Always Moving Forward: Yabu Pushelberg Design

George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg founded a design studio back in 1980 that focused on interior design but has since transformed into much more. With an emphasis on mood, function, and overcoming challenges, the studio now designs everything from places and experiences to products and goods. These designs are meant to elevate where we live, love, eat, work, and play. 

“Design is a compact word for possibility,” says Pushelberg. From experience working on hotels, resorts, restaurants, landscapes, and more, the team believes that problem-solving obstacles are an opportunity for creative solutions and the possibilities are truly endless.

The design duo fell into place after both growing up in Canada and attending Ryerson University in downtown Toronto, which has since been renamed Toronto Metropolitan University. The pair commented, “School is where we met, but we didn’t connect until after graduating and we were both on the hunt for studio space. We ran into one another on the street and decided to share one to cut costs.” 

Photo credit: Jeff Henrikson

The cosmic twist brought about co-founding Yabu Pushelberg Design, a combination of their two last names, which has since gained a sound reputation for creating authentic designs that go beyond looks. “Our work stems from thinking about the shared emotions people experience,” explains Yabu. “Conceptualization begins with a mood or attitude that we create in dialogue with the world. The reason we practice design is to make life look and feel more effortless for individuals.” 

How a person feels entering a space can carry a lot of weight in terms of function as well as aesthetics, and Yabu Pushelberg Design inherently understands the importance of both. The team’s dedication to design has earned several honors and can be traced back to early inspirations. 

Yabu notes, “I grew up surrounded by design thinking. My father was a boat builder and my mother was a seamstress. They taught me the importance of precision, tailoring, and creating with intention and integrity.” 

These early notions hold true throughout his work today. Similarly, Pushelberg draws on longtime influences that continue to motivate his designs. 

Photo credit: Man of Parts and Yabu Pushelberg

“What I have always gravitated toward is people, how they think and move through life. This almost led me to pursue hospitality, but I realized early on that design is the gateway to change. It is still what drives me to move forward.” 

With their impressive collection of authentic work, the pair has been recognized among the world’s most influential design studios by Wallpaper*, Elle Decor, the Business of Fashion, and more. Along with these honors, the designers were also inducted into the Interior Design Hall of Fame in 2002.

When asked about where and how the team begins a new project, the pair commented that it starts with a story. “Everything we touch begins with a narrative that ties each element of a project together. Usually loosely based on one or two characters whose personal attributes guide the energy of the design language.” 

Yabu Pushelberg Design works in a collaborative way that focuses on how the design will function down the line as well even the smallest details. The duo is drawn toward partners and projects that push the envelope and can go beyond what's been done before. “We have approached every single project since the studio’s beginnings this way. It works for us,” says Yabu and Pushelberg.

Photo credit: Alice Gao

Recently, Yabu and Pushelberg worked on the unique dual-hotel property, Moxy Downtown Los Angeles and AC Hotel Downtown Los Angeles. The property is 600,000 square feet and boasts over 700 rooms for guests while offering two distinguishable experiences in a single hotel. “We wanted to introduce the Moxy state of mind to California and develop the language of the AC brand,” they said. 

This property is an example of how these designers rely on a clear narrative when working, especially on larger projects that are a slow burn and can take years to bring to life. 

Photo credit: Alice Gao

“It was a unique opportunity to create two parallel ways of seeing Los Angeles in style and spirit. [California] is a special place that has taught us how to dream, unwind, and nurture ourselves,” says Yabu and Pushelberg. “There is a sense of freedom here that makes life sweeter, and we wanted to capture this spirit and infuse these moments throughout the design language of both hotels.”

Another demonstration of the team’s story-telling through design is the Salvatori Showroom in New York City. This award-winning Italian design company utilizes natural stone to create unique textures on walls, floors, products, and more. The 600-square-meter showroom was designed by Yabu Pushelberg, and features multiple themed areas that showcase Salvatori pieces. The marriage between the space and products is a work of art highlighting Yabu Pushelberg Design’s collaborative efforts. 

Photo credit: Alice Gao

Working on unique projects often brings about individual challenges and a specific set of needs for each space. This explains how the team came to create products as well as experiences. When asked to explain their product designs, about whether they are custom items created for individual projects or part of their own line, Yabu responded, “When we conceive of products, the initial design process is often a parallel journey to interior design.” The inclusion of products is often a way to overcome a particular design obstacle. “We formulate concepts for products when we come across a common challenge, goal, or missing piece in our interior or building design projects. There is a purity to this, a blank space for innovation. It is an opportunity to blend function with form, and beauty with intention,” says Yabu. 

Pushelberg agrees, “When designing a hotel, we’re often looking at an eight-plus year timeline. When designing products, we can concept, design, prototype, and then bring the product to life in a year or two.” Each product is a mini design process with a shorter production time but is equally satisfying. “It moves closer to the present moment while responding to needs in the project we work on that can launch almost a decade out. It is deeply satisfying to be producing work in both timelines and have them speak to one another,” says Pushelberg.

The nature of design is ever-changing, though each of the studio’s projects has a genuine feel that continues to shine through over the years. Their designs stay true to the team’s unique style of always moving forward. With many projects on the horizon, the designers commented on current design trends that excite them. 

“We are heading into an era that values simplicity. Sophistication is embodied through natural, subtle materials that blend or complement nature. For example, plaster rather than drywall for texture, wood, and stone,” says Yabu and Pushelberg. 

Strongly believing the world is their oyster, the team hopes to one day work on even larger projects, such as an airport or museums, and other experiences that cannot be defined. 

“The responsibility of a designer is to lead through thought and action,” says Yabu. “To see change not as a positive or a negative but as an opportunity. A designer is responsible for thinking about how the changing world can adapt and grow through time to make objects, environments, and buildings that represent change.”

This article originally appeared in Homes & Estates magazine. By Marlene Ridgway    


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