Yabu Pushelberg, putting the emotion into design
George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg have created some of the world’s most distinctive hotel, restaurant and boutique interiors. Working with Tribù, their designs include the award-winning Nodi chair and the new Elio seating collection as well as an exciting new project to be announced later this year.
Here, they share their unique design perspective and how always looking to the future keeps them inspired.
Your company is now into its 40th year. Happy Birthday and many congratulations! Did you imagine 40 years ago that your output and design influence would have spread around the world as it has?
Glenn: It is a pinch-me moment every step of the way. We are beyond grateful to be on this journey and to share it with our team of designers and collaborators.
What was the very first design project you undertook together?
Glenn: Our first major design project as Yabu Pushelberg was Club Monaco in Toronto. We began our career with retail design and 40 years later, we are designing the renovation of LVMH’s Paris department store La Samaritaine. It’s incredible to see our personal and professional growth, and the faces and places that have followed us along this journey.
The Yabu Pushelberg company statement says that your design focus goes ‘well beyond what something looks like, to how it makes people feel’. How do you do that? How do you tap into emotion?
Glenn: Our studio is an integrated practice, meaning our various disciplines sit at the same table. It’s true collaboration, not just various trades under one roof. In our view, it’s the only way to create the kinds of cohesive experiences that resonate with our clients. It also means we can touch every single element of the client’s experience, from the overall vibe of a room, to the couch you sit on, to the wine glass you sip from, to the Instagram account that lured you there in the first place. No detail is too small and, quite frankly, the details are where the magic happens.
Your design projects include buildings, interiors, landscapes, lighting, furniture, objects and graphics. Is it easy to switch from the design of a building to something so much smaller such as outdoor furniture? How do you put space between the disciplines?
Glenn: The defining element to who we are is the way that we imagine how the world can be. We see possibility in everything and keep our sights set on the next biggest challenge we can conquer.
This is how we naturally expanded from an interior design studio into an integrated practice of interior, product, lighting, and textile designers, architects, stylists and branding experts. Growing our team has meant that we can touch every single element of an experience. If we have a specific chair in mind, we design it. A custom wall sconce? Got you covered. We are in a place where our creativity can flourish and we can bring our complete vision to life. To us, these elements working together create exceptional design.
George: As designers, we are always thinking about the future and where it can take us. More than ever it is our jobs as designers to make sure that future is considered, thoughtful and nurtures the fundamental elements that allow us to even exist here.
The Nodi armchair was your first design for Tribù. Glenn, you have described the design as being “like a person who stays in the background, says very little, but has an aura about them”. What did you mean by that?
Glenn: What I like about Nodi is that its personality is subtle, quiet, while clearly distinguished. It is a quiet beauty that is timeless and not overly expressive. When I think of Nodi, I envision a chic woman walking into a party. She is mysterious and quiet, but her presence immediately draws all eyes in the room. When you see her walk in, you know you would like to speak to her at some point in the evening. Nodi leaves a long-lasting impression.
George, you have talked about giving the Nodi chair a physical allure, but how did you do that with an inanimate object?
George: Like many things, if you have a good frame you can almost wear anything. Nodi has the most exquisite bones, perfect proportions and our intention was to showcase this. The macramé weaving of fibre does not cloak Nodi’s bones, it just enhances its beautiful profile. You may not see it so easily online, but when you meet it face to face, you can really see its sensuality.
Moving on to your latest design for Tribù, the wonderful Elio Collection of outdoor sofas and chairs. Were there certain requirements from Tribù? How did you arrive at Elio’s particular style and shape? And why did you choose those particular materials?
George: Tribu’s only request was to work with their signature Tricord material which is uniquely a part of their DNA. At first, we grappled with how to make a collection feel light and airy using this material but as we fiddled with it more and more, we found our footing.
We began to twist and bend the material to get a sense of its capabilities. One thing led to another and we began to weave the Tricord back and forth until, unknowingly, we created a macramé effect. This unique technique became the language of Elio.
You are business partners as well as partners in life. How do you make that work as successfully as you do?
Glenn: George is an extremely creative, detailed person who can articulate the purpose of a project from the beginning. Towards the end of a project, he can refine it in the most interesting ways, so it holds its own voice. At each phase, he works with the team, listens and makes them feel supported.
George: Glenn listens to the client and understands what they are saying by reading between the lines. He sees and understands what their true desires are and he can fulfil these specific requirements through his knowledge and experience in design. He knows how to express the needs of a client to a team pragmatically and explain things that are hard to always see clearly.
We’ve worked together going on 40 years. We share common goals, desires and similar aesthetics. We cultivated and mastered the Yabu Pushelberg DNA – creating deeply thoughtful, distinctive projects that are appropriate to where we believe the client should be rather than where they are in the present.
And what should look out for next from Yabu Pushelberg?
Glenn: In 2020, we celebrate the studio’s 40th birthday! As we arrange the candles, we have been avidly reflecting on our growth, both as people and our work over this period of time. What we have realised is, what better way to celebrate our birthday than with the opening of new projects?
This year, LVMH’s Paris department store, La Samaritaine, will be re-opening to the public after its 15-year closure. We are also opening two hotels in London, The Londoner and Pan Pacific. Meanwhile, in North America, Fairmont Century Plaza Hotel, branded residences and residential towers will be re-introduced to LA. In Canada, we designed the EGALE Centre, a space for LGBTQ homeless youth to seek refuge. It is a big year for us, and we are beyond humbled to wake up every day and do what we love.
As part of our ongoing partnership with George and Glenn, Tribù donated 37 mattresses to their EGALE Centre for homeless young people.
Special thanks to Go Modern, our dealer in the UK, for hosting this interview with Yabu Pushelberg and to George and Glenn for their inspiring answers.