Boutique Design - September 2017 - 92
Over the past decade, Allison Cooke has
climbed the ranks at CORE. Here the
design expert explains why balancing
fashion with function and ramping
up collaboration are key to creating
conceptual ideas with staying power.
INTERVIEW BY CHRISTINA GREEN
Since moving from RTKL (now CallisonRTKL) to CORE architecture + design
(CORE) in 2007, she's risen to principal and director of hospitality design. A
year ago, she was named partner.
Growing up, the Indiana native moved to New Hampshire, then to Ohio,
where she studied interior design at Miami University. After college, she
moved again-to Washington, D.C.-where she launched her design career
and eventually discovered her passion for restaurants.
"I love living here even more than when I first moved here in 2001," says
Cooke, who's shown here in Centrolina, an Italian market/restaurant that she
and her team designed in the CityCenterDC development. "There are so
many cultural influences, and you can have almost any type of food in a
street-style or fine-dining format. There are also such distinct neighborhoods
that you can help a client determine which space is right for their concept
and how to position it."
WHAT WAS IT LIKE TRANSITIONING FROM A MEGA FIRM TO A
SMALLER ONE? HOW DOES SIZE AFFECT THE WORK DYNAMIC?
I really love the small-firm environment, where you can be very nimble. There
are fewer layers between leadership and junior designers. I value that transparency. I think it's healthy for younger team members to get exposure to a
variety of responsibilities-having both a creative and financial impact on a
project-which helps shape well-rounded designers. Plus our team is very
tight knit, and ideas are shared fluidly.
BECOMING PARTNER BY 40 IS NO EASY FEAT. HOW DID YOU
MAKE THAT HAPPEN?
I've worked incredibly hard to get here, and I haven't been afraid to speak my
mind or share my opinions in a respectful manner. I think you have to be a
boutiquedesign.com SEPTEMBER 2017
good leader, and a constant mentor. I couldn't have risen up to take on more
responsibility without my mentors and my team-I need to trust them and
give them more opportunities to grow. I've always tried to ask why we're
making the choices we are, from a design and identity perspective. I think it's
healthy to challenge yourself and your team.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BIGGEST BLUNDERS YOU SEE WHEN DINING OUT?
Letting a design idea win out over the functionality or operations of the
restaurant. Those two things need to be in absolute harmony or it sticks out
like a sore thumb. Lighting is another factor that's so hard to get right
because the technology is changing so quickly, but it's critical.
HOW DO YOU BALANCE CREATIVITY AND PRACTICALITY?
That's a huge challenge and has to become an inherent part of our process. As
designers, we're accountable to our clients by delivering a successful space in
which they can operate a business. I try to remember that at all times and pass
the sentiment along to the team. Every decision we make needs to enhance the
client's operation and the guest experience. We always envision ourselves as the
end user in order to make decisions with intention. Project challenges lead to
more creative design solutions, so practicality and creativity are intertwined.
WHAT INTERIOR TRENDS ARE YOU LOVING, AND WHICH ONES
ARE YOU OVER?
I'm getting a little tired of spaces where a designer has simply put a fig tree
and some succulents in the space and called it a day! However, I try not to get
too focused on trends because we're always trying to be inventive with how
we're interpreting our client's concepts in a way that's unexpected. Our projects are always rooted in strong conceptual ideas, so we won't cut and paste
design elements from other spaces, but create fresh designs instead. £
ALLISON COOKE KNOWS when to speak up, as well as when to listen.