IONIC Reflections

Ask IONIC #1- Concept vs. Schematic

Ask IONIC is a napkin series of questions that we often see from our clients and others that may assist those who are seeking answers.

No question is dumb… just the ones you don’t ask.

We hope these help you understand our industry just a little bit better so you can make informed decisions. Information that leads to knowledge is the key to success.

Ask IONIC image

What is the difference between a “Conceptual” Phase and a “Schematic Design” Phase?

This is a question we received from a client after we had completed an IONIC Masterplan plan for the renovation of an existing facility. While preparing our proposal we included a phase for schematic design. The owner asked why we had included this because we had already prepared the concept… wasn’t this a duplication of services?

Actually no. It wasn’t a duplication but rather an extension of what we had started. In our initial study for the client, we used  PDF plan provided for the building. We had walked the site and taken a few pictures of the building so we had a good idea what challenges were going to be presented. No field measurements were conducted during the site visit.

Our office prepared a conceptual floor plan that represented areas for demolition, walls that were considered load-bearing and of course a new plan for how the client could adapt their program to the existing footprint in the most efficient manner. We also produced color exterior renderings for the proposed new use.

All was approved… now on to the next step.

So wasn’t that enough for you to jump in straight to the construction documents?

Unfortunately, NO!

First, we need to take detailed measurements of all the existing conditions so we can prepare an accurate digital plan to work with. Why is that important? Actually, a few inches here and there could take an area out of ADA compliance. Changes required during construction could cause delays and additional expenses. This first step is critical!

Secondly, once we have prepared all of the as-builts (definition: a digital accounting of the actual pre-existing conditions typically produced in AutoCAD.) Our design team can go back and develop the previously created floor plan concepts into a more detailed and accurate plan that not only we can use, but also our consultants. Again, we try to avoid changes in the field down the road.

Finally, we also take into account all the various little ambiguities with the exterior elevations and ensure that our heights are correct. Our bearing walls are correct. The structural integrity and sizes of existing beams are accurate. So many times we have seen changes made in the field that were never shown in the drawings provided.  Never assume!

With these new schematic documents completed, our office can proudly and confidently present a dimensioned floor plan, exterior elevations and even early building and/or wall sections of the design for everyone to progress safely onto the next phase of work.

Hope this clarifies the question for you. Should you have others, please submit them to us and we will add them to the list and post answers. Send all questions to

We look forward to hearing from you.

We Build More Than Spaces. We Build Relationships.

From site and space planning, through complete permit and construction documents, to construction contract administration, we bring our client’s vision to life. We wouldn’t be able to do this so well without the talented and experienced partners and contractors we work with. We may be the brains but they are the brawn!

That’s why we value the bonds we create with our vendors as highly as the relationships we form with clients. From construction to engineering, we have go-to teams for nearly any discipline and we regularly partner with the same firms for multiple projects. We are proud of our long-standing relationships — some of them for years.

We understand our partners extremely well. We know their specialties, the quality of their work, and how they’ll implement our plans. These strong relationships benefit us and our clients as well. We strive to work with the best firms for any project so together we can ensure the most hassle-free, high-quality product possible for our clients.

  • General Contractor 
    • Our chosen GC is responsible for providing all of the material, labor, equipment (such as engineering vehicles and tools) and services necessary for the actual construction of the project. They take are plans and get to work making them happen! We often form strong relationships with our GC’s because they become such an important part of the build.
  • Structural Engineer 
    • The structural engineer is responsible for designing physical structures to withstand external pressures. They are concerned with ensuring the integrity of each element of a structure, such as beams, foundations, columns and floors and often act in a consulting manner as we create plans and move into the build phase.
  • MEP Engineer
    • Mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineers—known as “MEP” engineers—use scientific principles to design and build the functional and mechanical systems of a building. People in the architecture world like to think of MEP engineers as the builders and maintainers of a structure’s central nervous system.
  • Civil Engineer
    • Because a building needs to be accessible and accommodate all of its unique surroundings, we coordinate with civil engineers who design plans for road access, parking lots, sewer and drain systems and much more. Civil engineers help us ensure your building fits its site in the most advantageous way.
  • Geotechnical Engineer 
    • You may not realize, but it’s our job to consider the actual ground and soil under and around location of our builds. That means, we often have to bring a geotechnical engineer onboard. They investigate and evaluate soil, rock, groundwater, and man-made materials and their interaction with earth retention systems.

