IONIC Reflections

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.

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.

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

This is a recent question we received from a client after we had completed a master Visioneering plan for them on a 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.

Push to the Finish

I have ran a lot of marathons over the last few years and no matter how exhausted I am near the finish, I always manage to dig deep and push at the end to cross the line. Always trying to finish strong.

So what do we do at work when we get to December? Stop short? Slack off? Coast through the holidays? Yep…..that’s what we often feel towards the last days of the year. Everybody else is doing the same, right?

So…..Welcome to the last month of the year! While it might be tempting to take your foot off the gas, coast through the remainder of the year, and set your sights on how great next year is going to be (and it’s going to be great, without question), consider a few things:

1. December is 1/12th of the year – equal to 8.333% of your productivity and bottom line.

2. Would you light more than 8% of your income on fire just because you needed amusement?

3. You have a couple of choices for December: double-down on any goals you haven’t quite achieved yet, or relax and let the chips fall where they may.

I have never seen a race where the leader eases up at the end, only to lose the race to the guy who is giving his all? I suggest you run through the tape (in this case, December 31st…..however I’ve never been able to run through a tape….never been first), which also means you’re going to have some pretty sweet momentum as you start the new year!

Even if you take off the last couple of weeks of the year, you can finish strong and set yourself up to win big time next year.

Now, I’m sure wondering how you finish strong and start next year with momentum. I’m glad you asked …

Step 1: Create a plan for December and be intentional about the days you work, and the days you don’t. Set 3 goals for the month, find some accountability, and go for it like you mean it!

Step 2: Schedule time (1-2 hours at most) to do a review of the year.
1. What worked?
2. What didn’t work?
3. How did you do on your goals this year (so far)?
4. What would you do differently if you had the year to do over?
5. What did you learn about yourself?
6. What was great about the year?
7. Any wins you might want to celebrate?

Step 3: Schedule another block of time to create an Annual Plan for next year and Goals, and then do a 12 Week Plan so you exponentially increase your odds of achieving your desired outcomes.


Happy Holidays and here is to your best December and New Year yet!

Two offices to serve you better. Headquarters in Hampton Roads. Second office in Central Virginia.

The S-Curve

I was recently afforded the opportunity to hear Kyle Johnson, the minister of Next Level Church, speak at the recent Annual Member Meeting of NACDB (National Association of Church Design Build) in Arlington, Texas. He gave the keynote address based on the “S-Curve” thought process regarding growth. It was interesting to hear him compare business and church growth. Something you might not normally expect. I took the following notes and added my own thoughts and embellishments as they apply to our own experiences.

It’s funny how things often tie together. Kyle was about to share his message which often referenced the rollercoaster or S-Curve theory. As I was walking over from the hotel to the convention center where the event was to take place, I noticed a wonderful orange sunrise coming up in the distance. It was striking. But what caught my attention especially was the shadowy figure of the rollercoaster from Six Flags in the foreground. A few hours later Kyle would be sharing his thoughts about rollercoasters and sunrises……hummmmm makes you think.

Growth is linear…up and to the right. Well that’s what we would like to consider consistent growth. Consistent and sustainable growth. But we know that is in theory only and does not necessarily occur in practice. Growth doesn’t happen in our businesses in a linear fashion. Nor does growth for churches happen linearly either. It’s more up and down like a rollercoaster. A continuous cycle that has its ebbs and tides and hopefully moves generally upward as the cycle repeats.

There are several recognizable phases that are evident in this S-Curve process:

1. Launch

The launching is the first phase and can easily be demonstrated by the kick off of a new business. However, other areas can be illustrated by this such as expansion, an acquisition or even a new service. Something different. Anything new can be considered a launch phase. On a rollercoaster, it is when you sit in that seat and pull down the bar that holds you in… and you suck your gut in just a little bit more so you can tug on it just a little bit more and the bar clicks tighter one more notch. Then you hear the air breaks go off on a rollercoaster. Hear we go! Hang on!

2. Acceleration

Seth Godin described the next phase of any business cycle as the acceleration phase. That moment when your movement just begins. It’s slow as first but you are proceeding forward. Gaining a bit of momentum possibly. It’s that first dip on the rollercoaster as it leaves the loading area and heads out on the track. A short  downward portion that we all experience in our stomachs possibly, both on the rollercoaster and in the business world.

