George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg, Founders Yabu Pushelberg

Posted in News, People on 17 May, 2019

Founding partners George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg speak to SPACE Editor Can Faik about current projects they are working on and what’s next for their established design studio…

Yabu Pushelberg is a global design studio with offices in New York and Toronto. The practice aims to address multiple layers of human experience and to explore new solutions to innovate the world of design. The studio has a team of over one hundred seasoned experts and young design innovators, focused on designing buildings, interiors, landscapes, lighting, furniture, objects, and graphics.

Tell me about your roles at Yabu Pushelberg
Glenn Pushelberg: When we first started, we began as interior designers and were based in Toronto, Canada. We worked very closely on all projects together and as the firm grew, we added employees and became founding partners. Over time, our studio continued to grow, and we added Johnathan Garrison as a new partner – who manages the company. Now, we’re back together as designers, overseeing the business, collaborating with our design teams, instructing and editing the design and seeing clients.

What five words would you use to describe Yabu Pushelberg?
George Yabu: Approachable, collaborative, exploratory, surprising, experienced.

What makes Yabu Pushelberg different to other design companies?
Glenn Pushelberg: We’re a fully integrated design practice with creatives and professionals… designing more than just interiors. We have a multidisciplinary team of skilled design experts who understand what it takes to design immersive environments, compelling destinations and considered goods that emotionally resonate. From tabletop objects to expansive new developments, we work with partners who share our vision to go beyond the expected and believe in exploring new design solutions – this is what sets us apart.

How and why did you get into the interior design Industry?
George Yabu: It began as a decision to avoid school term papers. In saying this, design is our medium of choice – it’s how we prefer to tell a story and share our interpretation of the world we want to live in.
Glenn Pushelberg: I chose the program of interior design because it didn’t need science or any written exams. Adding onto what George said, we’re inspired by everything, and everything we create is rooted by our personal experiences in life. We’re fortunate to work in the same industry together, doing what we’re both passionate about and having fun while doing so.

How would you define your ‘hotel style’?
GeorgeYabu: Timelessly fresh. We’re focused on what’s next and explore our imagination to push past what is expected to conceive memorable moments of tomorrow – it’s important when designing a hotel.
Glenn Pushelberg: We know how hotels work and have an endless source of creativity to make every project individual and distinctive. It comes from a tremendous amount of experience, understanding how hotels function, knowing what makes them stand out and having a strong point of view. Our hotel style is very considered and edited.

How important are public spaces in hotels?
George Yabu: Very. Public spaces have become social hubs for society, they are social destinations for people to have meetings, relax, gather and aren’t designed just for hotel guests, they are for everyone. You’re seeing bars and restaurant experiences with more personality and partnerships with renowned chefs, restaurateurs and bar owners. It’s a big contrast to how it used to be approached from the turn of the century, it’s more complex, dynamic and focused on designing for quality social gatherings.

Have you seen exceptional growth in any part of the world in hotel design?
Glenn Pushelberg: There is growth in almost every market for the hotel business today, especially in places such as China and the Middle East. Our strategy is to have an even distribution of our projects in all parts of the world and not be reliant on just one or two economies.

How is The Londoner project moving along and how many members of the team do you have working on this property?
George Yabu: It will be an iconic hotel when it opens in 2020! We have many people involved for this project and the numbers change at varying parts of the project. People should expect a new and compelling destination in London with a lot of quality bars and restaurants.

What has been your favourite project to date?
Glenn Pushelberg: Times Square EDITION. It will be our fifth hotel collaborating with Ian Schrager and fourth EDITION hotel we have designed for the group. It’s opening soon and we can’t wait for people to explore this new counterpoint located in the liveliest area in New York City.

As one who’s steeped in hospitality design, what do you find yourself always on the lookout for as you step into a new hotel?
Glenn Pushelberg: The errors. Small details from the light switch, furniture placement to electric plugs.
George Yabu: We are looking at sussing out the soul of a hotel space, the nuances, textures and the things that alight your senses. It’s often hard to find.

Let’s imagine for a moment: if you had to design a hotel for Yabu Pushelberg, what would it be like?
George Yabu: We would create an experience where the servers come to you and it’s 100 per cent customer centric.
Glenn Pushelberg: We’ve always been fascinated with the idea of a traditional Japanese inn where there is one big room – a traditional tatami-mat room and when you go during the day, the living furniture is set-up, your bath is made. You come out and there is dining furniture, you get cleaned up and your bed is there. It’s about having this invisible carer that is looking after you, you go nowhere, and everything comes to you.
George Yabu: It’s not apparent, it’s only tangible in what it does for you.

Where do you see hotel design in the future?
Glenn Pushelberg: It continues to segment and be less generalised and reaching a very specific audience from multi-tenanted rooms, hostels, micro hotel rooms to mega lifestyle rooms. There is no one answer and as Airbnb has pointed out, hotels can be as small as one room today. It’s not about categorising hotels into five-star or mid-service, its about thinking about very specific customer groups, what they want, need and aspire to. George Yabu: Further to Glenn’s point, the future of hotel design has no one format but what we do know is, there is an increased emphasis on a customer-centric approach. It is a cross-section of the human experience and hotel design will adapt to how people prefer to interact with the spaces around them. One example of this is the shift towards a hotel environment where it’s important to build a sense of community and a lifestyle where global travellers and entrepreneurs can mingle in social areas, be like-minded and productive to optimise their travel time. We’re already building hotel experiences like these for cities like New York, London and Hong Kong.

What do you love about being a designer? Where do you draw your inspiration?
Glenn Pushelberg: Design is always changing, moving forward and about designing for tomorrow. I’m inspired by everything and that’s the beauty about being a designer, what you imagine and perceive in everyday life, can be interpreted in a unique way through all aspects of design from places, objects and considered goods.
George Yabu: I am very curious by nature and drawn towards the fine details in everything I see, feel and touch. My intuitive approach to design allows us to explore an intimate side of our clients’ business, their purpose and enter their world and explore new possibilities. For me, the greater their fascination, the higher the design challenge becomes – this is what I live for, using design to resolve obstacles and arriving at new and innovative solutions.

Is there anything exciting that you are working on at the moment that you can tell us about?
Glenn Pushelberg: We are designing five resorts at the moment and the exciting part is our holistic approach for each project from master planning to designing the building, interiors, landscape, uniforms and lighting. Being deeply involved with these design aspects allows us to create special moments through the entire journey a guest can experience.

What’s next for you both?
Glenn Pushelberg: We just moved our New York team into a new building in Tribeca. It’s a bigger studio space for us and will support the growth of our team. What’s new about this new location is that we’re introducing a new destination for the design community to enjoy our world of design, new product collaborations and our personal art collection. We’re preparing for a big line-up for Salone del Mobile 2019 and as a global design studio, we’re strengthening our expertise in all aspects of design, not just interiors. It’s going to be an exciting year for our practice and we’re looking to expand our presence across Europe.

Let’s finish with the issue of work-life balance. How do you aim to achieve a good balance and what do those closest to you think of your attempts?
George Yabu: Work-life balance is a state of mind, if you love what you do, enjoy the people you work with, it’s not work, it all becomes one.
Glenn Pushelberg: It’s work-life integration for me.

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