Thursday, December 8, 2011

One of Us: Before the chef, a restaurant needs a designer |

Milan Malinovic says he likes challenging projects.

He’s got one in the 1534 Oak St. project.

He and his partners at D Coop (short for Design Cooperative) have designed and are involved in the construction of a mixed-use building that will house a ground-floor restaurant, two floors of offices and a rooftop bar on a small, triangular lot near Five Points.

The space is tight and the neighborhood is even tighter, a mixture of residential, retail, bustling restaurants and a crowded neighborhood grocery.

“It’s a very big inconvenience to build a building,” the affable Malinovic said, noting that a big part of his job on a project like 1534 Oak is “crisis management.”

Malinovic is used to adjusting.

He spent the first 33 years of his life in what was then Yugoslavia and is now Bosnia, mostly in Sarajevo. At the University of Sarajevo he got a degree in fine art and then another in architecture and went to work as an architect at the largest firm in the city. But in 1992, with violence escalating as various sections of Yugoslavia broke away into separate countries (six countries would eventually emerge from the breakup), Malinovic left.

He moved to Malta, an island nation in the Mediterranean. He could continue to practice architecture there and he met his wife, marrying her in 1993.

But Malta, he said, “is a really tiny country, while the United States was one of the biggest countries.”

So he came to Jacksonville because a partner of his knew William Morgan, one of Jacksonville finest architects.

Milanovic liked the climate in Jacksonville and Morgan, who was designing a federal courthouse in Tallahassee, had work for him.

Technically, Milanovic is no longer an architect since his European license isn’t recognized here. He said he plans to do the necessary course work to obtain his license here soon.

But working without a license hasn’t been a problem since he moved here since he’s always worked for other architects who are licensed. He’s worked with Morgan, worked for Reynolds, Smith and Hills and was with Rink, Reynolds, Diamond, Fisher, later renamed Rink Design, from 2002 until it closed in 2010.

Meanwhile, he and some other associates from Rink Design started D Coop, an architecture and interior design firm, in 2008.

“We’re all very different but somehow we jell together,” he said.

Any great project needs three elements, he said: a great client, a great contractor and a good designer.

The client on 1534 Oak is Black Sheep Restaurant Group, the team behind Chew and Orsay. They’ve placed a high priority on trying to minimize inconvenience from the construction, Milanovic said.

“We knocked on every door in the neighborhood and gave phone numbers for people to call,” he said. “They’ve been very sensitive, which is a very good thing. We want to be a good neighbor.”

The contractor is D.W. Myers, which is dealing with the challenge of not having much storage space on site, he said. As a result, the project is taking time. Ground broke last June. Construction probably won’t end until next June.

When it’s finished, Milanovic said, he hopes it’s a building which everyone looks at and says, those guys are good.

“We really want to make the best we can.”

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