands Nandoâs and Momofuku from a high-profile client list. On the books: rollouts for workspace and cultural hub NeueHouse and new Hilton urban hotel brand Motto.
âThese days, a designerâs vision needs to be half the business of design and half the art of design,â says Mekhayech. âThere are unlimited possibilities when creating a physical spaceâbut process, purpose, and budget lead.â To better hone these three crucial points, DesignAgency is full-service, tackling interior design, architectural concept, strategic branding, and visual communication. Projects around the globe (in addition to offices in Los Angeles and Barcelona, DesignAgency now has full-time designers in Vancouver, London, and Washington, D.C.) are executed by a divide-and-conquer techniqueâthe three partners collaborate on creative, before letting one partner run with it.
Interior Design sat down with the three founders to learn more about that first fateful collaboration, the upcoming NeueHouse rollout, and who is a master at balloon animals.
Interior Design: So, tell us about the student bistro that brought you together.
Anwar Mekhayech: We had no business plan and it was all very organic. I studied engineering and business at the University of Toronto (U of T) but grew up in the family restaurant business. After taking over my parentsâ restaurant, I decided to open my ownâwhich I really wanted to design. So, I asked Matt, who has a degree in Landscape Architecture from U of T, to start a design company with me, and he introduced me to Allen, who was studying architecture at Columbia University.
It was all very fastâI graduated in 1997, we formed what was then called Precipice Studios in 1998, and I opened a student bistro at U of T that we designed in 2000. My dad was living in Paris at the time, opening a restaurant there, so the concept became a kind of French-bistro-meets-California-casual-organicâbut in 2000, so way before its time. We had DJs playing, and were serving students steak tartar, duck confit, and healthy salads. It was so much fun.
ID: NeueHouse is a big project for you. What exactly does it entail?
AM: Weâre renovating the two existing properties and are about to open a third in downtown Los Angeles, NeueHouse Bradbury, which will help explain our design ethos and narrative as we scale the brand to new locations globally. Our design aims for residential and inspiring, balancing private and social, but with a strong emphasis on collaboration and communication. There will be a play of vintage and new pieces across all the projectsâand Iâm super excited about the art program and the use of plantings.
ID: How do you believe NeueHouse meets current demands in the hospitality market and stands out from the likes of big players like WeWork?
AM: Sophistication and refinement. NeueHouse is more an invited memberâs club that centers around working, content, and collaboration than co-working. It has a kind of celebrity following because they started ahead of the curve, in 2012 in New York. So last year, Josh Wyatt entered as CEO, and immediately brought us onboard. We worked with Josh on Generator Hostels and have a great relationship with him. Together weâre adding the food and beverage hospitality angleâthe restaurants, bars, and patios because thatâs what we are good atâbuilding off the original concept based on bringing likeminded people together by Rockwell Group. Weâre also ramping up the amenities where possible, for example spa-like showers and changing rooms for people commuting by bike or spending extended amount of time on site.
NeueHouse has several different types of membership. Netflix, for example, is a tenant in Los Angeles, with their own private studio floors on the upper levels. Actually, DesignAgencyâs Los Angeles studio is also in NeueHouseâwe moved in just a few months ago.
ID: What have you completed recently?
AM: We developed the design language and ethos for Momofuku spaces and recently