That’s just the typically teams we might partner with, but it’s not all. We partner with other consultants as we need them including a Pool Consultant, Acoustical Consultant and, on a historical project in California, an Adobe Mud Consultant!

This might go without saying, but it takes a village to create a new building! We appreciate the high-quality teams we have the pleasure to work with and can ensure our clients they can be confident in the partners we chose.


CoVa Best of 2021: IONIC Client Awardees

Every year, Coastal Virginia Magazine hosts the Best of Readers Choice Awards. The magazine holds multiple rounds, gathering votes from the community to identify their favorite businesses, best service providers and stand-out individuals. With outstanding participation, the CoVa Awards results are widely recognized as the region’s de facto ranking of the Coastal VA business community every year. 

At IONIC, we consider ourselves lucky to partner with and build for top talent in Coastal Virginia, including many who were named in the recent 2021 results! We’d like to extend our congratulations to our partners and friends who received recognition: 

ShoreBreak Pizza and Taphouse – Overall Gold Best Family Dining/Casual, Overall Gold Best Sports Bar

The Rustic Spoon – South Side Gold Best Family Dining/Casual, Overall Gold Best Lunch, Overall Gold Best New Restaurant

Amber Ox Public House – Peninsula Silver Best Local Farm-to-Table Menu, Peninsula Bronze Best Overall Restaurant, Peninsula Gold Best Wings

Mancoll Cosmetic and Plastic Surgery – Overall Gold Best Cosmetic Surgery Center, South Side Gold Best Skin/Dermatology Practice

Navy Federal Credit Union – Overall Gold Best Credit Union, Overall Gold Best Financial Planning Company

Chartway Federal Credit Union – South Side Gold Best Credit Union

Beach Municipal Federal Credit Union – South Side Bronze Best Credit Union

Atomic Plumbing – Overall Gold Best Plumber

Patrick Henry Mall – Peninsula Gold Best Shopping Mall

Where in the World is IONIC

When you’re finally ready to build the worship, commercial, office or restaurant space of your dreams – why would you let your potential partners be confined to your immediate radius?

We hear about business owners and decision-makers wanting to work with a specific architecture firm that aligns perfectly with their vision and values (often it’s us!) but headquartered out of state. Many times, they believe they must choose a firm closer to them, instead. Why!?

There’s no reason an architect based in your city can do a better job than one halfway across the country.
Architecture is an old discipline. It’s been practiced for centuries. For that reason, it’s also steeped in tradition and conventional beliefs. One of those beliefs being that build partners have to meet in-person to create the best space possible. Whether that means a lack of communication, a hurdle to building amicable relationships, or forfeiting oversight is the problem – it’s just not true.

With virtual communication processes now firmly ingrained in almost all businesses, in-person contact with your architect is an unnecessary remnant of the past. At IONIC, we’re licensed in almost twenty different states and in-demand in many of them. We continue to form great relationships, complete amazing spaces, and ensure top-notch service for our clients whether they are sitting in our Virginia headquarters, or not.


Your goal should be to find the highest performing firm with a portfolio that excites you, whether they can stop by your office for lunch or call in from a different climate. Experience, attitude, and design acumen are more important than proximity.

IONIC is licensed in 15 states. If you’re interested in working with us and your job is located in one of them, let’s talk!




New York State
North Carolina
South Carolina
New Jersey

Eugene’s July One-Minute Mile

Dr. Eugene Thompson and IONIC CEO takes one minute to dive into his topic of the month!

Celebrating the 5-year Anniversary of Aaron Payne

This month, Aaron Payne is celebrating 5 years with the IONIC Team! A native of Richmond, Virginia, Aaron Payne attended Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, obtaining his professional degree in 2015. He started his architectural career with IONIC in the Spring of 2016.

In his five years with IONIC, Aaron has taken advantage of our diverse portfolio. He has gained experience in retail, restaurant, industrial and office projects. Although skilled in all areas, his favorite project to date was an office/warehouse space in Fredericksburg (pictured below). This creative challenge demanded that multiple uses and tenants’ needs were met, while working with simple materials (corrugated steel and brick) to give the space character. It’s projects like these where Ionic DeZign Studios shines and we couldn’t do it without Aaron on our team.