3. Rapid Growth

The third phase is all about growth. Business is fun at this point. Work is coming in. So is money. This is what was planned, right? Up and to the right, just as all business models are represented. Growth is rapid. You get more projects than you know how to handle. You have to hire more people to perform the work. Things are good, maybe even a bit frantic. But that’s okay. You are making money. Making progress. Accomplishing a lot. This is good. A little sweat is good… right? Sure it is. Put your hands up on the rollercoaster! You feel like you could do this all day.

4. Diminishing Returns

Oh no, here it comes. You couldn’t really expect it to continue up and right forever, could you? Progress slows, but that’s OK because you were swamped and now you appreciate the breather. It should be nothing. It might last a month, maybe a few before you recognize the slowed forward momentum. Maybe you looked at your financials and see that you increased in revenue in every previous month. Over and over. But not this month. It was still a good number. Maybe even a little dip from last month. Nothing to worry about… or is there? It’s that moment on the rollercoaster when the first car goes over the top of the hill. The question for business owners is are you in the front seat or the back? Can you see what is ahead or are you blinded by an obstructed view?

5. Free Fall

Here comes the sickening feeling in your stomach. We lose a project. And then another. We never lost projects before. What do you mean our prices are too high?After all these years of our relationship and the past work we have performed for you? The other guys? It’s a downward spin on the rollercoaster. You can feel the wheels coming off the tracks just a little bit. Stomach floating upward into your throat. Not enough work for those new people you just hired.

Here is the moment when we have to begin to make a difference in our company. Being a good leader isn’t just about doing good when things are well. That’s easy to manage. A good leader recognizes the issues and takes action. I’ve often heard that it isn’t the challenges that makes you who you are, but how you react to those challenges.

You are going to have to avoid the Doom Loop. You keep doing the same… over and over. Where is that ultimately going to get you? Probably in the same spot you began… without progress. You tried something new and it didn’t take off immediately. You got scared and freaked out! The free fall makes you want to stop what you are doing and go back to something safe. The growth isn’t there anymore and it isn’t happening the way you hoped or planned. Trust the systems, structures, communication and processes. It’s there… give it time.

However, if there aren’t any changes made, your are bound to endure the Doom Loop. A good leader will make the necessary changes. Sticking your head in the sand and expecting it to get better isn’t a solution. If you are not willing to make the changes necessary to get back to the top of the S-Curve then you will certainly suffer. And so will the rest of your team.

So guess what? Every organization will experience some part of the Doom Loop. The real question is for what duration will you remain on this reoccurring cycle? How long will it take you as a leader to react? Good visionary leaders can see across the rollercoaster and see what the future holds. You must be willing to make the changes necessary. Jim Collins describes this trait as a good leader becoming a great leader.

Sunsets: Close your eyes and picture a sunset in your mind. Where are you? What is the perfect sunset that you envision? If this was asked in a room full of people, everyone would have a different answer, right? Is only one person envisioning the correct sunset? No they are all correct but they may not be envisioning your sunset as the leader. Your sunset is the vision of the company. The direction you are going. The master plan or maybe the 3 year vivid vision such as Cameron Herold suggests and our office does. So have you shared your vision with the others on your team so they know what your sunset looks like?

Where are you on the rollercoaster? And can you truly evaluate your current status? The bigger question is what are you going to do about it? How will your react to this challenge?

18-Year Anniversary

This month, we celebrate 18 years in business. We also celebrate two years of our office in Richmond. It is amazing how time flies so quickly. It seems like yesterday I was working out of the house. Me, Myself and I. Now, we have two offices with 17 team members and we continue to grow. Never would have imagined that so many years ago.

While we celebrate 18 years of business as IONIC, our Richmond office (acquired in 2015) was originally William Henry Harris and Associates. They have been around for nearly 35 years practicing with a focus on religious architecture. Excellent history.

With our current reach and breadth of work, we cover thirteen states and have specialized in restaurant, retail, office and financial institutions. Not to mention our strong portfolio of historic projects along with multi-family, residential and educational-based designs.

Let IONIC help explore the growth and development of your project. Contact us for a consultation to explore how we can help you. Thanks again for all those who have helped us and supported our team over the years. You have made us successful.