"We have long felt that in order to build a strong organization and remain fresh, we should always be teaching someone else our job so that we can do the next job, and create opportunities for ourselves and the business. This also engenders a continuous cycle of teaching and learning."
The heart of interior design firm Yabu Pushelburg’s success is undoubtedly the creative and collaborative dynamic between founders George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg. They have been redefining design boundaries through their eponymous studio since 1980, driving their intuitive and innovative design projects from their Torronto and New York offices.
What was the pivot point that set you on your current path?
There have been many pivotal points in our long careers that have each propelled us forward, or lead us in different directions. One example is that of physical change - the opening of our New York studio created a major shift in the way we operated and the way our company was perceived. We now have 50 employees in New York, as well as a home in the city and one on Long Island, neither of which might have happened without that first foot in. This geographic shift created a greater sense of confidence in us on the part of some of our clients, and a sense of legitimacy that we weren’t able to fully realize from Toronto. It has also allowed us to be more nimble, and closer to the action; as a result we are also now part of entire new communities of people. Some of the biggest changes in our lives have often stemmed from feelings of boredom or routine, and at times challenged us to really consider what is interesting to us in the way that we live and work. More recently we have been involved in directing other creative consultants on various projects we are involved in. This has caused us to begin to reinvent ourselves and grow and develop a more holistic design practice that includes furniture, textiles and conceptual architecture. We have long felt that in order to build a strong organization and remain fresh, we should always be teaching someone else our job so that we can do the next job, and create opportunities for ourselves and the business. This also engenders a continuous cycle of teaching and learning.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give someone who’s going through their own transformation?
GP: It might sound obvious, but when you have set a goal to change, you must really understand what your goal is, and then be open to taking different paths to get there.
GY: Stay the course, and be focused. Position the right people around you and don’t allow yourself to be too easily influenced. Advice is plentiful, but solid information is harder to find.
Are you following the path of a trailblazer or being guided by a mentor?
We are pretty much self-invented and have learned from a lot of trial and error, about design, and about organizing a practice. As we’ve grown, we have learned to rely on mentors for financial and business advice, which has helped make smarter, more informed choices. Interior design on this scale was in its infancy when we started, especially in Canada, which in some ways has allowed us a lot of freedom to define a way of working and a culture that is true to us.
Where in the world would you describe as the place that speaks to you - your soul place?
GP: Sri Lanka speaks to me on many levels: Culturally speaking, it’s 100% different from home; the country’s physical beauty, from beaches, to plantations, cliffs and rainforests, combined with a quirky design history, the works of architect Geoffrey Bawa, and UNESCO heritage sites all make it so physically compelling. Adding to this is the gentility, honesty, passion and naiveté of the people and culture, who are remote enough not to have been globally contaminated. I dream of going back and spending more time there.
GY: Brazil speaks to me in a way that begs further discovery. Though fraught with problems (with the economy and corruption), the people exhibit a fervent passion to enjoy life as much as they can. Then, there's the potential to re-inspire the powerful Brazilian design aesthetic of the 1960’s, which at that time, with the government’s support, was internationally renowned and respected. Artistic, gritty and full of life, local design talent in Brazil could really prosper again with the right support – I would love to see this happen.
If you could do anything, what in the world would you want to do next?
We would run our own inn. We will do this one day… There is a precision, carefulness, and exactitude we’ve found in designing our own projects (houses or studios) that is very satisfying. We love the idea of bringing everything we’ve learned about the roots of true inn-keeping, comfort, sensitivity and hospitality in our work and travels to our own place.
All images used with permission from George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg.