Even as a 4 year old, Ryan Crown was fastidious. Upon seeing the clothes laid out for him to wear to school, he would inevitably return them to his wardrobe and take out an ensemble of his own choosing. Crown, founder and creative director of branding and design agency Crown Creative, was a “particular kid,” he says, guided by the instinct and details that now drive his hospitality-focused company. “I like identifying talent and seeing how far a project can go,” he says.
Crown’s knack for visualization was amplified in 2016 when he moved from his native Belfast, Ireland to New York. There, he helped elevate celebrated lower Manhattan Irish pub the Dead Rabbit’s marketing collateral and served as creative director of HPH Hospitality, forging a synergy across the portfolio’s venues, which include Harry’s steakhouse and the French food hall Le District. He wanted to delve deeper into the concepts and strategies of a project, so in fall 2018, he launched Crown Creative.
When Crown moved back to Belfast in 2020, the studio’s team grew and solidified its focus on hospitality—a passion that Crown credits to his New York sojourn. “I plan my holidays around hotels and F&B experiences, but that wasn’t the case until New York. The city opened this whole world to me. It was a drastic shift in how I perceive creativity and absorb hospitality,” he explains.
Crown Creative’s work spans concept and digital design, visual identities, art direction, and signage and wayfinding for local establishments like Fera Bakery, Orto Pizzabar, and Waterman restaurant, as well as Townhouse Detroit and the recently opened Mad Nice from Michigan’s Heirloom Hospitality. Industry heavyweights Marriott and Hilton are also clients.
Currently, the team is working on a mix of rollouts, campaigns, and guest experiences for the Le Méridien brand; the cocktail bar at the forthcoming Tempo by Hilton New York Times Square; and Peacock Alley, Waldorf Astoria’s signature lounge that is becoming a fixture across all properties. Watching Crown Creative’s rebranding of it “come to life across multiple cities and knowing your design is having a global impact has been an interesting experience for us,” Crown says.
In 2021, Crown Creative joined forces with Oisin McEvoy to open Neighbourhood Café in Belfast (Crown is also cofounder of the local culinary incubator Hill Street Hatch and grilled cheese kiosk Toast Office), and Crown is eager for the agency to own, operate, and design more concepts.
Expanding Crown Creative’s interiors footprint is also a priority, so that hospitality partners can collaborate with the studio throughout the entire design process. “Conceptualizing, launching, and operating our own concepts sparks a mindset shift for us beyond that of a traditional design studio,” he says. “It ignites our entrepreneurial spirit, engages our creative talent, and deepens our empathy for our partners as operators. This makes us a better partner and, ultimately a better studio.”
Consider the Dead Rabbit. On the heels of its 10-year anniversary this year, Crown Creative reimagined the upstairs Parlor, designing a stool and chairs for the space, brightening it with Irish artworks, and unveiling a cocktail menu starring hand-drawn illustrations. With two additional outposts of the Dead Rabbit planned for Austin and New Orleans, the relationship is poised to evolve even further. “They are building this larger ecosystem,” says Crown. “It has been tremendous using the Dead Rabbit as a platform to showcase contemporary Irish craft and culture.”
This article originally appeared in HD’s July 2023 issue.