Design / Entrepreneurs / Food and drink / Startups

It’s a big summer for Katie O’Hara Design

O'Hara talks about two very different restaurant projects, her favorite kind of client and the importance of bathroom design.

Katie O'Hara in her office at the coIN Loft. (Photo by Tony Abraham)

Whether you know it or not, you may have experienced at least one of interior designer Katie O’Hara’s designs. Between coIN Loft, Dogfish Head’s Milton brewery and the University of Delaware’s Horn Program in Entrepreneurship, O’Hara’s portfolio is comprised of projects both noteworthy and varied.
Especially the latter — which begs the question, what kind of project would warrant a hard “no” from O’Hara?
Bowling alley? She’d take that project on. Baseball stadium? That’d be a no. How about a newsroom? A resounding yes. And a sitcom set?
“No, but I’d be interested in it.”
When O’Hara first founded Katie O’Hara Design two years ago, she had expected her portfolio to consist primarily of ordinary office spaces. Granted, she has designed a few offices since the genesis of her company, but the former civil engineer-turned interior designer, enjoys the challenge of venturing into unfamiliar territory.
Actually, exploring the unknown is essentially at the core of what O’Hara said her dream project would look and feel like.
“[It would be] a client who says, ‘We want to do something that hasn’t been done before,'” she said. And if that client happens to focus heavily on the people working for them in that space?
“Pinch me. Are you serious?”
This summer, O’Hara is working on an indiscriminate handful of gigs, including one residential project in Newark and two restaurants. One of those restaurants, a craft brew joint called Grain (also located in Newark), is set to open in July. The restaurant will have a small stage for live music and an outdoor beer garden, but O’Hara said the emphasis will be on the bar, the food and the community — especially the community, which O’Hara said is a “vital” component to every one of her designs.

The front bar at Grain.

The front bar at Grain. (Courtesy of Katie O’Hara)


The outdoor area at Grain. (Courtesy of Katie O’Hara)

Plus, Grain will have a large interactive chalk board for customers to doodle on and — get this — USB inputs at the bar, so patrons can recharge both their phones and their spirits.
Then, there’s Tom Foolery’s, a restaurant and sports bar in Middletown. The establishment has been open for business for the past nine years, and O’Hara has been tasked with revamping and refreshing the whole place. The objective is to better sate the aesthetic appetites of Middletown’s growing population of young folks and families in their 20s and 30s. How do you design a sports bar?
“Bring in a lot of metal and wood,” O’Hara said. But, maybe most importantly, the bathrooms are getting a makeover. It may come as a surprise to you, but the look and feel of a restaurant’s bathroom is imperative to its success.
“Ideally, when people walk in the [bathroom] door, they don’t want to see a toilet or a urinal,” O’Hara said. “A lot of times, people associate how clean a restaurant is with how clean the restrooms look.” And though restroom designs are somewhat confined by piping, there’s always room for a little bit of creative flair.
Digging deep to come up with a creative solution for a very real design problem — that process is on the forefront of why O’Hara does what she does.
“I think you just have to get comfortable knowing some people will love it, some will hate it, and that’s fine,” she said. “As long as the client’s happy, I’m fine. The haters will be there.”

Companies: Start It Up Delaware / The Loft

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