Thank you Aaron! We’re looking forward to seeing other projects you take on while reaching your goal to become a registered architect.

Read Aaron’s favorite quote, learn more about his career with IONIC as well as the rest of our talented team on our website, here.

DeZign Trend: Restaurants Take It Outside

Ionic DeZign Studios has completed countless eatery designs over the past twenty-one years in business, making our team the go-to firm for beautiful and functional restaurants accompanied by forward-thinking touches.


When it comes to the ever-changing restaurant trends, we’ve found that ones serving up solutions to sector-specific problems are the ones with staying power. A great example is happening as we speak! Owners everywhere are seeking ways to improve the eating-out experience in a post-pandemic world. From increased outdoor seating to ultra convenient take-out processes, these pandemic-related accommodations are here to stay. 


Simplified Take Out – Dine-in restaurants built without to-go ordering in mind are suffering. Patrons dislike jumping through hoops and restaurant staff members waste time and energy corralling customers through various lines to order and then receive their take-out. 


“What line do I go through?” 

“Where am I supposed to stand?” 

“Where does my food come out?”


We’ve all asked these questions at some point in the last year while trying to enjoy food from one of our favorite restaurants. Fewer and fewer people want to dine in, and it’s imperative to account for that during your build by establishing a simplified take-out process during the design phase. Examples include highly visible and dedicated take-out windows, convenient walkups, improved outdoor waiting areas and, of course, the installation of drive-through service. Help your operation smoothly sail far into the future by considering these trends in your restaurant build. 


Improved Outdoor Spaces – Outdoor spaces aren’t just for eating anymore; they’re where people feel most comfortable gathering. Whether that means enjoying dinner, attending a performance, participating in outdoor games or even receptions – these spaces are invaluable. Make your restaurant the first choice for meeting friends and family by expanding upon the normal outdoor eating space. We’re seeing restaurants make their outdoor spaces bigger and friendlier with ample seating and custom lighting. Many are also making their outdoor spaces  accessible year-round by installing outdoor heating and creating beautifully covered and paved areas. 


As a leader in designing restaurants for form and function, IONIC understands how to create modern spaces that solve current issues. If you’re ready to get started on your own ground-up restaurant venture or desire to retrofit your current space, give IONIC a call.

… the New Normal?

How is your new normal today?

Has everything flip flopped suddenly? Yeah, me too.

One day I was driving to work and the next stuck at home….trapped at home.

Seriously though I’ve never been NORMAL. Some will call me unique, creative, entrepreneurial….or crazy, strange or even give me the look of “what the heck is wrong with that man?”

So now we know that I have a problem/super-power, let’s move on.

Why have we resisted the new normal? Why is it so new? Foreign? So unacceptable? The overused phrases that have come through my email and heard on countless news broadcasts or webinars….How many webinars have you been on this week?

Yeah….me too!

ZOOM Meetings? Yeah….me too!


My friend Dave Will sent me an email via Propfuel that resonated with what I was experiencing as well.

Here are some of the phrases I cut and pasted right from my email in about a 5 min search, that make me want to BARF EMOJI all over the place.

  • we’re living in unprecedented times – tops the list

  • this is the new normal

  • we’re in ever changing times

  • there’s no script for this

  • we’re in a shifting landscape

  • we’re all in this together

  • current way of life

  • challenging times for all

  • social distance shaming (actually that one is kind of fun)

  • navigate this extraordinary health and economic crisis

  • navigate these turbulent times

  • if only we were more proactive

We KNOW this is an uncertain and unprecedented time! So let’s just jump to the value proposition.

Tell me why I’m getting your email.

He is absolutely right….I know this…why do I have to also get another email telling me that business is fine…we are ALL working from home…we ALL have the ability to still work on your project…blah blah blah.

Don’t get me wrong. I am so glad you have been able to MAKE THE SHIFT. However, I believe it is going to take a lot more than just working from home to meet the needs of …. OUR NEW NORMAL !

It’s going to take creativity to discover how ALL of our industries are going to react to this crisis. It will create change…IT WILL! There isn’t a doubt!

Your normal will never go back to normal again.

You can’t stick your heads in the sand and say, “I can’t wait until this is all over and goes back to normal.” Ladies and gentlemen….WE ARE NOT GOING BACK.

The question really is…are you going to make the change? Meaningful change? We need to do something….and we will need to keep on doing it!

Sure, right now we will all be working a little differently….maybe even required to do a little more. Many of our firms just became OVERNIGHT STARTUPS!

We must adapt during this crisis. And we need to do it now…FAST!

CRISIS = Circumstances Requiring an Immediate Shift In Strategy. 

Become the new normal….become the change.

Our Amazing Intern – Jaxon

Right after the presentation, a father brought his high school son to introduce to me and talk about the project in further detail. He also shared that his son was doing some AutoCAD in high school and wondered if we considered any internships. IONIC had considered summer interns in the past when there was a good match. We’ve even hired college students that worked part-time and went to school the other. Dahlia White is a testament to that success as she began with us that way more than 10 years ago.

So when this proud father introduced me to his son, Jaxon, a high school student, I must say that I was a little bit leery as to his ability to do much around our office. Honestly, everything we do is on the computer these days. And most high schools don’t teach the level that we would use in our office. However, I was very impressed with his portfolio work and found out that he had been in training with AutoCAD for three years. That’s just unheard of!

Jaxon was a pleasure in our office during his time with IONIC. He continued to grow and develop and not only honed his skills with AutoCAD, but quickly jumped into helping produce construction documents. We were excited to hear that this wasn’t just a job to make a few bucks but the beginning of a career and that he intended to go to architectural school at Virginia Tech.

Thanks Jaxon for all of your participation and energy that you shared in our Richmond office. We look forward to hearing and seeing great things from you in the future.

P. S. There are always summer breaks and holiday weekends!

Here is a quick note he shared with us:

My experience with IONIC started when they came to do an addition to my church; my dad dragged me along to the meeting just in case they offered an internship of some sort. I was doubtful that anyone would want a 17 year old kid working for them, but I went along anyway. After the meeting, I was super nervous about asking these two strange men (Eugene and Aaron) that I had never met about coming to work for them as it was my first time doing something similar to this.

However, it went smoothly! I secured the internship as well as a small pay, which was just unbelievable, and I went from there. When I first started at IONIC the one thing I remember is how welcomed I felt while I was first starting, almost like the family just took me under their wing immediately.

My first project I remember was a small project off of Twin Oaks, and Jeff gave me the floor plans and told me to put them into AutoCAD, no big deal right.

However, as I progressed I realized how hard it was! But with the help of Aaron and Google, I was able to continue to grow and learn. I am forever grateful for the opportunity that was given to me by IONIC and I am super excited to be back next summer!

IONIC isn’t only a business, it’s a family who care for one another deeply.

Thank you Jaxon for the kind words…Looking forward to seeing your success at Virginia Tech!


This blog post is not about architecture or interior design or any other design or business topic. It is about our community. Our community here in Virginia Beach.

Last Friday, May 31, 2019, our community was attacked in the latest instance of tragic and horrific murders. A lone shooter entered Building 2 down at the city and municipal complex and began shooting. He took the lives of 12 innocent souls.

Friday evening, when I heard the news, I was immediately shocked and scared. I felt a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach. The names had not been released at that time and I began thinking of the many people that we deal with in our industry that work in that very building. We talk, communicate, visit, and have meetings there nearly every week. Many of those employees have become great business colleagues over the many years.

As it turned out, we didn’t personally know any of the victims. However, I’m sure that doesn’t apply to many of our consultants on the civil engineering side that deal with those individuals in Public Works more frequently. It’s just traumatizing to think about this sort of violence taking place so close to home in our very own neighborhood.

My thoughts then turned to our own staff. So often we are in that building meeting with zoning or the planning department or others. Many times we are taking drawings to the city to submit for review to obtain permits. That could have very well been the case on that dark Friday. Thankfully, it was not.

We may never understand what causes any individual to create such unmentionable chaos. This blog post is not about politics. It is simply an opportunity to remember those that were lost. And until we begin facing the fact that our nation is hurting and until we address the heart I don’t believe that we can avoid these types of violent actions in our country. Change is within ourselves and that’s where we need to begin.

God bless those that serve us daily, those that have lost their lives and their families and their loved ones and their close colleagues.

I agree with what so many people have said already, this incident will not define us!


The city has set up a contribution fund to support the victims’ families. Click here to be redirected and make a contribution.