Design of the Times

They’re at it again. Once boys hitting the interior-design books at Ryerson in the ’70s and now men adding their well-respected names to Avenue Road – a new retail establishment created to showcase furniture design from Canada and abroad, where pieces by Yabu Pushelberg will sit alongside such international créateurs as France’s Christophe Delcourt and Brazil’s Simone Coste – the interior design-duo powerhouse is taking it up another notch.

Toronto-raised George Yabu and Kitchener, Ont., native Glenn Pushelberg founded the firm in 1980 and, from their first major client (Club Monaco’s flagship store on Toronto’s Queen Street West) to winning the James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Restaurant Design in 1998 to their first hotel (the W in New York) to conceptualizing the new Avenue Road furniture flagship showroom in Toronto’s Leslieville neighbourhood, they’ve never looked back.

The past decade, in particular, has been a busy one. Garnering at least two awards a year since the turn of the millennium, the team has continually been sought after. In October 2009, Architecture/Interiors Press published Yabu Pushelberg, featuring six essays by Vogue contributing editor William Norwich. In this 200-plus-page tome, the work of YP is celebrated, along with their induction into Interior Design magazine’s Hall of Fame. Spectacular photography showcasing some of their most seminal design moments, including the Four Seasons Tokyo, Bergdorf Goodman, Tiffany & Co. and Louis Vuitton, fills the glossy hardcover.

But with this much creative juice flowing, where do these designing minds start? “You have so many ideas floating around in your brain; some are better than others, and you have to edit those ideas to find the best ones,” says Yabu. “You have to be brave – you’ll never cover every base.” Take working with someone like Eric Ripert at Le Bernardin in NYC as an example of bravery. Le Bernardin has been awarded everything from a top-10 Zagat rating to a Bon Appétit accolade for its pastry chef to scoring five stars (and the No. 1 position) on New York magazine’s list of the top-101 New York restaurants. Only the best will do. According to Yabu, Ripert has a strong personality and his partner, Maguy Le Coze, has certain ideas. “And we have certain ideas,” he says. “We need to be nimble, to satisfy our own wants and desires – and satisfy the client. For example, they are insisting that the wood ceiling stay, and we have said nothing.” Perhaps later, adds Pushelberg, Ripert will see that it looks out of place with the rest of the design.

The opening conversation, where they discuss the project and engage with each other, is a challenge. Good designers, says Pushelberg, need to lead the discussion. “We are risk takers, fearless but not stupid. Restaurants are intangible; they are an emotion that is built and has a life of its own. We will need to see if Eric Ripert’s wood ceiling remains when the redesign is finished,” he says.

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