Bananas and edamame. Those are among the inspirations claimed by Taller Ken, revealing the playfulness of this young studio. But it wasn’t always fun and games. Not long ago, founders Ines Guzman and Gregory Melitonov were key members of a small team at Renzo Piano Building Workshop, working long hours on the acclaimed design of New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art. Serious stuff. In 2013, the designers formed their own bi-city firm, dedicated to whimsical design and cultural relevancy.
The duo—he grew up in New York, she in Costa Rica—now leads a crew of 10 full-time staff members and regularly works on community projects with students, consistently employing rigorous methods for unconventional ends. At the Madero open-air café in Guatemala City, for instance, vintage cars and towering palm trees create an unexpected experience while showcasing their unique approach. “We’re known for our use of color and texture, as well as bringing the outside in,” Melitonov says.
That ethos is evident at Okio, an 800-square-foot ophthalmologist’s boutique near Madero. The designers treated the facade like a billboard, carving out a large pair of oculi that telegraphs “glasses” to passersby. Inside, green-painted custom millwork mixes with potted plants and exposed wood, evoking the natural world. “We are always finding ways,” Guzman says, “to express thoughts through form.”